“I have a dream for which we need the joint effort of many… I want to set up a chocolate factory.”
It was with this statement that José Jesús Restrepo founded Luker Chocolate 113 years ago. A company with a vision that even today, five generations later, is preserved, not only in one man and his family but in the hearts of the company’s 1000 plus collaborators.
Over a century later, the dream has grown. We know that we can contribute more to the country through chocolate and we are sure that, with the support of many, this idea is beginning to consolidate and become a model in which rural Colombia and its inhabitants are the protagonists. We no longer dream of just a chocolate factory; our purpose today is to transform lives through it.
The true story of Luker Chocolate’s social responsibility and sustainability is the account of a family legacy that started as a dream and was then built and extended with all its members. In the search for Luker Chocolate’s highest purpose, we went back to look for its roots and found many stories of the legacy of a family, its values, and convictions.
Let’s start with Maria de Restrepo, who was a member of Luker Chocolate’s founding family. Every Saturday, in Manizales, she would stand at her window to give out chocolate to the homeless for the sole reason of consoling them and making sure they had food in their stomachs. At that time, there had been no research on the “happiness of eating chocolate”, but what she did and the chocolate she gave out must have comforted many.
Jaime Restrepo, founder of the Luker Foundation, is said to have supported anyone who approached him with a great idea, he would spend time listening to their ideas and he financed some of these projects. In time, this gave rise to the foundation, which later had a great benefactor, Inés Restrepo Mejía, who has always supported causes around children, education and women. She decided to leave all her legacy to the foundation, today allowing the implementation of programs that have had a great positive impact in Manizales, in terms of education and entrepreneurship.
The story goes on thanks to the new generations of the family which continues to build the country. Many of them have been involved in social projects, foundations, a vocation for service, and the conviction that with the effort of many, it is possible to build a dream. All of the above is the inspiration for the construction of a sustainable model in which we want Luker Chocolate to last another 100 years as a business. We want it to be able to contribute to all those around us, our collaborators, farmers, their families, and our customers around the world.
The company’s current leaders have opted to continue this legacy and take it to another level. Over the years, the company has evolved and found new opportunities, not only in the domestic market but also in international markets. In that evolution, it was decided that the chocolate business would take a different course from that of CasaLuker, the mass consumer business. This is how Luker Chocolate was born, a company that sells chocolate to the world; chocolate made with the best Cacao Fino de Aroma. This new business model goes from selling a product to offering an integral service around chocolate, with innovative, competitive equipment and, above all, with a superior purpose.
We began to renew the company internally, maintaining the over 100-year family tradition, but adding the new global trends addressing sustainability. We want to contribute to the country through an economic, environmental, and socially responsible model. In this sense, we have always been a company that has worked closely with Colombian farmers in the different cocoa regions. We have accompanied them through Granja Luker for over 60 years to train them as producers, so that they have a more technical understanding of the field, helping them to improve productivity and their quality of life.
However, a few years ago we began to ask ourselves about new paths for business, for the countryside, and for small farmers. In this search for new sustainable models for the cocoa-growing regions, which also largely coincide with the regions most affected by the armed conflict, we embarked on a new course towards planting our own crops. This is how we arrived in Necocli, in Urabá antioqueño, to open the way for cocoa in an area where violence was the protagonist for so many years. We arrived against all odds to plant 550 hectares of cocoa in a land that had long been used for livestock farming. The transformation was a milestone in the region. It went from five to 180 jobs, from a farm with only grass, to the planting of 600,000 new trees. Stability and future began to be considered through formal hiring; women began to play a leading role in the field.
There are still many challenges to overcome in the nearby villages. Multidimensional poverty rates are still very high and the aftermath of violence is still visible in the eyes of the children. The whole team that was embarking on this new phase began to wonder about our responsibility as a company. What more could we bring to the countryside, to the people, to the children, to our neighbors? This is how The Chocolate Dream was born, Luker Chocolate’s long-term vision to lead social and economic development in the cocoa-producing regions where we work. Little by little, the Dream became the DNA of the company’s sustainability strategy; we knew we could do more and we discovered how to do it. Today, Luker Chocolate has a strategy in which the economic, environmental, and social components carry the same weight and in which the business model is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.
We capitalized on all the good practices of more than 110 years in a model of integrated intervention in the territories, not only in Necocli, but also in Casanare, Huila, Tumaco, and, in the mid-term, the other cocoa-growing parts of the country. We know that we are responsible for the course Colombia is taking and for our planet. We want the Colombian countryside to become a protagonist, not because of the suffering caused by the violence, but because of its prosperity, its dignity, its potential for development, its knowledge, its art, and its culture.
We have fully integrated our value chain to achieve this, first humanizing its links. We are no longer talking about raw materials but about farmers and communities; we are no longer talking about the transformation of cocoa but about equipment with purpose; we are not only talking about income but also about clients with life projects. We are also looking to make our value chain not linear but circular, so that the client can give something back to the countryside through projects created by us and financed by them, in order to improve the living conditions of the communities and farmers who work day by day to bring the best chocolate to their country.
The Chocolate Dream manages to open new dialogues with anyone who has a product made with our chocolate on their mind. Luker Chocolate is of the best quality but also carries within it the history of our Colombian countryside.
We know that many of us can join together to turn this dream into a movement that can travel the world. This is why The Chocolate Dream will soon open its doors so that all those who want to contribute with their knowledge, their experience, and their time, can find a place where they can do so at Luker Chocolate.