In just a few years, Makaya Chocolat has become “THE” chocolatier in Haiti. Present in all gourmet stalls, as well as at fairs and online, the collection owes its success to its high quality taste, but also to the personality of its creator, Ralph Leroy, who steers the brand’s image and digital career.
It was probably at the Salon du Chocolat de Montréal in 2013 that the genesis of Makaya was established. At the time, founder Ralph Leroy was a fashion designer, invited as he has been every year since 2009 to create a collection of accessories… in chocolate!
From aesthetic inspiration to chocolate production, it was an ocean to cross, for this native of Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti. But his interest in cocoa turned into a passion, and gradually took the place of fashion. In 2015, on his chosen soil, he met the Fédération des coopératives cacaoyères du Nord, Feccano. “It’s a common misconception that chocolate is only made in Europe. But why not work with chocolate right here in Haiti?” Leroy was astonished when, in 2016, he set up a laboratory and carried out his first cocoa bean selection and roasting.
From Italy to Trinidad
The Makaya brand is launched with a wide range of aromas and flavors, including fleur de sel and coffee. The reception was spectacular, but our creator felt limited by his technical shortcomings. How do you keep your chocolate shiny? He would need to master “tempering”, a decisive step in making chocolate. Leroy contacted chocolate makers in Montreal, but didn’t convince anyone to come to Haiti. In 2018, he decided to go to Italy to learn how to tame this precious material. ” In the end, it was the best option: to acquire the skills myself and be able to pass them on, rather than receive them from experts who, once my team had been formed, would leave…”confides Ralph Leroy.
After six months’ training in Italy and a sculpture masterclass in Chicago, Ralph completed his world tour as an apprentice in Trinidad to master the part of making chocolate from the bean. Back in his homeland, Ralph Leroy began producing tablets from beans supplied by Feccano. The launch on the Haitian market was a rapid success thanks to word-of-mouth and local fairs, but the real success of the brand came from social networks, the chocolate maker’s marketing tool par excellence.
Social networks and online sales
Makaya takes on a new dimension with the opening of an original outlet in Pétion-Ville, combining laboratory and tasting room, and hosting events. The chocolate workshop provides both team training and fun workshops for children, teenagers and adults. Despite the COVID pandemic, 2020 is a good year thanks to the website, which is starting to generate sales. A dispatch center has been set up in Miami to deliver orders for the United States, and another in Montreal for Canada. 40% of production is exported, boosted by his dynamic social networking strategy: Ralph Leroy doesn’t just promote Makaya, he creates digital conversations around chocolate, bringing in professionals and celebrities and opening up the discussion threads to all chocolate lovers. In the same year, the brand went on sale at the airport duty-free shop, adding to those in supermarkets and high-end boutiques. With the processing of the beans, Makaya signs the first range of Haitian chocolates “from bean to bar”, From bean to bar. A source of national pride!
Strong local recognition
In February 2022, Makaya took part in an exchange of best practices organized by Caribbean Export with Dominican companies. This mission on Dominican cocoa promotion and marketing strategy, production and processing techniques, and organizational management mechanisms implemented by CONACADO, will mark the start of a collaboration with Definite Chocolate.
The Dominican Republic’s chocolatier and Haiti’s chocolatier join forces in a creative partnership proposed as part of the gastronomy component of the “Binational Cultural Dialogue” supported by the European Union. The two master chocolatiers have joined forces to create a collection that reflects their island: the Quisqueya collection. With the support of Caribbean Export, the collection takes shape with three different chocolates and an original packaging. It was first presented to a large audience at the Dominican Chocolate Festival in July, then at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris the following autumn.
In December 2022, Makaya is also participating in the Capacity Building Program for the new European Organic Regulation in cooperation with ITC for the beneficiary companies of the HT-DR bi-national cocoa value chain project implemented by Caribbean Export.
Haitian chocolate on tour!
In 7 years, Makaya has created 15 products, processed a ton of beans and can be found in some 15 sales outlets in Haiti and abroad. Its online sales capacity now accounts for 40-50% of sales, thanks to 100% digital promotion and marketing.
Makaya has plans to open a boutique chocolate factory-tasting room in Cap Haïtien and another in Montréal, but the situation in Haiti has put the chocolatier’s economy and ambitions on hold. His workshop has shrunk from 23 people to 7, but fortunately, foreign sales are saving the day: 90%, 80%, 70%, 65% or 45% dark chocolates, white chocolates, almond, cappuccino, 42% Expresso, 65% Latte, and recently, a special edition, the Héritage bar, all find their fans. And Makaya 100% cocoa, the basis for its famous hot chocolate, remains the star product in the chocolate lounge. The founder of Makaya spares no tour and hosts a host of events around Haiti in Miami, New York, Washington and Montreal. Chocolate desserts, activities, workshops, conferences… Ralph Leroy has become a true ambassador for Haitian chocolate. He hopes to take part in the Salon du Chocolat in Paris next October and present his new 2023 product, Makaya coffee beans and ground coffee, due for release next autumn. As he puts it, ” with Makaya, Haitian chocolate goes on tour!