Mr. Isagani De Ocampo, owner of Kakaw Galleon.

“For a chocolate lover, the art of tasting has the power to magically transform a casual nibble into a world of new pleasure.” However, you can also delight yourself by making your own chocolate, only if you knew the art.

The Philippines is home to various chocolatiers perfecting the art of chocolate-making and achieving breakthrough in the world of artisanal chocolate. The term usually refers to handmade products, or those crafted in small batches, and is available in an array of unique flavor combinations. Artisanal chocolate is becoming more popular to consumers because it is made with natural ingredients. Artisan chocolatiers use traditional chocolate-making methods which is a more ethical and sustainable and a healthier alternative to mass-produced chocolates. Besides, it can be so satisfying to treat yourself to something that’s both good for you and good for the environment.

One particular Filipino Artisan Chocolatier, recognized for his exceptional contributions to sustainability, innovation, and community development, is Mr. Isagani Villanueva De Ocampo. A former Overseas Filipino Worker, De Ocampo founded and registered Kakaw Galyon Artisanal Chocolate Processing in October of 2021. The name Kakaw Galyon was derived from Acapulco-Manila Galleon trade, from which the cacao was first brought to the Philippines by its Spanish colonizers in 1670.

Kakaw Galleon's chocolate product

Before discovering his passion for chocolates, De Ocampo started to work as a seafarer for a German company in 2009. He applied in hot kitchen, worked as a dishwasher, and was transferred to work in pastry, as a utility, after one week. On the next month, he became the pastry cook. On the succeeding month, he finally reached the highest position of pastry chef. Many were amazed by his rapid progress. He confessed that he had no knowledge in pastry when he first started, but he exhibited the core of a strong work ethic, commitment to continually improve, and eagerness to learn the best practices to get the job done.

After six years, De Ocampo noticed that he was being stagnant and felt the need to pursue a different career. Shortly after he left his job as a pastry chef, he met the French Master Chocolatier Jean-Philippe. Master Jean-Philippe needed one staff member to complete his team before the sailing of the very first chocolate shop in a cruise ship. De Ocampo was then included in the 27 pastry chefs that were invited to show a demo using chocolate. Determined to impress the master chocolatier, he

immediately began his research and planned to incorporate Filipino style in his demo. His hard work paid off, as he was able to impress Master Jean-Philippe and successfully became part of his team. For four months, De Ocampo was trained and taught about the art of chocolate making by the associates of Master Jean-Philippe, who were also Master Chocolatiers from France. Eventually, he found his passion as a chocolatier.

After eight months, 17 French people were removed in the chocolate shop. De Ocampo was the only one left as a pioneer and became the head of five chocolate shops in cruise ships. He had a natural talent in designing and carving chocolates, and his masterpieces can be seen on display in the chocolate shop. He became motivated to continue strengthening his skills and enrolled in training courses at TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) every time he comes back to the Philippines. A series of trial and test with new products, within five years, led to his development of 15 variants of chocolates in the cruise ship.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, De Ocampo requested the owner to let him go back to the Philippines to be with his family. He was one of the very first batch of seafarers to arrive in the country before the lockdown in 2020. His initial plan was to return in the cruise ship after the pandemic. While on lockdown, he decided to give himself a period of two years and established his own chocolate shop to put his chocolatier knowledge and experience to use.

Having managed the chocolate shop and gelato, crepe, and coffee shop in the cruise ship, De Ocampo opened a small coffee shop in Barangay Chrysanthemum (San Pedro City), in November of 2021, to promote his chocolate powder and offer his chocolate products. Unfortunately, a fire occurred in his coffee shop and so he had to look for another location. Eventually, he found a good spot in Pacita 2, where he started to build Kakaw Galleon Artisan Chocolaterie.

De Ocampo admitted that entrepreneurship is not an easy feat, even more so, starting and operating a business during the pandemic. One of the early difficulties he faced was finding a consistent and reliable supplier who could provide high-quality cocoa beans. He also found out that the distance and shipping, from suppliers in different small towns of Davao, adds to the cost and complexity of production. He started to look for other sources and considered getting small quantities of cocoa beans and tableya from nearby local farmers. He then put the samples in production trial to assess the quality and check if these passed his set standards. He also realized his early mistake of hiring staffs in his chocolate shop, who are also his staffs in the cruise ship, waiting for their scheduled return overseas. In addition, he needed to allocate sufficient funds to build a temperature-controlled chocolate production facility and put a significant investment in specialized machines to refine, temper, pan, and mix the chocolate for hours to create a smooth texture and balanced flavor. His machines were originally sourced from India and given the extensive number of hours that the machines were operating, De Ocampo started to customize the parts of the machines. He separated the motor and used fan belt from motorcycles, which is locally available, in case the spare parts needed replacement.

Given the unpredictable market due to the pandemic, De Ocampo utilized social media and joined almost 1,800 Facebook pages to post his chocolate products and rely on word of mouth. His persistent efforts did not get unnoticed as he received calls from the Regional and Provincial Offices of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), requesting for a visit in his shop on December 17, 2021.

