New Zealand's chocolate exports grow by 40% in three years

Laura James
Source: 1News

Wine, lamb and kiwifruit are among the produce New Zealand's famous for, and one expert is hopeful chocolate could be added to that list.

New Zealand's exports of the sweet treat have grown by 40% since 2019, and local boutique companies are celebrating their success too this World Chocolate Day.

Kiwi chocolatiers are capitalising on uniquely Kiwi flavours and products in their chocolate creations.

Devonport Chocolates owner Sarah Gardner said they're using the likes of horopito and kawakawa in their recipes.

"And using local ingredients like Man O' War wines and strawberries," she said.

"I think for New Zealanders it really connects us to where we grew up."

Tourists love it too, according to Gardner.

"This year we're seeing a 20% growth on our 2019 numbers."

"There have been some challenges over the last few years with Covid, but even then, the company found Kiwis were buying chocolate to make themselves feel better."

AUT patisserie lecturer Arno Sturny wrote his dissertation on New Zealand chocolate, so he's an expert.

He said the growth of the the industry's down to the introduction of small 'bean to bar' companies like Devonport Chocolates, but also the work of Whittaker's.

He said it has, "really, really pushed hard, especially since Cadbury left their premises in Dunedin."

Whittaker's says while their largest market is still here, it's exporting to a growing number of international markets including Australia, Canada, China and the Middle East.

"While this means we are making more chocolate, our priority is still to be the best chocolate manufacturer, rather than to be the biggest," said Whittaker’s co-Chief Operating Officers Holly and Matt Whittaker.

"We make all of our Whittaker’s Chocolate at our one factory in Porirua, which enables us to ensure quality by controlling the whole manufacturing process from bean to bar."

Sturny believes chocolate will eventually be one of the products New Zealand's known for, and that Whittaker's will be the "force" behind it.

But the potential for our smaller chocolatiers to sell their products further afield is promising too, he said.

Gardner said their Devonport boutique is about to feature products in Japan.

"We can see there's a real global opportunity to have our product overseas, and we feel incredibly proud of it."

Along with uniquely Kiwi flavours, Sturny says our relationship with Pacific Island Cacao Growers could be a big advantage.

"I think we've got a real opportunity to work much closer with the Pacific and that could really be the difference.

"We need to create a product range which really reflects us as part of the Pacific."

More and more chocolate companies are utilising beans from the likes of Samoa.

Floris Niu owns a plantation there, and is the fourth generation of her family to grow cacao on the Samoan island of Upolu.

She works in conjunction with 18 other women running Cacao farms and said, "We're hoping to be able supply up to 25 to 30 tonnes a year.

"When we first started, we were only supplying about 3 tonnes every year."

Later this month, Pacific Island cacao farmers will be in the spotlight with New Zealand’s first ever show dedicated to their work.

Visitors to 'The Pacific Cacao & Chocolate 2022' show on Saturday 23 July will be able to participate in the chocolate making process and taste organically grown cacao from Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville and the Philippines.

"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of tonnes that are coming out of these countries," Niu said.

"[New Zealand companies] love the idea we don't have to look at these huge freight costs from across the great divide, when it's right there on New Zealand's doorstep."

"The chocolate makers here love experimenting, they love that they can come and actually get to know the farmers, and the beans and the processes."

Gardner said Devonport Chocolates has used Samoan beans in the past, and is looking to re-connect with a supplier there.

"The Samoan chocolate has quite a unique flavour that goes with it," she said.

Niu said, "The flavour changes and varies from plantation to plantation and island to island."