Technology

Autochocolate

autochocolate

Rogelio Rodríguez Soberanes
Operations manager,
ECOM cocoa
Veracruz, Mexico

This story is one of a series about how hidden innovations produce the foods we eat at the prices we pay. It has been edited for length and clarity. As Krithika tells Varagur.

We source our beans from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia and right here in Mexico. Since we are between harvests, we are in the process of buying all of the beans for next year. When we plan production for the next year, we will know exactly how many tons we will need.

I started working here in 2003. Our capacity then was 7,000 tons per year, and now we process 40,000 tons per year. In 2010 we significantly increased our cocoa product production. Then in 2016 we started making certain products like chocolate covered marshmallows and almonds in-house, which was a really big change. We sell to a lot of different customers here in Mexico like Hershey, Mars etc and we need to be competitive. It is very important to produce efficiently because cocoa products are commodities and the most important thing is the cost of production. If you're not competitive, you're out. Worldwide, ECOM processes around 10% of the world's cocoa. The plant in Mexico alone processes around 1% of the global total.

Many different processes take place in our plant, most of which are currently automated: roasting the beans, grinding sugar, melting cocoa butter, pulverizing cocoa, tempering, molding, packaging. We mainly work with European machines. All of the programmable logic control systems [basically the computers that tell the bigger machine what to do] are from Siemens in Germany, and we invested about $ 3 million in machines from Royal Duyvis Wiener in the Netherlands five years ago. That's the biggest difference.

This line started about 20 years ago with a lot of old machines ECOM bought from Nestlé when Nestlé closed their outfit in Mexico and their machines were almost 100% manual. Today we basically have two operators in one control room who monitor all the windows and screens, and about 95% of our work at the factory is done on computers. Therefore the personnel costs are now also lower. We have about 100 people in the entire facility. The size of the equipment has also changed. A large roaster might have had a capacity of half a ton 20 years ago, now it's five tons.

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