Virginia De Villa
Virginia De Villa: Making Pinoy Chocolate World Class
As a big fan of all things chocolate, Virginia De Villa, or Gigi as most people know her, had her childhood imagination fired up by the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book by Roald Dahl turned into two films, about a poor boy who suddenly inherited a magical chocolate factory.
As co-founder and spokesperson of Reál Cacao, a local manufacturer of chocolate confectioneries and other chocolate-based products, Gigi has known that the Philippines is one of the suppliers of cacao beans to big international chocolate brands.
She remarks that despite being supplier to major chocolate brands, the Philippines chocolate industry has yet to produce local high quality chocolate that can compete on the global market, alongside Hershey’s and Cadbury.
This is where Reál Cacao comes in. The company is a social enterprise that helps Filipino cacao farmers make more profits from their cacao cash crops through education, training, and empowerment.
At the same time, Reál Cacao intends to lead the way for Filipino chocolate companies to become leading brands in the international chocolate market.
Some of us would ask, how can social enterprises help strengthen the agricultural sector? How can social enterprise and agriculture bring about national economic development?
As far as Gigi is concerned, revitalizing the local chocolate is one key.
Gigi proudly shares that Reál Cacao is a social enterprise that aims to create world-class Filipino chocolates, while giving opportunities to cacao farmers around the Philippines.
She believes that social enterprise is one way that Filipino entrepreneurs can help in nation building.
She says, “As a social enterprise, we are challenged not just to think of creating products but to also think of how we can make a dent in the industry if we want to bring as many communities as we can out of poverty.”
Gigi thinks that companies in the country are capable of helping end poverty in the agricultural sector if they take the social enterprise approach.
“One of the many issues our cacao farmers face is the lack of access to post-harvest facilities which will enable them to create value-adding cacao products,” she says.
The Philippines has a total agricultural land area of 9.671 million hectares. The farmer sector accounts for the largest share in the labor force with 32% of the workforce in agricultural jobs.
In spite of these figures, the farming sector is still one of the poorest in the country.
World Class and Homegrown
What makes Reál Cacao different from foreign chocolate brands is that it offers world-class chocolate products with a homegrown taste to ensure a Reál and royal chocolate experience.
Gigi proudly tells customers that Reál Cacao is the Filipino chocolate with a homegrown taste and world-class quality.
Part of the company’s vision is to stay true to the origin of the word “reál”. That includes being true to their purpose, which is to uplift the lives of Filipino cacao farmers and make them feel proud of their work.
She says, “My dream is that someday our farmers can say with dignity, ‘We are farmers’ instead of saying, ‘We are just farmers’.