How Social Enterprise Auro Chocolate Is Empowering Farmers In The Philippines
Auro Chocolate is a Philippine social enterprise that has successfully taken its operations global. Founded by Asia's Most Influential Tastemakers Mark Ocampo and Kelly Go, the startup's sustainably farmed, single-origin cacao beans are used for its own chocolate as well as other brands' products—Auro currently supplies chocolate to companies in 33 countries worldwide.
Its branding and product development have been instrumental in helping Auro Chocolate reach its current level of success. But for Gen.T Honouree Mark Ocampo, at the core of it all is giving back to communities.
“That is in the blood and DNA of our company. We are about people. We seek out collaborations [with people] who share the same values with us. We want to help farmers, increase livelihood opportunities and change the conversation. Uplifting the Philippines is what is most important to us,” says Ocampo.
Instead of owning farmland, Auro partners with farms and cooperatives in Davao that are owned by local farmers in an effort to support their craft and shine the spotlight on the importance of agriculture in the country. “We are the highest payers for cacao in the Philippines, and we support around 2,000 hectares of land. Auro pays farmers US$2,000 per hectare, while others pay under 800,” says Ocampo.
A driving force behind the company's social mission is a desire to help the country's new and old generations alike to remember the pride that should be associated with their industry and skillset. “Unfortunately, we have noticed that farming is a dying industry. The median age of farmers is now 55, and the new generation does not want to go into farming," says Ocampo. "Their children do not want to take over because there are few to no incentives, and so they are simply not motivated. They think that it is not a sustainable career; we want to prove them wrong and change the direction of agriculture in the country.”
In an effort to change perspectives and make the industry more appealing, Auro has developed educational programs in order to empower communities through knowledge. From his experience, Ocampo believes that a lack of information and know-how has prevented families from taking their farm operations to the next level, and has allowed many to be taken advantage of. “While we do have technical support to help their operations, we also teach our partner farmers about business administration and post-harvest practices through training sessions and seminars. We want them to invest in themselves while teaching farmers how to save and make their land work for them,” says Ocampo.
Farmers are so talented, and are the most hardworking people I know— Mark Ocampo
In a country where access to quality education is not as widespread, financial literacy has become a growing issue, with so many of the Philippines' rural population remaining un-banked. “Part of what we teach [is] the fundamentals of managing their revenue. We show them how to make their own chocolate products and inform farmers on what else they can make from their produce. We want them to feel like businessmen too,” he says.
Auro is also expanding its reach with an upcoming project in partnership with banks in the Philippines to develop a financial literacy program that reaches farmers as well as other underserved communities. “This programme will start with cacao farmers but then expand to other people in need. Did you know that only 7 per cent of Filipinos have bank accounts? We want to empower farmers by educating them, removing distrust with financial institutions. Right now, they find it too intimidating and unapproachable. We want to protect them and their future,” says Ocampo.
In the Philippines alone, Auro Chocolate is sold everywhere - from supermarkets to popular bistros. The company also engages in a number of collaborations to develop unique menu items that best showcase what Philippine chocolate can do. Pink Berry frozen yoghurt, Shake Shack, and milk tea shop Serenetea Philippines are a few names that have unique menu items co-created with Auro. In Taiwan, you can find their chocolate in supermarket CitySuper, while Japanese cafés such as Panora and Batsuji Craft also use their beans. Opening this month in Bahrain is the brand's first-ever chocolate café, a model Auro hopes to replicate in more cities.
By scaling its operations around the globe and winning top industry awards, Auro is thriving. But for Ocampo, it still all comes back to the work he can do to help the country's farmers. “Just because someone is doing something small, does not mean it is not of value. Farmers are so talented, and are the most hardworking people I know. They deserve the opportunity to thrive.”