No Experience Required for Profits in Ecuador

Barbara Wilson, from Michigan, launched Mindo Chocolate Makers in Mindo, Ecuador in 2009, with no experience.

Originally she and her husband, Joe Menza, ran a hostel and restaurant, but when Barbara couldn’t find good cocoa for her brownies, they decided, “Let’s make our own!”

They knew nothing about making chocolate, but with true entrepreneurial spirit, designed and created their own equipment. They bought cocoa beans from a co-operative of small farmers who have organic certification. The beans are Arriba Nacional, an ancient species that originated in the Amazon basin and is found exclusively in Ecuador.

They pay the cocoa farmers triple the market price for their beans, which is reflected in the price to consumers…and they employ 12 Ecuadorians in Mindo. Their products include chocolate bars, baking chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, whole beans, and cacao nibs.

Ecuador is the top producer of gourmet “flavor” type beans, exporting more than half the world’s supply, at 70,000 tons annually.

“From the beginning our goal has been to produce the best chocolate possible,” Barbara says. “We follow the process carefully from the moment the bean comes out of the pod through fermentation, drying, and roasting—all the way through until our product is on the shelf.”

While the chocolate they produce in Mindo stays in Mindo, they also have production facilities back home in Michigan, where the chocolate is sold at several outlets. They ship unprocessed cacao nibs to Michigan to be roasted and turned into chocolate.

Barbara and Joe’s initial investment was $100,000 and they are now profitable. (They were able to nurture Mindo Chocolate Makers to success through income generated from their auto repair business in Michigan.) All the profits go right back into the business.

Barbara says their biggest obstacle has been bureaucracy. “The Ecuadorian government makes you jump through all kinds of hoops, many of which don’t seem to make sense. Right now in Ecuador we can only sell from our little restaurant. We’re still waiting for approval of a license that will allow us to market our products throughout the country.”

But in spite of the bureaucracy, it’s a business they would recommend to any expats with a passion for chocolate. As Barbara says, “Nobody says ‘no’ to chocolate!”

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