Producer Spotlight: Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie
Entrepreneurial Spirit, Sustainable Practices, & the First Chocolate Products from Gabon
Gabon is a country along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa just below the equator. Although not widely known in the international chocolate market (yet!), this beautiful country produces and exports some excellent cacao.
In 2006, in this fertile equatorial land, Julie Nyangui-Ambiehl created Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie, the first chocolate factory of Gabon. Not only have Gabonese chocolate products been unknown to the international market, chocolate has not been a part of Gabonese culture. Cacao had previously been grown in Gabon for export only, and Julie was the first person in Gabon to begin transforming locally grown cacao into finished chocolate products, making her venture into the world of chocolate quite the challenge.
The Origin of Chocolate in Gabon
Before she started her brand in 2007, Julie worked at a boutique where she first tried a spreadable chocolate paste. In 2005, she took over the boutique and started transforming Gabonese cacao into chocolate products. She began with chocolate ganache, but since these chocolate products weren’t a familiar part of Gabonese culture, her brand had a slow start. It wasn’t easy work. From ganache, she began to experiment with and produce additional value-added cacao products, such as chocolate bars, confectionery chocolates, and chocolate pearls, or truffles.
For several years, Julie continued slowly growing her business. It wasn’t until 2012 when it really began to take off. Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie began earning a reputation for the products and as a brand, gaining recognition within Gabon and in other countries too.
In 2013, after meeting Julie at a chocolate salon in France, Herve joined the team. With his arrival, the staff grew to four. They now have a team of 21, which includes their farmers. Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie source some of their cacao from local farmers and the rest comes directly from their own cacao plantation. They are currently building a processing facility that will allow them to scale their production. They hope to bring on an additional 20 team members of all local employees when the processing facility opens.
Not only is Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie bringing chocolate products to market and to the culture of Gabon, they are determined to do it with a commitment to sustainability. They have planned for financial stability in mind, while also considering optimizing plant varieties. On their 200 hectare plantation, they practice agroforestry and avoid monoculture, unlike many of the cacao plantations in West Africa and Cameroon. In addition to cacao, they plant fruit trees with fruits that they use in their recipes, such as lemons and around 300 red fruit trees, which are native to Gabon and produce food for monkeys.
Making chocolates consistently in Gabon is not easy work. There is an 85-90% humidity level even in the processing facility. Plus, it is hot. Between the heat and humidity, the team must work quickly and efficiently to make chocolates before the elements destroy them.
Production of Fine Chocolates from Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie
In their evolution as a brand, they eliminated some of their original products exactly because of the conditions. Now, they have refined their product line to use local ingredients and those that are most easily conserved. Their products are 100% preservative-free, and they use only Gabon cacao nibs and honey that is produced by indigenous tribes. And while they do use some machinery, most of their chocolates are hand-made, artisan style, using pre-industrial processes.
The brand currently produces 50 kilos per week of their chocolate bars. When their new processing facility is running, they plan to scale to 500 kilos per week.
Les Chocolats Gabonais de Julie products are sold in their own boutique as well as in the duty free store at the airport. Selling from the duty free store enables the chocolates to travel and be consumed around the world. Julie hopes their markets will begin to open up internationally as well.
Julie’s Example of Entrepreneurial Leadership for Gabon
Julie is working to introduce cacao as a major economic opportunity for Gabon. According to her, the country needs entrepreneurs, visionaries who can demonstrate how small business ventures can grow and thrive in their country. Julie’s model and success is a perfect example. She has created a big impact as well as jobs for local people. She is putting Gabon on the map in the world of chocolate.
“I want the world to know that there are men and women working hard to produce these products that bring sweetness to the world.”
As the eldest sibling of her family, Julie took care of her younger brothers and sisters during her childhood. She has always loved meeting new people, being around people, and nurturing others. She was attracted to chocolate because for her, it is a gift she can offer to the people she cares for. Through chocolate she cultivates family.
Julie wants to inspire other individuals in Central Africa to be proud of where they are from and to see that there are opportunities for people within their countries and not only for those who dream of finding success elsewhere.
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