In addition, Tierra Nueva provides instant chocolate powder to companies like J.M. Smucker’s (Bustelo), Sedano’s and Coca-Cola in Puerto Rico (Chocolate Rico). The cocoa powder is imported from Brazil, but all the other chocolate products Tierra Nueva sells are made at its Miami Gardens factory. Alexander explained that cocoa powder has to be produced on a separate manufacturing line.
About 25 percent of Tierra Nueva’s production is sold in Florida, Alexander said, while 70 percent goes to other states and some 5 percent is exported.
Tierra Nueva believes it has a big advantage over East European chocolate makers in serving private label markets in the U.S. and other countries in the region.
Chocolate has a shelf life, usually about a year, in terms of peak flavor and consistency, Alexander said, and typically is at its best in the first few months. After manufacturing, shipping, storage and distribution, chocolates made in Eastern Europe take a month or more to reach retailers in the U.S., he noted. “We make it here, package it, ship it and get it to stores faster. This gives retailers a longer shelf life. And we control the quality of our product from bean to bar.”
Visitors to the Tierra Nueva plant, who must wear protective gear to avoid contaminating the production line, are greeted with the intoxicating smell of chocolate as soon as they walk through the main entrance. The actual chocolate processing plant is located in a large room separated from the rest of the building, which also has a quality control and testing laboratory, production lines for making and packaging different types of chocolate bars and other products, offices and storage areas for raw materials and finished products.
The processing plant, which can make nearly 1.6 million pounds of chocolate per month, is a mass of tanks and pipes that mixes and heats the cocoa liquor, cocoa butter and other ingredients according to different formulas for producing milk, dark or white chocolates. After the hot liquid chocolate is produced, it is stored in large, heated tanks, then tempered (heated and cooled so that chocolate crystals are properly aligned) and pumped into machines — located in a separate area — that pour liquid chocolate into molds for different size bars. Nuts and other ingredients can be added in hoppers along the production line, and chocolates are wrapped and packaged at the end of the line.
Monitored and controlled by computers, the plant is a turnkey facility made by the Cruz Family’s Meller Equipment & Technology firm in Brazil, and is the 30th plant of its kind in operation. This is the first such plant in the U.S.
Tierra Nueva recently launched a new, non-chocolate product made at the Miami facility. Coffee Thins are a tasty blend of pure coffee paste (made from coffee beans), sugar and other ingredients being marketed as “a new way to consume coffee.” The 2-inch by 13/4-inch thins — which come in Latte, Espresso and Americano flavors — “look like chocolate bars but have no chocolate,” Alexander said. “They’re made from coffee and they’re equivalent to an 8 oz. cup of coffee.”
Tierra Nueva is also marketing a line of Diatt Zero sugar- and gluten-free chocolate bars in the U.S. Currently, the bars are imported from Brazil but the company plans to manufacture them here in the future.
Two of Tierra Nueva’s customers — Sedano’s and Navarro Pharmacy — have been buying its products since the plant began operating.
“We buy six flavors of Tierra Nueva chocolates and they fly off the shelves,” said Cristy León-Rivero, vice president of marketing and human resources at Navarro, a chain that currently has 31 stores. “We sell them as part of our Vida Mía product line, which caters to Hispanic consumers and competes with national brands,” she added. “They’re a larger size than the regular Hershey bar and we can offer them at a very attractive price — about 99 cents. We looked at the quality of products very seriously in choosing them as a vendor.”
Sedano’s sells Tierra Nueva products under the Sedano’s label at its 34 supermarkets. “There are alternatives from Eastern Europe, Brazil and Mexico but we chose Tierra Nueva because they are a local company and can react quicker,” said Jorge Guerra, a buyer at Sedano’s and member of the family that owns the supermarket chain. “Their pricing and quality are good and they’ve been accepted very well by customers,” he added. “We started out with candy bars and now we’re selling cocoa powder — all with Sedano’s label.”