At its factory in Miami Gardens, Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa blends cocoa solids and cocoa butter imported from Ecuador, Peru and the Dominican Republic with powdered milk, sugar and other ingredients in its processing plant, producing thousands of gallons of hot liquid chocolate used to make a variety of products.
Tierra Nueva has found a sweet spot in the American confection market.
While companies like Hershey’s and Mars dominate retail chocolate sales in the United States, Tierra Nueva manufactures chocolate products for private label customers, a small but lucrative market generally ignored by the U.S. chocolate giants.
“In 2009, we did a feasibility study and found there is a need for private label chocolates made in the U.S.,” said John Alexander, the president of Tierra Nueva and one of the three founders of the company. “In Europe, about 34 percent of chocolates sold in stores are private label, and in the U.S. it’s only 3 percent. Many supermarkets and retail stores here want to offer private label brands because they offer good value at a lower price, but the biggest suppliers today are in Eastern Europe, mostly in Poland,” said Alexander, who came to Miami from Cuba as a child. “We found a niche, and we set up Tierra Nueva.”
Three investors — the Cruz Family of Brazil; Coco Nueva, part of the Hencorp Group of Companies; and CTI International Group, where Alexander is president — set up Tierra Nueva using their own capital plus bank credit and bought a new chocolate production plant from Brazil. After obtaining a host of permits and certifications from federal, state, county and municipal authorities, Tierra Nueva began producing chocolate in 2010.
Tierra Nueva’s partners include companies with a wide range of experience dating back to the 19th Century. The Cruz Family in Brazil began as a coffee and cocoa exporter in 1879 and grows cocoa and produces chocolate in Brazil. Its Meller subsidiary, working with partners, designs and builds chocolate plants and sells them internationally. Miami-based CTI Group has retail experience in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, while Hencorp is a futures and options group in the coffee industry and has a brokerage firm — Hencorp Commcor — in Brazil.
Most chocolate makers in Florida buy chocolate in bulk and melt and mold to produce different products, Alexander said. “We are creating a whole new industry in Florida — we are actually producing chocolate from cocoa liquor and cocoa butter made from high quality cacao beans.”
Today, the company has about 50 employees and manufactures a variety of private label products for Sedano’s Supermarkets, Navarro Discount Pharmacy, Family Dollar stores nationwide, Norwegian Cruise Line, Coca-Cola Puerto Rico Bottlers, Kinney Drugs, Alaska Jack’s and others, including wholesalers.
Chocolate bars — milk, dark, crunchy and with nuts — made by Tierra Nueva appear under labels like Sedano’s, Vida Mía (Navarro), Chocolate Rico (sold by Coca-Cola bottlers in Puerto Rico) and Norwegian Cruise Line. The company also produces its own brands of chocolate products: Hamlet bars, for example, are sold at Family Dollar stores in Florida and other states.
Milk chocolate makes up about 80 percent of production and the biggest selling product is the 5.3-ounce milk chocolate flavor bar, followed by the same size bar with crispy bits. In 2011, Tierra Nueva sold an average of 1.2 million bars per month, and this year sales have increased 52 percent compared to the same period in 2011, the company said, declining to disclose revenue figures.