Autochocolate

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Rogelio Rodríguez Soberanes
Factory manager,
ECOM cocoa
Veracruz Mexico

This story is part of a series on how hidden innovations produce the food we eat at the prices we pay. It has been edited for length and clarity. As told to Krithika Varagur.

We get our beans from Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia and right here in Mexico. Since we are between harvests, we are in the process of buying all the beans for next year. When we plan production for next year, we know exactly how many tonnes we need.

I started working here in 2003. Our capacity then was 7,000 metric tonnes per year, and now we process 40,000 metric tonnes per year. In 2010, we significantly increased our production of cocoa products. Then in 2016 we started making some products, like marshmallows and chocolate coated almonds, in-house, which was a really big change. We sell to a lot of customers here in Mexico like Hershey, Mars, etc., and we have to be competitive. It is very important to produce efficiently, because cocoa products are commodities and the cost of production is the most important thing. If you are not competitive, you are missing. Globally, ECOM processes around 10% of the world’s cocoa; the Mexican plant alone processes around 1% of the world total.

There are many different processes in our factory, all of which are mostly automated today: roasting beans, grinding sugar, melting cocoa butter, cocoa powder, tempering, molding, packaging. We mainly work with European machines. All PLC systems come from Siemens in Germany, and we also invested around $ 3 million five years ago in machines from Royal Duyvis Wiener in the Netherlands. This is the biggest difference.

This factory started about 20 years ago with many older machines bought by ECOM from Nestlé, when Nestlé closed its factory in Mexico, and their machines were almost 100% manual. Today we basically have two operators in a control room watching all the windows and screens, and about 95% of our work at the plant is done with computers. The cost of personnel is therefore also lower now. We have about 100 people throughout the facility. The size of the equipment has also changed; 20 years ago a large roaster might have a capacity of half a ton, and now it’s five tons.

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