ÓBOLO’s story begins over 25 years ago, as Mark Gerrits, a young man from the US, sets off on a three-month vacation in Chile. Little did he know, this short backpacking trip would expose him to the flavours, aromas, and colours of Latin America – and he would fall in love with the region and the people who care for it. So much so that he never went home!
In 2001, having lived in Chile for a while, Mark moved to Ecuador to work with cocoa-growing communities in the Amazon. It was there that he discovered the joys of transforming fresh cocoa beans into chocolate, and he has carried that passion with him throughout his travels.
He began work with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the world’s largest environmental conservation organisation, and moved back to Chile in 2003. There, he was struck by a thought:
“One day it occurred to me – Chile is in South America, relatively close to the Amazon Rainforest, which is the biological birthplace of the cacao tree. Why not ethically source sustainably-produced cacao beans, import them to Chile, and craft an authentic, pure, and high-quality chocolate? Such a chocolate would have a far lower environmental footprint – and a far more positive social impact – than the massive amounts of industrial chocolate imported every year from Europe to Chile. This ‘aha moment’ spurred me into challenging myself with a new goal: to prove that world-class chocolate could indeed be ‘Made in Chile’.”
A decade later, in 2013, Mark started making chocolate in his home in Santiago. He sourced his beans from the Pangoa Cooperative in Peru, and he continues to work closely with the cooperative’s farmers on environmental conservation projects and community investment initiatives. Mark’s care for these cocoa farmers is abundantly clear:
“The cacao farmers are much more than suppliers of our raw materials. They are the protectors of the forest and its biodiversity. They are our friends and partners, with whom we share common values of quality, fairness and sustainability. I personally travel at least once a year to Pangoa and we have also hosted members of the cooperative for knowledge exchanges in ÓBOLO in Santiago, Chile.”
Over the next two years, Mark’s bean-to-bar chocolate making hobby quickly expanded. So in 2015, he retired from TNC to throw himself full-time into pursuing his bean-to-bar dream.
His conservation efforts have not stopped there, however; ÓBOLO was founded with Mark’s values at its very centre. This has been officially recognised, as it is one of the few chocolate makers in the world that has been granted B-Corporation certification. B-Corporations must pass a set of extremely rigorous assessments before they can be certified, and every three years they must demonstrate progress in their restoration of environmental and social justice if they are to keep their certification.
As Mark summarises: “ÓBOLO is more than a chocolate brand or a family business; it is an extension of the life and values of a man’s passion for social and environmental causes. ÓBOLO is the result of someone’s decision to bet 100% on a chocolate dedicated to making people happy.”