"Good quality chocolate should be an experience. Something you can taste on your palate for at least 10 minutes,” says Solomons Gold founder Glenn Yeatman.
“You should eat chocolate for the cacao, not for the sugar. For us, it’s what we don’t put into our chocolate that makes it special.”
Each hand-crafted bar contains the bare minimum of ingredients - premium cacao, coconut sap sugar, and a drop of natural oil to add flavour such as peppermint, orange, berries or caramel. That’s it.
“We produce healthy chocolate. The cacao beans are grown organically and the chocolate bars are free from cane sugar, dairy, nuts and soy. Cacao is a superfood and it’s incredibly high in antioxidants.”
The story of how this award-winning chocolate factory came to establish itself in Mount Maunganui can be traced back 20 years to Zimbabwe and the aftermath of Robert Mugabe’s brutal regime.
Glenn was a fourth-generation coffee farmer who fled for his life with his young family, arriving in New Zealand with only a suitcase in hand. The traumatic experience has motivated him to work hard and use everything at his disposal. Even now, Solomons Gold is a zero-waste factory where even the wooden pallets are upcycled into beautiful rosewood tables. “We lost everything so the first couple of pallets I turned into a dining room table for our family. We still use it today.”
Glenn was working for a cocoa growing company called C-Corp in the Solomon Islands’ capital of Honiara when the idea to make chocolate first came to him in 2011.
“I took some of the raw bean home and put it in our oven. I then crushed it with my fingers and used my wife’s hairdryer to blow the husk away. I chucked it in a blender and added icing sugar and that was the first batch of Solomons Gold. A Belgium friend in Honiara commented, ‘you’re definitely onto something here.’ Until then, there hadn’t actually been anyone who had made chocolate locally. It just blew my mind.”
Like grapes and coffee, the taste of cacao varies depending on the soil conditions and climate where it’s grown. The Solomon Island’s cacao originates from the lower Amazon forest.
Since 2006, C-Corp (owned by Glenn’s boss, Clive Carroll), has invested significant time and money into the Solomons, allowing the company to control the entire ‘bean to bar’ supply chain. About 60 growers and local staff are now at the heart of the Solomon Gold story.
It takes a staggering 200 hours to turn a cacao bean into a bar of Solomons Gold. Glenn (who has also previously worked as an aircraft engineer and a master builder), designed much of the factory equipment himself and has literally built the business from scratch.
Solomons Gold Chocolate currently employs half a dozen staff at the Mount including Glenn’s daughter, Andrea King, as head chocolatier.
“I love working alongside Dad and I’ve been obsessed with chocolate since I was little,” the 27 year-old explains. “I love how this work is benefiting the Solomon Island’s community and I love making a pure chocolate without any preservatives or fillers. It’s a clean process that I’m proud to stand behind.”
Each bar is individually poured, de-molded and wrapped by Andrea and her team before being sold in Foodstuffs supermarkets and specialty shops nationwide. Solomons Gold also supplies chocolate pieces and cacao nibs to other businesses here and in Australia where they’re used in vegan ice-cream and other specialty food mixes. “We do collabs with lots of different companies – encouraging locals to support locals.”
Glenn is incredibly proud to have founded a family-orientated business and his eyes light up when his young grandchildren pop by the factory to say hi. His dream is to one day open a café and tour-friendly factory to showcase Solomons Gold chocolate in the Bay. Currently you can visit the factory on a tour with Taste of Plenty.
Solomons Gold chocolate is stocked at selected New World and Pak n Save supermarkets. You can also purchase it online via their website.