In the midst of the hubbub of laughter and celebration at the launch of Marou’s new chocolate bar product line, uncle Lau — a cocoa farmer from Tien Giang — stood at the center. The noise slowly faded into astonishment as uncle Lau started to talk about a love affair with cocoa trees that began more than 37 years ago.
In the early 70s, uncle Lau drank a cup of US-made cocoa. He thought, “if Hawaii could grow such delectable cocoa seeds, Vietnam could do the same.” He started planting cocoa trees himself. He nurtured his plants, hoping they’d soon make a flavorful cup of chocolate drink.
Uncle Lau’s passion for cocoa trees spread out. Almost 10 years ago, the Marou team — then a newly established brand that envisions putting the spotlight on Vietnam’s cacao — met with him to talk about his cocoa beans. However, his beans didn’t initially meet the company’s standards.
“After that, experts came down to show me how to ferment following the procedure of Marou. It was also when I thought I had to make my cocoa beans based on what the market needed, not solely on what I know,” shared uncle Lau.
He worked with cocoa experts from Marou, learned new skills and techniques, and upgraded the quality of his cocoa products. After his four-decade journey with his beloved cocoa trees, uncle Lau was finally recognized as one of the best cocoa fermenters in the world.
His feat was also celebrated by Sam Maruta and Vincent Mourou — the French entrepreneurs behind the Marou brand. They became more than just partners in the business, they’re a family, uncle Lau said.
Like uncle Lau, many of Marou’s cocoa bean suppliers have become an integral part of the chocolate brand.
Vung, who handles raw material supply for Marou, says that maintaining good relationships with suppliers, especially with farmers, is important. Unlike other chocolate companies that only meet with suppliers once a year to purchase, the Marou team comes to the farm every month to collect and taste each batch of cocoa beans and nuts, detect problems and assist farmers with any production issues.
“They are not only material suppliers but also our family. We return to the farm as if we were going back to our hometown, asking about their health and family’s situation,” said Vung.
Marou understands that quality products come from quality raw materials. Happy and caring farmers who receive life and technical support will also create the best quality cocoa beans. They also understand that the output does matter for farmers, so Mr. Vung’s team ensures stable cocoa beans purchase, even during the Covid-19 pandemic when sales were low. Even in the face of difficulties and uncontrollable challenges, Marou has maintained quality and stable supply.
“We have been building relationships with cocoa farmers in Vietnam by providing them financial and technical support and building more cocoa farms. We are supporting generations of cocoa farmers that can last for decades to come. We want to be a leader in the cocoa community and give back to the community throughout our growth journey,” said Vincent Mourou.
It is this solid foundation and vision that brought Marou to life. In 2010, Sam and Vincent met by chance while exploring Vietnam. They were both impressed by how cocoa farmers grew their trees in the Mekong Delta. After a few simple Google searches of "cocoa farm," the two went straight to a farm with no specific address in Ba Ria - Vung Tau. On the ferry back to Saigon, they were already finalizing their company, which they decided to officially call Marou, Faiseurs de Chocolat. Marou is a combination of their surnames.
By the end of 2011, the two Frenchmen received their business license in Ho Chi Minh City and worked on opening their store in 2012, marking the birth of Vietnam’s first and original chocolate brand.
Right from the early years of its establishment, the brand of bean-to-bar chocolate has taken the chocolate world by storm, attracting the attention of international media, and being recognized by the international community as a “new talent in the chocolate industry” at a grand event in Paris; as well as making a deep impression on the late Michelin chefs Michel Roux and Pierre Hermé.
Marou has become the center of discussion, receiving the respect of great names in the industry as they brought a new sense of pride to "Made in Vietnam" products.
Marou’s first product line is pure chocolate with names representing the six provinces from which they originated: Ben Tre, Tien Giang, Dong Nai, Lam Dong, Ba Ria, and Dak Lak.
The cocoa flavor in each product reflects the taste of that region’s soil, including topographical and weather features. The drought creates a sour taste, while the heavy rainy season produces a fruity or warm flavor commonly found in spices.
Notably, marking the milestone of a decade of development in 2021, Marou launched a special chocolate bar with pho flavor at the end of last year, a homage to Vietnam’s national dish. Pho Spice Bar is a blend of cocoa with five spices in turn to make pho, including cardamom, star anise, cilantro seeds, cinnamon, and cloves.
To continue its 10th-anniversary celebration, Marou has launched two more lines of chocolate bars with a completely new approach of ingredients, styles, and customer profiles with the concept of ‘graphic novel – journey to the tropics.’
“Marou Bars will expand its reach by blending more ingredients from fruits and nuts, creating three new different flavors. The size of the chocolate bar has also changed to suit more purposes of use,” Vincent said.
Marou, Faiseurs de Chocolate currently owns a large chain of stores in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and, at the same time, exports made-in-Vietnam chocolates to 20 countries.
“Our vision is to be the most inspiring chocolate company in Asia, and we want to create unexpected experiences for our customers,” Vincent said.