Pam and Robert Cooper aspire to build the cacao market into Hawaii's next cash crop. Locally grown beans can't compete on price in the international market, so the Coopers started Great Pacific Chocolate Company in 2000 to create demand. The company sells premium dark and milk chocolate bars (a three ounce bar costs $10) and markets itself as the only Hawaiian chocolatier to undertake the entire chocolate-making process, from cacao tree to chocolate bar. The couple grows beans on their six-acre farm and supplements that harvest with purchases from 15 local farmers.
The company is using the SBIR grant for marketing its products and increasing production. The Coopers plan on attending more trade shows, producing new packaging (such as a point-of-purchase box to boost retail sales), and developing new products, such as a criollo bar, a richer chocolate with a nutty flavor.
Until receiving the award, the Coopers had financed the whole chocolate endeavor themselves, mortgaging the farm. In fact, Cooper doesn't know if the business could have expanded in the last two years without the grant; "We made our first dollar last year," she says.
The chocolate company currently sells 50% of its bars through farm tours, another 40% through retailers, and 10% over the Internet. Cooper would most like to expand sales in stores because more businesses would benefit. "The whole point is to spread the industry and make it go as far as it will," Cooper said. "We want it to help more people than just us." - Herman Wong
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