EVERY TENTH PERSON USUALLY LIES
Chocolate is chocolate
‘There aren’t many like us. We create and produce a fun and sophisticated product that evokes good emotions for everyone. Chocolate has always been a more European product, a product of traditions handed down from one generation to the next, a product that is a bit of a mystery, a product that is cherished in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy and France. Although chocolate production came to Lithuania as far back as 1886, there are not many such deep traditions of chocolate making that are rooted in centuries of culinary heritage. Perhaps the Rūta factory has preserved such a tradition, and there is much to learn from the specialists who have devoted their lives to this field. We, with only decades of experience, look a little small next to them,’ says Užpalis.
‘Everybody loves chocolate, and the saying is true that “nine out of ten people love chocolate, and the tenth usually lies.” And those who don’t lie may recall Leslie Moke Murray, who wrote that ‘mankind is divided into two parts – the chocolate-loving and the godless communists.’
A very diverse range of people taste UAB Mulatė’s products. As the owner says, ‘chocolate is a cheerful product, I would say a product that affects the subconscious. It’s like the smell of coffee in the morning – you can deny the coffee, but you can’t deny that it smells.’
‘We are not focused on the mass market, but more on niche, high-quality products. That is what drives the need for such organic growth. It is not possible to quadruple the rate of growth; it is not industry. I once reduced production from 30 tonnes a year to 5 tonnes. According to the textbooks, that would practically mean bankruptcy. But nothing happened like that! We work patiently, we experiment, we strive for quality and we already have a recognisable brand.’
‘Today we have already received more than twenty awards from all over the world. We are proud that our chocolates with spices from Lithuanian cuisine receive the most attention,’ says Užpalis. ‘Chocolate Naive has been ranked among the top five chocolate by technologists in Europe. The chocolates produced in Lithuania have been awarded in the so-called chocolate Oscars – the International Chocolate Awards competition. Lithuanian chocolate has already been recognised by prestigious supermarkets such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, Fenwick, La Grande Epicerie de Paris, KaDeWe, Found MUJI and Dean & DeLuca. Currently, Chocolate Naive is exported to twenty-five countries around the world.’
According to Užpalis, the Lithuanian product has found its place even in such unlikely markets as Mongolia, China and Singapore: ‘Our market is the whole world, but the main ones are the USA and Japan. Plans to expand in China have stalled. We also sell some chocolate in Lithuania, where it is sold in small niche shops selling organic products.’
As Charles Dickens wrote in his novel The Pickwick Papers: ‘There’s chocolate, and there’s breakfast. If there’s no chocolate, there’s no breakfast’. Chocolate is a mild stimulant, like caffeinated coffee, tea with theophylline and cocoa with theobromine, so it’s understandable why people like it. Cocoa also contains more substances such as magnesium, endocannabinoids and phytostimulants, which have a sedative effect on opiate receptors, which is why cocoa is often drunk at night. It also has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, and there is ample evidence that cocoa may be particularly useful in protecting against cardiovascular disease. Black chocolate also improves brain function due to its circulatory support properties, and experts say that dark bitter chocolate also reduces the risk of skin cancer.
He doesn’t like sweets
‘I don't really like sweets and I do not include chocolate in the category of sweets, its sweetness is refreshing, but it’s only a technical attribute and not an essential characteristic, it’s the cocoa that is more important and revealing the whole palette of the product. Bitterness is also not a good sign,’ says the chocolate expert.
‘Chocolate is like life, a very balanced thing, with Yin and Yang, bitterness and sweetness. Interestingly, chocolate has not been consumed as a solid bar since ancient times. It was drunk as a cocoa drink for two thousand years – in Mayan, Aztec times – and it was only in the industrial period that it was discovered how to make a solid bar. Cocoa is a genetically very old – a primordial plant – and researchers have found chemical cocoa residues in fossils dating back as far as three thousand years. In the past, the pure beans were mashed with honey flowers and cornmeal, and used as a stimulant, even esoteric drink. In ancient Latin American civilisations, cocoa beans were part of the culture, the economy and were also used as money. Somewhere in the jungle, it is still possible to find exotic wild cocoa species.
While travelling, I also met some Lithuanians there. One couple is Alfred and Maria Pacai, descendants of the famous Pacai family in Salvador. They have their own coffee plantation there and have visited Lithuania several times. The well-known Pacas de Pacas coffee has already arrived in Lithuania. We make one chocolate together with them.’
You will not be a prophet in your own backyard
‘If we talk about our Premium Chocolate, those who work in this field and who know at least a little bit about chocolate, already know us as the ambassadors of our country, the conquistadors of Lithuanian chocolate, the crazy Lithuanians. It seems that even now we are better known in the world than in Lithuania,’ Užpalis smiles.
According to Užpalis, the company’s sales volumes are higher abroad than at home: ‘We try to participate in various international exhibitions. Their success and benefits are often not monetary, but the most important thing is to promote the brand, the country, the quality product, the overall image. It is just sometimes difficult to correct the image of Lithuania abroad, say in Sweden, because there we often still seem to be a country of bandits. I have even received a proposal to write on the packaging that it is not made in Lithuania but in the European Union. I was outraged: that would go against our whole philosophy, because we are trying to create Lithuanian chocolate – Lithuanian culinary history with chocolate products.
Sometimes we still lack that genuine product of our own, and sometimes we lack a professional approach. We are working for the country’s image, and of course I would like the state to take this more seriously.’
EU support helps
Lithuanian chocolate makers are expanding their exports by taking advantage of the European Union (EU) Structural Funds funding instrument ‘Naujos galimybės’ (New Opportunities) administered by the Lithuanian Business Support Agency (LBSA).
‘It is always great to contribute to the promotion of Lithuania’s name, especially when it is done with the help of such an exotically sophisticated and tasty product. It is very important for small and medium-sized enterprises competing successfully in global markets to increase their intangible know-how and create added value.’ Arūnas Burinskas, Deputy Director of the Investment Management Service of the Lithuanian Business Support Agency, wishes UAB Mulatė success.
The company continues its cooperation with the LBSA – a project under the ‘Dizainas LT’ (Design LT) measure is being implemented and applications are also being submitted for other calls for proposals.
‘It’s a real pleasure to work with LBSA specialists. They always advise in good faith, call and remind us. I have had other experiences in other agencies,’ smiles Užpalis, ‘and I am glad that such programmes, which provide opportunities for small companies involved in the development and production of new products, are continuing. They offer the opportunity to get help with quality design, and such things cost money. We are once again participating in the competition under the ‘Kūrybiniai čekiai Covid-19’ (Creative Vouchers Covid-19) measure and, from what I have read, the number of projects submitted shows how much demand there is for it.’
Next year, the makers of Chocolate Naive are preparing for the opening of a new manufacturing facility, and will invite everyone who wants to learn about the chocolate-making process to taste real, top-quality chocolate.