Skip to main content

Cacao bean exporter Solomons Gold has evolved into a 100 percent vertically-integrated chocolate company, managing every process in its supply chain and supporting local communities.

To find the genesis of Solomons Gold you must travel back to 1972, when the founder and current MD of parent company C-Corp, Clive Carroll, completed a thesis on the cocoa industry for his agricultural economics studies. His father’s avocado enterprise had already instilled a strong passion in tropical agriculture.

That passion became a reality in 2006 with a JV-agreement to rehabilitate the historical Horokiki plantation on Guadalcanal – an island in the Solomons Group.

It’s there where Clive formed a vision to assist local village landowners to sustainably produce premium-quality, single origin cacao – the legendary ‘superfood’ and key ingredient in chocolate.

C-Corp’s Honiara facility was established a year later. It’s there where the best beans are selected for export to the company’s MPI-certified facility in Tauranga, to craft into Solomons Gold wholesale and retail chocolate products.

Today the company operates as a completely vertically-integrated, ‘extended family’ business – growing, processing and exporting cacao beans, and crafting a range of specialist value-adding cacao ingredients and dark chocolate products, all from Solomon Island-origin beans.

A major milestone for Solomons Gold in 2017 was receiving a silver award at the prestigious ‘Academy of Chocolate’ Awards in London, and in 2018 competing against a record-breaking 1,200 entries from 45 countries to claim two bronze awards for its chocolate.

Solomons Gold chocolate is now sold around New Zealand, mainly in selected health food shops and supermarkets. The company also supplies to wholesale providores, and to global and boutique food manufacturers producing roasted cacao and dark chocolate products.

In addition, C-Corp exports more than 1000 tonnes of cacao beans to third party suppliers every year; and to some of the world’s largest manufacturing companies who use the beans for bulk processed chocolate products such as cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

While Solomons Gold is long past the start-up stage, Clive says it is really still in the early stages of its export journey and its business model is still evolving.

“Our premium product range that stems from being one of the few vertically-integrated chocolate companies in the world, using only natural known origin ingredients, will be the key to our future [export] success,” he says.

“Our ability to manage every process of the supply chain means we can sustainably deliver a single-origin product that offers consistent superfood quality and indulgent flavours. This is a point of difference for Solomons Gold.”

“We are continually evolving to extend our wholesale and retail product range and meet future export demands. Our newly installed roasting, conching and wrapping machines will more than double current capacity when fully installed.”

Clive says increased capacity will enable the company to meet anticipated export demands for its Solomons Gold retail range, wholesale ‘value-adding’ cocoa ingredients and new premium Dark Velvet Collection being exported to Australia.


The global superfood phenomenon

The demand for superfoods and ‘free-from’ foods continues to increase worldwide, explains Clive, “driven by people living holistic lifestyles who see health and fitness as the new form of wealth, and replacing materialistic status symbols to focus on creating a positive personal image and promoting longevity.”

The superfood phenomenon grew globally by more than 200 percent in the five years up to 2015 (Mintel Global New Products Database – Super growth for “super” foods – May, 2016) and is set for further growth during 2018-2022 of more than 15.70 percent each year (Research and Markets Report 2018).

Driving this sector further is the ‘tread lightly on the planet’ movement that has seen a 600 percent increase in veganism in the US, and 350 percent in the UK, over the past three years (Global Report Data 2017).

New Zealand in particular is prized for its natural, trusted and ethical superfood produce that has seen the organic sector grow 30 percent since 2015 to $600 million.  It has also led to a 42 percent increase in exports in this sector now valued over $355 million (2018 Organic Aotearoa New Zealand Report).

Cacao is recognised globally as one of the planet’s most powerful superfoods, says Clive, and is known for its health and wellbeing benefits as well as it’s universally popular, indulgent flavour.

“However, market competition remains fierce,” he says. “Therefore, differentiating your product and its processing methods is essential. Solomons Gold is able to guarantee the provenance and the quality that originates from the pristine growing conditions of the Solomon Islands.

“We highlight our meticulous and slow, artisan batch roasting techniques that help retain cacao’s superfood antioxidant values while also maximising the rich, exotic flavours,” says Clive.

“It’s important not to underestimate the power of your product story, its quality and any key points of difference,” he adds. 

“It is also important to continue to build trust and transparency with global partners by opening channels of communication and by being accountable for ensuring delivery reliability and product consistency.”

He believes sales growth for Solomons Gold will come from export to boutique global manufacturers and retail stockists.


Export challenges, community support

Clive describes one of the biggest obstacles the company has faced so far in developing export markets as “the commercial resolution of logistical challenges”.

“Generally, the logistics cost component of delivering our product from New Zealand to an export customer is often greater than the domestic cost of the product, ex-factory,” he explains. “This is a real problem for small exporters unable to achieve economies of scale.”

Clive says the other major challenge facing many small-scale exporters is working capital funding. “In the case of C-Corp it’s due to long lead times from payment of dry beans to our domestic growers, to receipt of final payment from overseas buyers of Solomons Gold products. This cycle is sometimes up to four months.”

As for C-Corp’s overall business practice, one aspect that is unwavering is the ongoing support the company provides to local communities. In Honiara, that support extends to more than 50 local growers and landowners.

“This assistance is broad based and we continue to assist growers with technical support, micro financing and financial assistance to improve processing capability via the construction of improved technology drier systems,” says Clive.

“In addition, a significant premium over domestic cocoa prices is always paid by us to growers who can produce chocolate grade cocoa which meets Solomons Gold specifications.

“We also support the broader community with infrastructure improvements such as supply of materials, trade services, and construction assistance to benefit our farmers’ community, health and wellbeing.”

This article was first published in NZBusiness magazine.

Photo: Solomons Gold MD Clive Carroll.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


Dishing up export possibilities

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

What’s mine is not yours

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012

25 countries… and counting

Exporter Today Editorial TeamExporter Today Editorial TeamApril 16, 2012