Malaysian choc maker finds new ways to boost local market share

Benns Ethicoa – a word play on ‘ethics’ and ‘cocoa’ – is a local premier chocolate manufacturer which believes in sustainable farming.

Founded in 1999 by Perak-born Ng Tuck Ming, 60 per cent of Benns Ethicoa’s products are exported. But the business has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This led its executive director Wilfred Ng – the son of the founder – to explore new ways to increase sales locally, more so since its bestseller originates from Malaysia.

“Like most businesses, we have been affected by Covid-19,” said Ng.

“Sixty per cent of our products are for the overseas market, mainly in Asia. With the Covid-19 situation, it means we are likely to suffer a 40 per cent drop in revenue this year. One way to overcome this is to find new markets such as increasing local consumption.

“This is possible as one of our top sellers are chocolates from Sungai Ruan, a plantation in Pahang.”

Ng said it is a little-known fact that most of the top-quality cacao can be found in Asia and Malaysia has some of the better quality beans. For the record, Malaysia was the second largest processor of cocoa seeds in Asia with RM5.55 billion of export earnings via the cocoa sector in 2018.

It had a bigger share in the 1990s but an outbreak of Vascular Streak Dieback and black pod 12 years ago saw many farmers switch to palm oil and rubber as an alternative.

He added the company’s online sales increased during the Movement Control Order (MCO) with the Sungai Ruan cacao nibs the bestseller.

“Cacao nibs are a superfood. That was one of the reasons we sold so many during MCO as people wanted healthy yet tasty products.”

Theobroma cacao is also known as the “food of the Gods” as cacao nibs are loaded with nutrients and powerful plant compounds that improve health in many ways.

Twenty-eight grams of cacao nibs provide:-

  • 175 calories
  • 3g of protein
  • 15g of fat
  • 5g of fibre
  • 1g of sugar
  • 6 per cent of the reference daily intake of iron
  • 16 per cent RDI magnesium
  • 9 per cent RDI phosphorus
  • 6 per cent RDI zinc
  • 27 per cent RDI manganese
  • 25 per cent RDI copper

Benns Ethicoa’s business model is built with sustainability in mind, designed towards ethical cacao farming to enable owners of well-managed plantations to fetch higher prices that commensurate with better quality cacao beans.

The company pays the farmers three times more than its competitors to ensure ethical cacao farming.

The company continues to explore cacao nationwide with plantations identified in Melaka and Sabah and in the region, namely Myanmar, Taiwan and Cambodia.

Benns Ethicoa Chocolate Factory in Cheras also showcases the entire chocolate-making process. Its factory can produce up to 500kg of fine flavour single estate bean-to-bar chocolate per day.

“We opened it in December but had to close during MCO. We have only just opened the tours again,” said Ng.

“We had plans to open another cafe-cum-factory at the Kuala Lumpur Eco-Park this year but that may only happen next year or in early 2022.”