Santiago Peralta: Just jump in and start the fight

Santiago Peralta's Pacari Chocolate has won a clutch of awards, while at the same time helping cocoa farmers in his native Ecuador.


Santiago Peralta: a close relationship with 3,500 farmers

Santiago Peralta was born in Ecuador and moved to Portugal with his parents when he was a teenager. While studying law, he decided that what he really wanted to do was to set up a sustainable business. He therefore returned to his home country and set up Pacari Chocolate with Carla Barbot, now his wife. Santiago was an enthusiast of Ecuador's chocolate and felt it was not getting the global audience it deserved. He also felt that cocoa farmers were doing badly out of an arrangement that saw nearly all of the country's crop sold to one company.

So initially, he set himself up as an exporter. To ensure a consistent supply of top-quality organic beans, Pacari paid more than the market price. This led to prices nearly doubling within three years, vastly boosting farmers' living standards. Pacari sold the beans to clients, such as the Norfolk boutique chocolatier Booja-Booja. Starting out as a middleman in this way required little capital investment, and was funded via the couple's savings. The business was run on a computer donated by Carla's grandmother. Indeed, the enterprise was such a shoestring operation that Peralta had to make business calls via a public payphone.

And they faced a large number of problems in the early days, "everything from growing to shipping". In order to cut costs, they decided to send an early shipment in some refrigerated containers that had been originally used to transport pineapples. This led to phone calls from puzzled clients wondering why the resulting chocolate tasted of pineapples. The bigbreakthrough came around 2008, when Booja-Booja's chocolates won an award. This inspired the couple to start making their own chocolate. They started from scratch, devising their own recipes and constructing bespoke machinery to process the cocoa.

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By 2012 Pacari had become a recognised brand among chocolate connoisseurs, winning a clutch of important awards. Their chocolate now appears in 40 countries, sold through health-food stores, Pacari's own website and high-end stores such as Fortnum & Mason. As a result, the business now has a fast-growing turnover of around $3m.

However, Peralta is proudestof the fact that they have a close relationship with more than 3,500 farmers, though he admits that having their livelihood resting on Pacari's continued success is a "big weight on my shoulders". Pacari recently donated drying facilities to a group of Goldenberry farmers, giving them more leverage in the global marketplace.

Pacari could "easily triple sales" by producing milk chocolate or adding nuts, he says, but he chooses to specialise in dark chocolate and Ecuadorian produce, such as rare Andean blueberries. "I want to push people over to the dark side," he jokes. Santiago has little time for European manufacturers they "are selling cows, rather than chocolate", he says, referring to the low cocoa content of cheap confectionery.

Fine chocolate, on the other hand, should be considered on a par with fine wine or whisky a luxury product for the connoisseur. Peralta's advice for entrepreneurs is that they should be "a bit blind to the risks, otherwise they wouldn't jump in". Don't overthink it just jump in and be "prepared to fight every day".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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