With a focus on food sovereignty and transparent supply chains, Melbourne-based cacao lovers Living Koko are a zero-waste, values-led organisation that supports the farmers in Samoa who are seeking to develop their cacao cash crop as a sustainable, current and future income stream to benefit their family and community.
Cacao is in the blood of co-founder Phoebe Preuss – her grandfather created the Lafi7 cacao bean – and today she and the team create small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate and bespoke cacao products, made of the richest beans from the Samoan Islands.
Supporting Pacific Island communities with a distinct seed-to-community approach, here are four things we love about the brand.
Shared Values Underpin the Entire Supply Chain
“It can take up to three years for a cacao tree to mature enough to produce her own fruit, her own seeds,” Phoebe shares. “With the right kind of care and relationships, she ends up having the capacity to continue producing fruits until she reaches 100 years of age. The importance of her relationships starts from the moment that she’s planted, similar to us as people. Our relationship to our mother and our mother’s relationships to food and the environment, all become so important from the moment that we’re planted within our mothers.
I am activating my own cultural identity, connecting to family lands back home across the Pacific, and also to our long lineage and history within cacao.
“I am a Samoan Indigenous woman and my work through Living Koko has allowed me to actually realise that my generational relationships – that is the decisions and experiences of my ancestors – have really positioned me and in turn continue to support Glen Reiss (co-owner) and my journey with Living Koko. I am activating my own cultural identity, connecting to family lands back home across the Pacific, and also to our long lineage and history within cacao. This ongoing responsibility also ensures these kinships are approached with respect and reciprocity through a shared value approach. The shared valued approach is what really underpins Living Koko.”
The Brand Honours ‘Papa’ from Seed to Bar
“In respect to the reciprocity from cacao to community, we have to recognise that these are important circular relationships with ‘Papa,’” Phoebe says. “Papa is our word for Earth. For Living Koko, Papa and community need to be in a circular relationship. It’s our responsibility as bean suppliers, chocolate makers, food producers and consumers to take a deeper look at our food systems – the journey of our food. We need to look at the whole picture, the holistic view of the journey and value that chain.
It’s our responsibility as bean suppliers, chocolate makers, food producers and consumers to take a deeper look at our food systems – the journey of our food.
“A lot of people only see the ingredients. Never questioning where did this ingredient come from? Who’s cultivating that ingredient and what process do they follow? Are the farmers being respected? Are they being paid enough and honoured enough to look after the land in the best way possible? Or are our western-based practices in essence not supporting them, and therefore not allowing them to support Papa, encouraging them to bring in chemicals and trying to grow things in a fast way?
There is a Respectable Trade Approach
“In our time, we note that many government responses to support the South Pacific communities revolve around providing aid funding for projects,” she shares. “While this is important, like most projects they have a beginning and end. There is an opportunity for businesses in countries like Australia, New Zealand and larger countries also within the Pacific community, to build respectful, long-term relationships with producers in the islands. Such relationships lay the food sovereignty and sustainable business foundations we think all parties can value.”
From Seed to Bar, Family Comes First
“The seed has an aunty relationship with the coconut tree,” Phoebe says. “When we take the seed, we use the cacao pod. We mulch the cacao pod and we also mulch the husk of the coconut tree. Then it’s like a 50/50 blend that we mix together and that’s what the seed goes into. It’s almost like mama and the auntys come together to help it sprout. When it gets to six months, it’s a couple of feet tall and we look to planting her into the ground, back into Papa.
Speaking about cacao for us is like talking about a family member – one that we really care about deeply.
“She needs to be planted underneath the coconut trees and then it takes three years for the cacao to fruit, to bear her own seeds. That’s when we start harvesting. We can harvest right up to 100 years of age, sometimes more. There’s a specific way that you pluck the fruit to not damage the tree. And then we ferment it for seven days. Previously, we used to weave baskets, break the pod and put the cacao in there. Every day, we’d move these baskets, to get air circulation for the fermentation process to keep going. Now we’re using bigger wooden boxes with holes in them, but we still have to go in there and move the cacao to make sure that it’s all fermenting evenly. Then we move it to be sun-dried, and that can take one to two weeks. Here we’re trying to get as much moisture out of the bean for exporting and also for flavours when we roast. As someone whose family has cultivated cacao for generations, that kind of knowledge is just second nature to me and a lot of stuff is learned via osmosis and seeing things done and being part of it. Moving to Melbourne and starting Living Koko six years ago, the creation of chocolate was something very, very new to me. Understanding the marketing, creating a business, and trying to get your brand out there, I soon realised that there were different ways to approach this. And that was to start with being really authentic. We are authentic from the very beginning. Speaking about cacao for us is like talking about a family member – one that we really care about deeply.”