De Ocampo acknowledged that his partnership with DTI started the many milestones of Kakaw Galleon. From the continuous seminars, trainings, and linkages to other government support and incentives, he participated in various programs and maintained strong coordination with DTI. He highlighted the assistance given by DTI’s One Town, One Product (OTOP) through improvement and innovation in the areas of quality, product development, design, packaging, standards compliance, marketability, production capability, and brand development. The Laguna Provincial Office of DTI also endorsed the upgrade in business scope of Kakaw Galleon (from City to National) in the Regional Office, assisted the business through trademark registration with IPOPHL (Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines), and helped him secure an LTO (License to Operate) from the Food and Drug Administration.

De Ocampo continued to build his brand and broadened his contacts by participating in local and national trade fairs. He was part of the First OTOP Next Gen Laguna Hybrid Expo 2022, a provincial trade fair organized by DTI Laguna that showcased fifty (50) homegrown Laguna OTOPreneurs at the Mega Fashion Hall of SM Megamall from June 8 to 12, 2022. He also joined the Manila Coffee Festival 2023, PHILSTAR MEDIA GROUP’s NakakaBazaar2023: The Grand NakakaLocal Fair 2023, International Food Exhibition Philippines, Kalakal CALABARZON, Likhang Laguna Trade Fair, and numerous marketing activities of the Bureau of Domestic Trade Promotions including the Hybrid National Trade Fair and Bagsakan Trade Fairs. These events became a gateway of opportunities for Kakaw Galleon to build connections among local artisans, farmers, and customers. De Ocampo mentioned that creating a network is essential in a business. Building great relationships tightens trust and that is how a brand is known. Kakaw Galleon’s chocolate products already reached distant provinces in the country such as Cagayan and Masbate and other countries like Canada and the United States.

This expansion is not the end of the story. De Ocampo prides himself on creating flavors that might sound unusual. He puts tastes to the test and pours himself into each creation. All of his chocolates also have his own personal touch to them. He hand paints and decorates them with colored cocoa butter, making them aesthetically pleasing, which adds to their delectable taste. Chocolate lovers can choose from Kakaw Galleon’s specialty chocolates, such as KG almond crunch stick, KG candy stone tamarind, “lemonette”, and sand rose cornflakes. Their bonbons are also available in different flavors of honey-ginger-calamansi and gin ganache, peanut and almond crunch ganache, dates with almonds, coffee ganache, almond crunch ganache, earl grey tea ganache, and herbs ganache. Chocolate bars are also available in five variants, which includes chocolate bars made with 70% and 58% dark chocolate, 43% milk chocolate, 35% white chocolate, a sugar-free chocolate, and vegan chocolate (40% milk chocolate) made from coconut skim milk and coconut sugar. The brand’s bestselling product is their almond crunch bonbon, made with 43% milk chocolate and special crunchy almond praline.

Kakaw Galleon was awarded with the Nakakaasenso Award, during PhilSTAR’s First NakakaLocal Award, which recognized small and medium enterprises for their exceptional innovation in product design, honoring businesses that create unique products that meet evolving consumer needs and have the potential to revolutionize industries. De Ocampo highlighted that innovation is an important aspect of chocolate production. Given the changes in consumer preferences, Kakaw Galleon is continuously experimenting with new flavors and ingredients to create different selections of chocolate products, to cater to consumers who are looking for healthier options.

In addition to his entrepreneurial journey, De Ocampo was part of the 11 mentee-graduates of the Kapatid Mentor ME (KMME) – Money Market Encounter Online Multisectoral Batch Program for 2023, who successfully completed a 10-module program that aims to provide an increased access to mentorship, money, and market. In the modules of the course, he confirmed that he was able to broaden his knowledge about business, particularly in marketing, entrepreneurial mindset and values formation, operations and financial management, human resource, business law, and many other aspects of business operations. He began to focus on the improvement of his products, particularly in labeling and packaging, to become more presentable and to have its own identity. He also emphasized that, through the KMME Program, he learned how to properly manage his finances. Every night after attending his KMME modules, De Ocampo will go to his chocolate shop and gather his staffs to discuss and share his learnings on the ways and means to sustain and ensure the success of the business.

De Ocampo emphasized that success is a combination of passion, grit, and determination. Apart from offering high-quality products and excellent services, he mentioned that there should also be a human factor involved. Our advantage of being a Filipino is our friendly and accommodating nature and always offering our services with a smile. He also acknowledged that there will always be obstacles along the way. An entrepreneur should always have an open mind to be able to accept criticisms. Sometimes, these criticisms can help you improve your business. Most importantly above all, an entrepreneur should always be willing to work hard and make a sacrifice.

De Ocampo shared that Kakaw Galleon has exciting plans on the horizon. They are set to introduce KG Café, plan to open their first physical store, and offer their products in other e-commerce platforms such as Lazada. Factory visits are also in the works for a more immersive and personal artisan chocolate experience. Given that the Philippines has a huge potential for chocolate exports, he aspires to reach that milestone for Kakaw Galleon. With the help of DTI, De Ocampo is certain that this dream could become a reality. With new releases, collaborations, and openings, set in Kakaw Galleon’s near future, it would be an even more exciting next chapter in the brand’s story to watch out for. ♦

Date of Release: 10 August 2023