For all you chocolate lovers, this post is for you. For those of you who aren’t chocolate lovers, after hearing about Puna Chocolate Co – we can bet you just may be craving some locally grown Hawaiian chocolate. Founders Ben and Adam had their first interaction with the uniquely shaped fruit, cacao, in 2012 shortly after they had purchased 65 acres of land in Puna for the purpose of preserving the rainforest on the land. After learning about the chocolate making process, they also learned that their newly purchased land had an existing tree canopy that created the perfect conditions for cacao trees. They learned that if they did it right, they could grow cacao with minima
lly invasive methods to the existing ecosystem – and they could keep their day jobs until the cacao trees started producing! Having earned his Tropical Plants and Soil Science degree from the University of Hawaii, Ben handles the farming and planting operations for the company. Soon after they started the company, Adam’s sister, Terri joined the team from Lake County Illinois bringing her mastery of gourmet food and certified gardening to the mix. In 2014 – 2015 during the Puna Lava Flow, the cacao orchard that grew all of the company’s chocolate was at risk of being destroyed and as a way to protect and grow the business, Ben expanded their cacao production to residents of Big Island beyond Puna. In 2020, they had over 15,000 cacao trees that they harvest from spanning from Hilo to Kona.
Puna Chocolate Co. is committed to using only Hawaiian-grown cacao which is extremely rare for chocolate makers. Founder Adam believes that their commitment to Hawaiian cacao is the most rewarding part of the business. He said “ittook a lot of time and sweat to plant all the trees, make agreements with other farmers to plant on their land to supplement our land’s production. Now we have more trees in production than any other cocoa grower in a farming model that takes minimal, efficient effort so we can focus on the experiences and creative foods for the end user.”
Adam recognizes that Big Island is full of bright, vibrant and creative minds and active entrepreneurs and also recognizes that it is not easy to be successful here noting that “we are vulnerable to global trends in ways that other islands are not so all of us must be robust and resilient.” There is the local economy, and the tourism economy Adam explains, and each economy wants different things and different pricing. For Adam, “local wins every time, so it’s always interesting to see how each business sets up to deliver the ‘I’m here for you message to the local market’ and the ‘I have something one-of-a-kind-awesome for you’ to the tourist market.”
We think Puna Chocolate Co has hit the target on both fronts, creating delicious and incredibly unique flavors and tastes. They aim to keep things interesting and change their collection every two months, keeping their regulars happy with a new menu of chocolate to choose from. A lot of the inspiration for their chocolate varieties come from the farmer’s market or stumble on a new exotic fruit. They also are wine and spirit enthusiasts and incorporate meads, wine, and other spirits into their chocolates. Coming this spring is licorice/honey/lemon and honey mead macadamia honey mead bars coming out this spring (with local mead from Volcano Winery). Also in the works for the Puna Chocolate Co Team are cocktails, savories, and deserts that use part of the cocoa pod that are not used in chocolate to make things just as irresistible as conventional chocolate. Think chocolate + ulu battered fried chicken, cocoa juice mimosas and a pu-nutella cheese danish (we are ready to try that now!).
Want to learn more about Puna Chocolate Co? Not only do they have three storefronts, one in Hilo, one in Kona, and one in Illinois, but they also offer farm fours as well! Find more information on their website here!