A Prime Fresh Handling Customer Profile: Blue Stripes Urban Cacao
While most people love tasting delicious chocolate, few truly know how it’s made. Yes, they may know that it’s created with cocoa beans. Beyond that, though, most don’t know that the beans are actually seeds within cacao fruit. Nor do people know anything about that fruit. They also don’t know that after those beans are harvested for chocolate production, the rest of the fruit – some 70+ percent – is discarded. That creates both tremendous food waste and environmental issues.
But now Blue Stripes Urban Cacao, a cutting-edge, entrepreneurial company, is upcycling the whole cacao pod to create new, tasty food products. They’re high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, gluten free, healthy, and nutritious. By creating new uses for the unused part of the cacao fruit, “our mission is to educate people that cacao is not just chocolate and generate significant demand for the upcycled parts of the fruit” Aviv Schwietzer, co-founder and COO emphasizes. “There is zero reason to waste this superfruit. We can increase cacao farmers earnings by as much as three-times from the same crop.”
How Does Upcycling Cacao Fruit Work?
Today, the Blue Stripes product line uses all parts of the cacao fruit (shell + fruit + beans) to create hydrating Cacao Water, Whole Cacao Snacks, Whole Cacao Energy (like granolas and trail mixes), and Chocolate Bars made from the Whole Cacao (sweetened with cacao fruit sugar and boosted with cacao shell fiber). Plus, the company champions other uses for the cacao fruit to help ensure nothing is wasted. The result is a business success story built on ingenuity, creativity, “thinking out of the box,” and eco-commitment. In this article, Prime Fresh Handling (PFH) sat down with Schwietzer to talk about his passion for cacao, the journey of Blue Stripes, and what’s happening with operations today: Here’s what we learned.
A Creative, New Approach
A stellar indication of the new brand’s appeal is that since 2022, Whole Foods grocery shoppers have been buying Blue Stripes’ vegan-friendly cacao goodies at the retailer’s 500-plus grocery stores. In addition, Kroger’s and Sprouts have also come aboard as retail grocery sellers – and they are also at over 2,000 natural retailers including Erewhon, Bristol Farms, Harmons, Central Market, Natural Grocers, etc.
The company’s approach of eco-friendly utilization of cacao and support of fair-trade policies that benefit Ecuadorian farmers (buying the cacao directly from them) has also drawn attention within the Fortune 500 World. “Hershey is one of our investors,” Schwietzer tells us, referring to The Hershey Company, a major chocolate/food conglomerative. Founded by Schwietzer and partner/CEO Oded Brenner who formed Israel’s Max Brenner Chocolate in the 1990s, consumer interest in Blue Stripes’ products is skyrocketing – with sales expected to triple this year alone. Now that’s sweet!
It’s been a unique journey. Initially, the partners started a New York City retail shop called Blue Stripes Cacao. To Schwietzer, the shop was “the Starbucks of chocolate, or CACAO rather.” Out of that, the partners added franchises both domestically and worldwide. Business was doing well, he says, until the 2020 pandemic shuttered the operations.But that created new opportunities. Rethinking their business model, the partners moved away from retail to CPG or consumer packaged goods. “We decided to take this opportunity with both arms and make something good out of it,” Schwietzer says, noting that all data gleaned from the retail operations helped in development of the new cacao products.
Is Cacao a Fruit?
With superfood, antioxidant qualities, “cacao fruit is huge in size and shape, approximately one pound in weight,” Schwietzer explains. “Yet, 90 percent of consumers don’t know it’s fruit, and the ones that do, have never tasted it. Blue Stripes is actually the first company in the world to upcycle the entire cacao fruit.”He continues: “We take the pulp – the white flesh surrounding the beans, and we make many things out of that.” For example, Blue Stripes cold presses cacao pulp and creates cacao water. “It’s kind of like coconut water and it has nothing to do with the taste of chocolate. It’s very fruity… some people say it’s really like a natural lemonade. It’s sweet and tangy.”
Strongly passionate about cacao’s healthy attributes, Schwietzer notes that in addition to being delicious, cacao water has tons of minerals, electrolytes, incredible amounts of Vitamin C, and much more. It’s also loaded with Biotin, which is good for one’s hair and nails.In turn, cacao fruit sugar – akin to coconut sugar – is also extracted from the white fruit pulp, the flesh that surrounds the beans. Blue Stripes uses that cacao sugar as a sweetener in all of their whole cacao chocolates and snacks. The company’s cacao granola and trail mixes get their chewy-ness from dried cacao fruit, while fiber comes from ground-up cacao shells. Similar to dried mango or dried pineapple, the dried cacao is “one of the most delicious, dried fruits you’ll ever try,” Schwietzer believes.
He notes that throughout the centuries, people have just taken 20 to 30 percent of the cacao fruit (the beans or seeds) and thrown the rest away. The eco-problem with that is, “the fruit has this husk that goes to waste and then it creates a lot of pollution,” he notes. “Generally speaking, we dry it, grind it, and make it into cacao shell flour or fiber. It’s probably the most nutrient part of the fruit, and we use it to boost our snacks and other items.”
Equating cacao to being “on the same track” as what happened with the coconut industry two decades ago, he says that change is coming faster and better. How so? Schwietzer says some people find the taste of coconut water not to their liking. In contrast, “when you do try cacao water, it’s insanely delicious,” he thinks. “It has a low pH, it’s perfect for the human palate, and cacao is a known superfood with antioxidants.”One interesting gleaning is that the founders never viewed Blue Stripes as a one product company. From the beginning, they didn’t feel the product was simply coconut water, for example. So, unlike most companies that start with a single line before expanding, from the get-go Blue Stripe developed a full product line. Schwietzer believes that’s what actually appealed most to Whole Foods, which sells the entire product line.
The Journey to Market
“Prime Fresh Handling first began working with Blue Stripes as its freight forwarder in Ecuador where the product was originating,” says Cristina Moscoso, PFH’s West Coast general manager, based at Los Angeles. At first, PFH simply managed air transportation of containers carrying raw cacao product. So, the business relationship started on a modest sale, she notes, with one or two flights weekly from Quito, Ecuador to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). But “then the product took off,” and PFH was assisting Blue Stripes with shipping “a boatload” of full ocean containers into California ports. Using reefer ships for refrigeration, the raw, frozen cacao product is now transported in big drums.
“It’s a robust seagoing logistics, shipping, and handling effort,” she says. “We now manage these shipments from origin to destination including all documentation along the way.” Next, the raw product is transported by PFH from California ports to Blue Stripe’s huge cold-storage warehouse facility in downtown Los Angeles via refrigerated vehicles where the myriad cacao products are processed and/or bottled. “Then we pick up those products, prepare them for shipment via air from LAX to New York’s JFK Airport. That’s where our service ends,” she says, and where Blue Stripes takes the baton to Whole Foods market shelves and other retail endpoints for consumers to buy.”
Hope for a New Vision
Our chat with Schwietzer leaves us with one thought: “Humans are starting to care more about the world, how they treat the planet and they’re seeking ways to improve things. In the case of cacao, historically the chocolate industry wasted 70 percent of the cacao after removing the beans. “But now, there’s hope for a new vision, as Blue Stripes leads the way, and more consumers try the natural taste of cacao products.”