“To better your quality of life, “. . . depends on each individual, but whatever you do, do it with love.” Nazareno Estupiñan , 73 year-old cacao farmer CO-OP: UOPROCAE Province: Esmeraldas, Ecuador
Experiences are the catalysts of great things. We can definitely say this is true as we consider young Jenny Samaniego’s first experience in the early 1980’s, dancing around cocoa trees on the coast of Ecuador. This was Jenny’s first “conexión” with what would become her expertise – chocolate!
Jenny’s first experiences as a young adult in the workforce, after earning a degree in Hospitality, was working for international hotel chains in Quito, Ecuador. The demand for quality was impressed upon her, ideals and standards were being formed, and the stage was being set for her to spread her wings.
Although Jenny was born and raised in Ecuador, in 2008, she had the opportunity to participate as a cultural exchange student to the United States. It was during this time, when she compared the needs and struggles of the Ecuadorian cacao farmers she had seen in her homeland, who were unable to find a market for their produce, to the fine chocolate industry abroad and their lack of association to origin. Right then and there, a spark was ignited in her heart, and she knew that she needed to be the conexión.
Jenny had a tough journey ahead of her as she worked two and three jobs at a time to learn every aspect of chocolate making and the fine chocolate supply chain. She worked side by side with some of the most respected professionals in the chocolate world from Europe, the United States and Ecuador.
Finally, not only a young female entrepreneur was born, but an expert in chocolate: In 2011, Jenny founded Cocoa Provisions. The inspiration in launching this company was to work alongside the small-scale cacao farmers, bridging small batch, single origin cacao to the chocolate makers of the world. The reception in the marketplace was exceptional and confirmed her beliefs that a “conexíon” could be made.
In 2013, she began making her own chocolate couvertures in a heavily male dominated market, under the company name Chukulat. Thus, an innovative chocolate company, once again, made the “conexión” between the cacao farmer and the chocolate professional.
In 2016, Jenny returned to Ecuador to expand her offerings and take an even larger hands-on role of production. Deepening the principles of sustainability, traceability, and transparency, she rebranded as Conexión Chocolate. Her expertise, passion and perseverance began to revolutionize the world of chocolate with incredible single origin, virgin and roasted couvertures. In 2017, her first chocolate bars rolled into the market and by the end of 2018, Conexión Chocolate bars had won 19 national and international awards.
In 2018, one of Jenny’s most important ventures began when she became a Coordinator for the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Project (HCP), an international collaborative effort between cacao farmers, expert agronomists, Penn State University, the Leslie Family Foundation, FCIA, and USDA, to preserve and proliferate the rare varieties of fine-cacao plants in Ecuador. In pure, Jenny style, she continues to make “conexions”.