Maribea chocolate going national
Apr. 11—Maribea Chocolate hasn’t been around for very long but is taking a sweet taste across the country.
The local sweet manufacturer will soon be featured in the chocolate-of-the-month subscription club Cocolectic in June.
Cocolectic is a subscription that features American craft chocolate makers who make their chocolate using the bean-to-bar process from scratch with nothing more than cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.
Manufactured at Westech Seal Inc., 7200 Sprague Road, the idea to make chocolate was born out of a passion of founder and owner of Westech Seal Inc. Mark Merritt.
The name comes from his wife, Maribea (pronounced merry-bee).
“It started because, number one, I like chocolate, but we had an exchange student from Brazil about nine years ago and she loved chocolate as much as I do and we joked around about making it,” Merritt said. “We went home and I kept reading and learning and started learning how to make it.”
It wasn’t until three years ago when Merritt decided to go ahead and start commercializing.
Merritt said the Odessa Development Corporation was doing a business challenge contest (similar to that of the TV show Shark Tank).
Merritt’s business plan won first place and was awarded $100,000 that was used to purchase equipment.
“I had an idea to go ahead and start commercializing,” Merritt said. “It was a nice surprise. The top prize was $75,000 and decided not to do the top prize and so we made it $100,000 so that was nice.”
From there, the chocolate side of the business has taken off.
The company has helped to bring chocolate enthusiasts an exclusive taste experience that can be found only in a bean-to-bar product.
Rather than calling them flavors, Horton says they break them down by origins from different countries around the world.
“We have nine different origins,” Horton said. “I have 12-15 different bar options. Our origins, we have two from the Dominican Republic. Two from Mexico. We have Ecuador, Brazil and Belize and one more from Vietnam. We have them from multiple countries.”
With the popularity increasing, the work load has increased for Meredith Horton who manufactures the bars.
“We really think it is a pretty big break through,” Horton said. “It’s a great opportunity. Just to be discovered by this company in the first place is pretty cool.”
Horton said she joined the company in 2019.
“Over the last two years, I’ve been making chocolate every day,” Horton said. “It’s certainly a team effort. It takes all of us with tasting and agreeing with flavors and how to roast the beans in a way that brings out the best flavors in them so there’s a lot of collaboration. Over the last two years, my skills, have really improved. I’m being able to learn things and teach Mark some things.”
Horton said Cocolectic first came calling Maribea around January, asking if they were interested in being featured.
“They sent me an email wondering if we would be interested in sending them a sample and seeing if we wanted to be in a feature,” Horton said.
Horton then submitted five to six different bars for sample.
After submitting a few different samples for them to taste, the people at Cocolectic were satisfied and decided to feature them.
“They absolutely loved it,” Horton said. “They couldn’t wait to feature us. It’s really a proud moment for us. We know it’s great but for people who taste craft chocolate every day and to think ours is great is really special. It’s super cool.”
Horton then hit the ground running, making enough bars for the subscription.
In addition to preparing the chocolate bars for the June subscription box, Horton said the work days have varied for her.
“That depends which ones I’m low on and which ones are in stock,” Horton said. “Typically, I would say (I don’t make bars every day) but when I do, I make 400-500, especially for the subscription box. I’m trying to hit the 500 for that. We’re making upwards of 1,600 and then, I’m hoping to make some extras so that if people like what they receive in their box, they’ll order for more and I’ll have some.”
People can purchase the chocolate at the online store at maribeacacao.com/shop-online.
Most of the business is done online but people can also purchase the chocolate bars at the store’s location.
“I have seen more people here are knowing that we exist and asking where to find our chocolate and where they can get it,” Horton said.
Sales have continued to increase, especially in the past year, according to Horton.
“We’ll get sales from Washington, Florida, New Jersey,” Horton said. “People are starting to hear about us. It’s really cool. It’s a good sign that we’re growing like we want to.”
With the subscription expected to be a big boost, Merritt is confident that the increased exposure of the company can lead to expansion.
“Been selling some across the US but nothing on this scale,” Horton said. “This is our first big order. That’s a big goal that we’ve accomplished.”
Horton echoed those thoughts.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity it’ll bring us for people in other states and in Texas (not just here in Odessa) to know that we exist and to try our chocolate and to order,” Horton said. “I’m really praying that it’s going to be a great opportunity for growth.”