Vietnam Time

6/8/2018 2:56:50 PM

Marou, the made-in-VN renowned chocolate

(VNF) - Although  introduced to the market only seven years ago, the made-in-Vietnam chocolate brand Marou has won the hearts of connoisseurs around the world. It was called “the best chocolate you have never tasted” by reporter Laurence Obsborne (the New York Times).

Marou chocolate bars are made in a factory in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, and now is actually recognized as a high-end product which affirms its position in the market. The special brand is sold at famous shops and supermarkets in the world such as Harvey Nichols in the UK and  Whole Foods in the US.

How Marou was founded?

The creation of the Marou brand name is attributed to the passion and creativity of a Franco-Japanese named Samuel Maruta and a Franco-American, Vincent Mourou. Samuel was a school teacher while Vincent was a former advertising executive.

The story started, like every good Vietnamese yarn perhaps should, with a trekking expedition in the jungle.

Both Vincent, who had given up a career in advertising in San Francisco and Sam, an ex-banker doing his best to avoid a return to the financial sector, were looking for a unique business venture. Mourou’s antennae had piqued when an agronomist friend had told him that there were cocoa plantations in southern Vietnam.

“I mean I liked chocolate — doesn’t everyone? But I knew nothing about it and I certainly wasn’t aware that Vietnam had much of a history of cocoa production,” says Vincent.

Nevertheless, the kernel of an idea had been planted. The next stanza in the Marou story saw the pair head out by motorbike to an area in the southern province of Ba Ria - Vung Tau where, they had been told, cocoa was being grown. Upon finding a plantation, they purchased a 2 kg bag of beans.

Marou founders Vincent Mourou (left) and Samuel Maruta taste the cacao pods, which are brightly colored on the outside. Credit: Justin Mott

By virtue of having a blender and an oven, Sam’s kitchen was nominated as the testing lab. The first batch was, by the pair’s own admission, far from accomplished. Nevertheless, there was something about the punchy flavour of the early experiments that gave them hope.

“The chocolate was grainy and we didn’t have the balance right between cocoa and sugar,” says Vincent of the first tasting session. “But right away, we knew there was something different going on.

“Even in those early stages when we didn’t really know what we were doing we were aware of the potential. Vietnamese cacao produces distinctive fruity and spicy notes and produces bars with freshness and intensity.”

As the giant roaster and gleaming stainless steel vats filled with chocolate at the Marou factory prove, the pair have refined their process significantly since the early days of the company.  

That was how Marou chocolate came into being. The two men’s ambition was to create a chain of self-contained chocolate production, from processing cocoa beans to packaging and selling chocolate bars. This production form is called “bean-to-bar” in English, but it had not yet been carried out in Vietnam.

After spending years experimenting with cocoa beans from six provinces across Vietnam, they discovered that cocoa beans in each region have their own distinctive flavour despite the same cocoa percentage for the bars they used.

Leveraging Vietnamese cocoa beans

Marou source their beans from five provinces across Vietnam. For their core range, they have chosen a different cocoa percentage for the bars from each region. Highlighting the origin of a product according to French culture, Samuel and Vincent named each type of chocolate after the name of localities where cocoa plants are cultivated, including the Tien Giang 70% up to the Ben Tre 78%. 

The brightly colored ­cacao pod, when sliced open, looks like a mangosteen, with a cluster of seeds coated with a sweet white membrane. The seeds are fermented for six days in wooden crates, and then dried in the sun on bamboo mats.

Subsequently, the fermented beans are transported to Marou’s chocolate factory in Saigon, where they are transformed into chocolate by bespoke machinery. They are roasted, winnowed, ground, conched, tempered and moulded into some of the most beautiful chocolate bars in the world.

Marou Chocolate

Cocoa beans. (Photo: Duncan Forgan)

So far, the French company has created six types of chocolate products, with the content of cocoa ranging between 70% and 78%. The cocoa beans are chosen from different localities such as Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Tien Giang, Dong Nai and Ben Tre. There are the Dong Nai 72%, the Lam Dong 74%, the Ben Tre 78% and others.

Each region has its own distinctive flavour notes, and Marou have chosen recipes that enhance their unique qualities. 

For instance, the chocolate from Tan Phu Dong (Tien Giang province) had a bright freshness to it, and tasted a bit like hazelnuts: creamy and intensely dark; while the bar from Ba Ria-Vung Tau has exceptionally fruity notes, and the Dong Nai is more balanced with hints of spice.

Marou’s attention to detail doesn’t stop at the chocolate itself though. Every aspect of the way each bar looks and feels has been carefully thought out, with particular care and attention being given to the wrapping.

A finished bar of Marou chocolate is a small work of art, and unwrapping it takes you on a journey deep into the provinces of Vietnam.

‘‘We make a very French chocolate as far as technique goes,’’ said Vincent. ‘‘Most Vietnamese like much sweeter, blander chocolate. But as far as the raw material goes, it’s also distinctly Vietnamese.’’

Honored with awards

 After winning a promising award in 2012, Marou won gold, silver and bronze medals at the London Academy of Chocolate.

At Salon du Chocolat 2013, the world’s largest chocolate exhibition in Paris in 2013, 400kg of Marou chocolate were sold in four days.

Marou Chocolate

Marou's chocolate pastries are now available in Marou cafe outlets in Ha Noi and HCM City. (Photo: Duncan Forgan)

At present, besides supplying for the demand of customers in  Vietnam, the company sells its products to France, Sweden and England. Their products are also present in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Japan.

Samuel said that if harvested on time, Vietnam’s cocoa beans have a high quality the same as products from South American countries or Madagascar. In many countries, especially in France, customers are surprised when discovering  that Marou is made from 100% Vietnamese materials./.

  ( VNF )
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