Recap: 2016 HCCA Conference on Maui

The annual HCCA Conference convened on Maui March 12-13. The two-day event began with a farm tour of HCCA President, Gunars Valkirs’ farm in Lahaina. Members were able to observe many experiments with cacao growing by Gunars and the Hawaii Cacao Foundation as well as his use of irrigation, wind-break and shade trees. Gunars hosted a dinner at his home that evening. The business portion of the conference began on Sunday, March 13th and was followed by a series of diverse and educational presentations. 

A summary of those presentations can be found below. The full slide presentations are available to members under "Conferences" on your "My Membership" page of this site. Photos from the conference can be found on the My Membership page as well. 


The Trials and Tribulations of Running a Cacao Farm by Dan Corson, Hamakua Chocolate

Dan Corson of Hamakua Chocolate, Big Island, provided his background before he ventured into the cacao business. He explained the challenges of maintaining a cacao farm remotely from Seattle, particularly with respect to maintenance.    


A Winemaker's Look at Artisanal Chocolate by John Sharffenberger

John drew comparisons to the early California wine industry and the current Hawaii cacao industry. He proclaimed that Hawaii has all conditions to be the “Napa Valley of Chocolate.” He cited importance of the fermentation process in the flavor profile of the cacao beans and the importance of the context of the cacao world…building off the years of experience in taste. 

Small and Large-Scale Fermentation by Dan O'Doherty

Dan spoke about the need to ensure high quality cacao beans where Ripeness and Fermentation play a large role. Sugar content will drop if the fruit is not ripe enough or overripe. In Hawaii, we have the ability and control to ensure ripeness standards are met to ensure impeccable quality. The harvest window is about two weeks from beginning-to-ripen yellow pods and becoming too ripe, dehydrated. 

Annual Cacao Survey by Skip Bittenbender

Skip conducted his annual Hawaii cacao survey and presented at the March 2016 conference. To take a look at the survey, click here. He asked if people knew of other people growing cacao that didn’t receive the notice and should be included to please forward to them as this is the best account of what’s going on in the industry. 

Hawaii Cacao Foundation by Dylan Butterbaugh, Executive Director

HCCA President Gunars Valkirs introdu ced the Hawaii Cacao Foundation and noted that he is a strong supporter of the organization. As such, he has subleased 1.25 acres of his farm to the Foundation and donated the labor and materials to maintain it so that HCF can conduct their cacao experiments.  Dylan Butterbaugh, Foundation executive director, talked about the need for Hawaii to create exceptionally high-flavor cacao/chocolate, as we cannot compete with commodity chocolate regions like West Africa. 


Making ROI on Cacao Farm Selling Beans? by Gunars Valkirs, Maui Ku’ia Estate

Can you actually make money by selling cacao? HCCA President, Gunars Valkirs, doesn’t believe there is adequate return on investment (ROI) on selling cacao beans alone. His objectives are to adopt a quality model similar to fine wine; operate at a scale (50 acres) that supports building a separate chocolate factory; selling cocoa beans exclusively to his Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate LLC.  

Grading Raw and Roasted Cocoa Beans/Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute by Pam Williams, President; and Dan Doherty

Pam Williams, President of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, said, “There has been an explosion in chocolate related organizations in past 9 years. We need to coordinate and collaborate.” 

Maui Food Innovation Center Presentation and Panel Discussion by Chris Speere

At the conclusion of the HCCA conference, our venue hosts, the Maui Food Innovation Center, University of Hawaii at Maui, showed a short video highlighting the need for more local food production as we import 90% of our food and the demand is high. There will be a new food incubation facility to be built by 2017.