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Sweet success for Finland’s little chocolate factory

Peter Westerlund fulfilled his dream of making bean-to-bar chocolate and won a prize for his Madagascar milk chocolate.Elisa Häggström

For Finnish chocolate maker Peter Westerlund the key to great chocolate is no additives except time and creativity.

Inside the Little Chocolate Factory Porvoo, the rich scent of recently crushed cacao beans is mixed with the sound of a stone mill. Here, Peter Westerlund makes chocolate from scratch using only three ingredients: cacao nibs, cane sugar and milk powder. The ecological and handmade bean-to-bar production line gives every chocolate bar a unique flavour.

“Compared to mass-produced chocolate, our small-scale approach lets the individual flavour of every bean harvest shine in the chocolate,” Westerlund says.

During the production process, he is able to use traditional time-consuming methods without adding or removing anything from the beans. This means that it takes over three months to make each bar of chocolate, and also that the end product stands out from similar treats produced on a large scale.

“When I started the business 12 years ago, I only made assorted chocolates and sold other brands, but I soon realised that I wanted to do something you can’t find in every convenience store,” says Westerlund.

For a long time, he used a ready-made chocolate paste as the base of his production. However, the real dream was always to produce his own bean-to-bar chocolate, whereby the factory itself takes care of every step of the chocolate production.

After 10 years of researching behind the scenes, Westerlund launched his first bean-to-bar product in 2015. Two years later the production was ripe enough to enable him to take some bold steps into the future.

Back to basics

In the beginning of 2017, the Little Chocolate Factory Porvoo completely changed its business model by moving to bigger facilities and shifting focus to online sales as well as retailers. Some items were removed from the selection, staff were shed and Westerlund became the sole face of the business.

“Some people questioned my decision, but I think it is good to renew yourself from time to time. With the new concept I have time to concentrate on production,” says Westerlund.

At the Little Chocolate Factory Porvoo, tasty chocolate comes from great beans boosted with passion and creativity. Have you ever tried smoked chocolate before, for example? Image: Mia Westerlund

According to Westerlund, the drastic overhaul has already proven to be successful. Customers are finding his online store without any marketing, and since retailers had been interested already for a while, it has not taken long for the chocolate to reach some of the bigger Finnish stores.

A part of the new plan is also to share the knowledge of what handmade chocolate is all about by offering tours in his factory. Since the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate is still very rare in Finland, there is a gap of understanding for the real process behind the tasty treats. These tours are a way for Westerlund to explain the process behind the more expensive price tag.

A pioneer among Finnish chocolate makers

When Westerlund started his business, he was one of only a few chocolate makers in Finland that made such goodies by hand. Now, the local market is a little more crowded. Upon entering the bean-to-bar community in 2015, Westerlund once again took the role of Finnish chocolate front-runner, since only a few chocolatiers in Finland had attempted this before him.

Now the Little Chocolate Factory Porvoo offers several bean-to-bar products made from handpicked Brazilian beans or beans from Madagascar that Westerlund sources directly from the farmers.

When chocolate is made by hand, the flavour is affected by every detail in the process: roasting the beans, grinding the cacao nibs and letting the chocolate mature before making the final product. Image: Elisa Häggström

The factory also still sells the original goodies made of raw chocolate, alongside some other innovations such as cacao powder especially made to boost your schnapps. When it comes to flavouring, everything from adding spruce needles to smoking the chocolate is possible.

“Chocolate is a fascinating raw material that could be made into anything – the sky is the limit,” Westerlund enthuses.

Tickling global taste buds

Even though bean-to-bar chocolate is new in Finland, it is more common abroad, with similar factories found in Sweden and Iceland, for example. For Westerlund, it is important to keep in contact with these peers to exchange knowledge and ideas.

Another way of increasing awareness of his chocolate among his fellow chocolatiers was to participate in the International Chocolate Awards this summer. The result far exceeded Westerlund’s expectations: Europe’s third best in the category of Micro-Batch, Plain Milk Chocolate Bars.

“Europe is full of chocolate makers and older companies that have made bean-to-bar chocolates for a long time, so I never thought I would succeed,” says Westerlund.

Nevertheless, this international recognition has already brought demand from the German market, which bodes well for any global aspirations the Little Chocolate Factory Porvoo has. Once he has an established a better foothold domestically, Westerlund will look to expand production to meet international needs.

Until then, those abroad with a sweet tooth can still get their hands on his chocolate from the web store. Westerlund himself will be in the business as long as his heart is still in it – for a long time, by the sounds of it.

“I eat chocolate everyday but still cannot get enough of it. That is also why I do this – I like it so much,” Westerlund says.

By: Elisa Häggström