Creating A Culture Of Chocolate In Vietnam

By Pedr Finn

Ms. Khanh Linh speaks with Epicure about her current project, The Cocoa Project, which aims to make chocolate more accessible to the general public so that it can become a part of everyone’s life. Her ambition is to create an environment where people may learn about (or rediscover) chocolate. Using the distinctiveness of Vietnam’s great flavor cocoa - a delicate combination of prominent cocoa notes and a crisp fruity aroma - The Cocoa project has produced tastes that locals and travelers will adore, drawing inspiration from Vietnamese food culture and ingredients.

Can you share with us the journey of how the Cocoa Project was started? 

It started with an encounter. It had been 3 years that I was in Vietnam. It was 4 am in the morning and I was in a bus in Dalat, on the way to a trail race. The person sitting next to me started a discussion, asking me what I was doing for a living. At that time, I was working for a beer company. I had always dreamt of working in the chocolate industry, but I had put that dream aside. So when Gricha told me he had been working in that industry for his whole life, and that he was making chocolate here in Vietnam, we immediately clicked. Because we believe in building a culture of chocolate, we started off discussing making a Netflix series about chocolate & fermentation, then landed on the project of creating a chocolate museum in HCMC. Our business plan was relaying the growing number of tourists in Vietnam… You know the rest of the story and what happened to the borders. In the end, our idea evolved towards what The Cocoa Project is today, but at its core remains the desire to create an experience that will enable people to discover chocolate.

How does experience from positions like RTM & Tech Sales at ABInBev Vietnam or Management Consultant at McKinsey help you in building a chocolate brand?

Joining AB Inbev was a great experience. I got to meet and work with exceptional people, and learn how to build up the presence of the group’s brands (Budweiser, Hoegaarden, Stella Artois) in Vietnam. Infact, although the group is one of the biggest in the CREATING A CULTURE of CHOCOLATE IN VIETNAM world, it was a new comer in Vietnam, and had to challenge the historical presence of competitor brands established for a long time on the Vietnamese market. This experience equipped me with a few ideas on how to approach the Vietnamese consumer, and notions on how to build a brand in this market, but overall starting this project world, it was a new comer in Vietnam, and had to challenge the historical presence of competitor brands established for a long time on the Vietnamese market. This experience equipped me with a few ideas on how to approach the Vietnamese consumer, and notions on how to build a brand in this market, but overall starting this project from the ground was a whole new adventure.

What’s your core values and vision for the cocoa project?

We want to create a culture of chocolate in Vietnam. In the same way that there is a shared culture of enjoying coffee, or beer in Vietnam – we want to bring chocolate, a product that we love, into the everyday moments of the locals. We also want to raise collective awareness about the importance of choosing not only a good chocolate, but a chocolate for good : respectful of the farmers and for everyone involved in the value chain. The Cocoa Project is a brand that is friendly, local and meaningful.

What’s your tagline Chocolate for everybody?

Our tagline “Chocolate For the People” summarizes our vision, and what we stand for. First, it means that we believe everyone can enjoy chocolate. We believe that good quality chocolate doesn’t have to be a luxury product, only saved for special gifts. It can also be a simple pleasure that you enjoy every day. Also, it means we make sustainable choices, mindful to leave a better planet and a better society for the next generations.

Why do you focus on honouring the local culture when developing Cocoa Project’s products?

Because we are creating chocolate products that the locals will love too, products that will be appealing to the Vietnamese palate, that will resonate with their memories. We want to honour the Vietnamese food culture, one of the richest cultures in the world. What criteria do you choose for raw materials? We prioritize locally sourced ingredients, from Vietnam. For chocolate, we use Cacao-Trace chocolate, for the high quality of the chocolate and the attention paid to the fermentation process, but also for the guarantee it gives that a premium is paid to the local farmers.

Why did you choose a very local spice leaf as Mac Khen to make chocolate? Are there any obstacles in the research process to create local flavour chocolate?

We wanted a very special, iconic Vietnamese ingredient, to convey our message “Sô-cô-la cho mọi người” , so the idea of Mac Khen came up, it felt right. The whole team loved the intriguing blend of the fragrant Mac Khen with a soft milk chocolate. It is indeed challenging to come up with the right recipe that will be a great blend of flavors, you need a product that will highlight both the quality of the chocolate, but also the uniqueness of the local ingredient. This is the beauty of what we do, and our team of passionate individuals is dedicated to this quest.

What are your expectations for Cocoa Project in the near future?

We are set on developing products, recipes, that will make the Vietnamese people enjoy chocolate. So we want to create new cacao based products that they will love. We want these products to be healthy, refreshing, adapted to the local taste. 

What do you think about the current chocolate market in Vietnam? 

The chocolate market in Vietnam is still young. You can find imported brands of chocolate confectioneries, perceived as a luxury, on the market, and some popular products made of compound* (*note : cocoa based product composed of cocoa powder and vegetable fats, a lower cost alternative to chocolate). I don’t see that chocolate has made its way to the local’s daily habits, in the way that it has in France where I am from. But also it’s because in Europe we are used to enjoying hot chocolate, or eating chocolate bars… I actually believe that we just haven’t found the recipe, the product, that will make Vietnamese people think of chocolate as something that is part of their daily life. But things are changing. Many new brands are flourishing, nurtured by fantastic people who share the same passion as us. I think that the next few years will be very exciting for the industry.

There are many chocolate museums around the world. Opening one in Vietnam will be a plan in your pipeline?

It is indeed a dream that we still have, to share in more depth the fascinating stories behind chocolate. It may be a museum, or it may be in the form of a temporary exhibition or a gallery. Stay tuned!


  • Address

    143 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

  • Phone

    +84 28 39 3333 79

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