Photo by Alex Whitmore
As I drove across the Pulaski Skyway from New York to New Jersey several weeks ago, the world of bean-to-bar chocolate was top of mind. I was headed to a meeting at Continental Terminals, a complex filled with untold tons of coffee and cacao beans. Continental Terminals—unaffiliated with the airline—is one of the largest cacao warehouses in the Northeast. Each day, it handles thousands upon thousands of pounds of cacao.
Grown in far-flung locations such as Indonesia, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic, the cacao arrives on container ships berthed in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, or Red Hook, New York, and the Continental warehouses store it for anywhere from a few hours to years on end. The business serves as a U.S. Customs bonded warehouse, a re-packer, and off-site storage. For commodities markets, Continental stores the actual cacao traded on the exchange floors. A single sack of cacao is commonly traded 30 to 40 times before it leaves the Terminals.
Bob Forcillo, director of Continental Terminals, was generous enough to show me around Continental's cacao warehouses. Remarkably, he explained, Continental doesn't own a single sack of beans stored in its facilities. Instead, hedge fund managers, commodities traders, and chocolate manufacturers own the endless rows of cacao. Surrounded by 25-foot high towers of sacks that stretched the length of a football field, I was in awe of the sheer scale of it all. At the same time, I was struck by how extraordinarily different this setting was from Taza Chocolate, the bean-to-bar chocolate company I co-founded.
Standard 70-kilo sacks of cacao like the ones we use at Taza are insufficient for large companies like Mars, Nestle, and Blommer, which require cacao delivered by the truckload, not the sack. Continental employs a full-time staff to rapidly slice open 70-kilo cacao sacks and deposit the contents directly into cargo trucks. They also use the super-sack: a 2,200-pound behemoth designed for use by "the big guys."
The cacao transported in and out of Continental Terminals daily far exceeds the quantity Taza Chocolate uses in a year or more. And, as a rule, Taza Chocolate does not purchase beans from the commodities market. We buy directly from farmer-owned cooperatives. This trade model allows us to specify our cacao quality standards, and to ensure that the cacao farmers receive fair payment. I visited Continental Terminals to explore whether it made sense for Taza, a comparatively small operation, to utilize their warehouse as a storage space for our own farm-direct shipments. We'll keep you posted if we do.