Finding a cacao farm in Taiwan is almost ‘unheard’ of until Fu Wan Chocolate came into the scene. Starting as a chef in Fu Wan Cafe Villa, Founder Warren Hsu is a huge supporter of locally sourced ingredients. While he was sourcing seasonal local ingredients to add to his cuisine, he stumbled upon a cacao farm in Pingtung (屏東) and had the idea of incorporating the cacao beans into his creations.
However, they did not exclusively use cacao beans sourced in Taiwan as they were unsure how to adopt the model of Tree-to-Bar Chocolate. Instead, they adopted a Bean-to-Bar model, sourcing their cacao beans from farmers all over the world including Taiwan. After 3 years of learning and building their brand, they adopted the Tree-to-Bar model, from cacao beans sourced locally and having the fermentation process in-house.
Making a Mark in the Chocolate World
Fu Wan started with entering competitions such as International Chocolate Award (ICA) to build a reputation and to push boundaries in the flavour profile of Fine Chocolate.
With many awards under their belt, they are known to produce unique Chocolate Bar by incorporating local specialty ingredients like Pink Shrimp also known as Sakura Shrimp in their chocolate bars, tea-infused chocolates, and tweaking the fermentation process of the cacao beans to differentiate themselves from the Chocolate Industry.
With the Tree-to-Bar model, they are able to control the entire process of chocolate-making and their Double Ferment Chocolate Bar has won them a Gold Medal in the Rough Ground Category in ICA 2018. This comes as an affirmation of their boldness to innovate the chocolate-making process.
Some say that they are the NASA of Chocolate, I think this nickname aligns well with how Fu Wan presented itself to the world. They are always so willing to innovate and experiment with different techniques in their fermentation process and ingredients to showcase what Taiwan has to offer to the world.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll on their business
With the pandemic affecting everyone on the planet, it is no doubt that Fu Wan Chocolate was affected by it. Chocolates are seen as luxury goods here in Asia and with a slowing economy, people started to spend less on chocolate which impacted Fu Wan’s sales.
Yet, the management was able to diversify their products to suit the current spending habits of Taiwanese to make Fu Wan more resilient during this difficult period. With the domestic market being their major target audience, the introduction of biscuits and pastries are steps to diversify their product offering, as these are items that Taiwanese consumers consume in their daily life.
Furthermore, we see a new trend of consumers being more aware of the sustainability of their community. More and more consumers are paying more attention and willing to support local small businesses. This trend has definitely aided Fu Wan as they pride themselves as the first Tree-to-Bar Chocolate Brand in Taiwan, sourcing ingredients in Taiwan, the local farmers are direct beneficiaries of this business model.
Another reason why they are able to make so much progress and to compete in the industry is by knowing their main target audience’s tastebuds. With Taiwan having a subtropical climate, people here do not consume as much chocolate compared to their western counterparts. In addition, Taiwanese tends to consume more savoury products as they do not have a sweet tooth. Therefore, their Dark Chocolate series do better in comparison to the Milk or White Chocolates.
“We definitely see a growing demand for Fine Chocolates in Asia as people start to appreciate chocolates and a growing awareness of the health benefits of consuming chocolate”Warren Hsu, Founder of Fu Wan Chocolate
The pandemic will not stop Fu Wan from progressing as they are confident in the growing market here in Asia. “We definitely see a growing demand for Fine Chocolates in Asia as people start to appreciate chocolates and a growing awareness of the health benefits of consuming chocolate”, said Warren Hsu, Founder of Fu Wan Chocolate.
When asked if he was to advise people who are interested in entering the Fine Chocolate Industry, Warren said that it will not be an easy challenge to take on as he sees this business heavily influenced by culture. You will need to spend a lot of time and effort to care and create your branding and you may not even see a return of investment in the near future.
Reflecting back on his journey, he was unsure where this decision will take him and how it will go. With a firm belief that ‘who doesn’t love a good chocolate?’ and the belief that the chocolate market should be very big to explore. Soon, he realised that it is more than that and with the Tree-to-Bar model just starting up, they did not have a proven guideline or standard for consideration. Hence, it was even more difficult to do a forecast and they were more uncertain where this would lead them to.
Hence, you will need to do careful planning and take small steps to grow your brand. One way to do this is by joining FCIA where you get to access industry trends and knowledge. Also, this is a platform for you to network with industry partners where you can get insights to grow your business.
You will also need to have a lot of passion for chocolate to go far in this industry. Having said that, I ended my interview with Warren feeling hopeful for the chocolate scene here in Asia and I am excited to see what Fu Wan Chocolate will bring to the table in the near future. In the meantime, I am heading over to Fu Wan Chocolate to order myself an award-winning chocolate bar to get a taste of their fruit of labour.
Don’t miss FCIA’s webinar featuring Fu Wan Chocolate’s Founder Warren Hsu on November 4, 2021! He will share insights on the chocolate preferences in Asia and the cacao flavor profile of Taiwanese consumers. You can find more details and register for the webinar on the FCIA website
All photos courtesy of Fu Wan Chocolate