Award-winning Malaysian chocolate maker eager to conquer China

Award-winning Malaysian chocolate maker Benns Ethicoa has held talks with the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) about plans to ‘conquer’ the Chinese market by the third quarter of the year.

Founded in 1999 by Perak-born Ng Tuck Ming, 60 per cent of Benns Ethicoa’s products are exported. But its business, just like the cocoa industry, was badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, MCB revealed Malaysia’s export revenue from cocoa beans and products amounted to RM4.59 billion from January to September 2020, down 3.9 per cent from RM4.77 billion in the same period in 2019.

Despite this, Malaysia remained the second-largest cocoa producer in Asia behind Indonesia.

Benns Ethicoa found ways to make up for its shortfall and increased sales via online promotions. It is now hoping to ramp up production for export.

In 2019, the Association of Chinese Chocolate Manufacturers revealed consumers in the mainland eat 70 grams of chocolate per capita every year. In contrast, Europeans eat 7kg per capita each year but with China having a population of close to 1.4 billion, there is potential for the industry to grow.

The popularity of chocolates has steadily increased in the past 10 years with sales more than doubling in that time. It is estimated China’s chocolate market will reach US$4.05 billion by 2025.

In 2019, China’s consumption of chocolate goods reached 253,130 tonnes, up 1.43 per cent from a year earlier. It is estimated to reach 255,000 tonnes by 2023.

“There is a huge untapped market in China as chocolates are becoming more and more popular,” said Benns’ executive director Wilfred Ng.

“Although the bigger boys are well established, our products are different as they are bean-to-bar.”

Bean-to-bar is a process where the maker controls every step of the chocolate-making process.

“We hope to eat into the market share with our superior products,” Ng added.

He said many have started to take notice of the company after it won several medals at two international competitions last year.

For the record, Benns Ethicoa’s drinking chocolate, made from cacao beans originating from Sungai Ruan in Pahang, won a bronze award in the International Chocolate Awards under the ‘Plain/original dark drinking chocolate (made with milk)’ category.

Its limited edition ‘Merdeka Blend’, a 63 per cent dark chocolate blend, won three awards at Asia Pacific International Chocolate Awards – gold for ‘Directly Traded’ and ‘Growing Country’, and a silver in the ‘Plain Dark Origin Bars’ category.

The Merdeka blend consists of cacao beans from two Malaysian farms – Sungai Ruan and Panchor in Melaka.

“We are the first company from Malaysia to win a medal at the International Chocolate Awards,” said Ng.

“Suddenly, people realise Southeast Asia in general and Malaysia, in particular, can produce good chocolates.

“Encouraged by these awards and after having discussions with MCB, we are ready to enter the China market.”

Ng said he would be able to reveal more about his expansion plans by July.

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