Cargill’s cocoa processing plant in Brazil overcomes challenges to become one of the top producers in the world.
Today, Cargill produces cocoa and chocolate in nearly every form imaginable: powders, butters, coatings, fillings, even liquors. But before it became one of the world’s premier producers, Cargill had to conquer a steep learning curve.
Cargill made its entrance into the business with construction of its first cocoa processing plant in Ilheus, Brazil, in 1980. Though Ilheus was in a region renowned for its cocoa sourcing and production, Cargill had replicated the processes used in its soybean plants for the new cocoa facility—and quickly learned processes that work for soybeans were not necessarily right for cocoa. At first, the Soviet Union was the only customer that would accept the quality of the plant’s cocoa liquor. The five other cocoa manufacturers in Ilheus discounted Cargill as a serious competitor.
Perceptions changed in 1986 when Cargill acquired one of the premier cocoa companies in the world, General Cocoa-Gerkens Group. Headquartered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Gerkens had extensive knowledge in cocoa production and product quality standards. Within three years, Gerkens was fully integrated into Cargill’s cocoa operation in Brazil, and supervised a US $5 million upgrade of the Ilheus plant to meet International Organization for Standardization (ISO) quality standards.
The ISO standards were established in 1947 to improve and promote fair international trade of products like cocoa and chocolate. To gain ISO certification, Cargill used the 100-page, five-part ISO 9000 Guide to evaluate how its employees performed every function that touched product quality. These evaluations led to streamlined processes and superior products.
After a difficult first decade, Cargill emerged in 1990 as a leader in the cocoa and chocolate industry. Cargill was the first company in South America to achieve ISO 9000 certification, and customers now recognize the Ilheus plant as the best supplier to the Brazilian confectionary industry. Additionally, Cargill’s cocoa and chocolate business was also the first cocoa processor to import cocoa beans. With the learning curve now a chapter in Cargill’s rich history, the company continues to set the standard in quality cocoa and chocolate around the world.