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Posted on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Dexter candy maker's chocolates catch eye of the U.S. government

By Angela Smith

Dexter-based Mindo Chocolate Makers is now selling its products in more than 34 stores throughout the U.S., just two years after it was founded.

The "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker, founded by husband-and-wife Joe Meza and Barbara Wilson, owners of Ann Arbor-based ArborMotion, is headquartered at the couple's Dexter home. They source and inspect their beans from farmers in Ecuador, where the couple also own a bed-and-breakfast in the small-town ecotourism hub of Mindo. Now, Mindo's high-quality chocolate has caught the eye of a high-profile source: the U.S. government.


Mindo Chocolate Makers co-owner Barbara Wilson hopes that an educational effort will boost the public's awareness of the varieties of chocolate.

Angie Smith | For

Through their involvement in the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, Wilson and Meza were recently asked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help gather cocoa tree samples for a project in which government is trying to determine what kind of cacao beans make the best chocolate.

“I think people would be interested in what we are discovering now that we have dug deeper into the business of making chocolate," Wilson said. "I can't help but think that we stumbled into something much bigger than we expected.”

The USDA project is interested in identifying so-called “fine flavor” beans, which includes Ecuador’s heirloom Nacional bean, which Mindo uses.

“I returned to Ecuador this summer with supplies in hand to collect leaf samples for the cocoa genome project, which is being conducted by the USDA," Wilson said.

Wilson and Meza opened their chocolate making business just two years ago. They began making high-quality chocolate form just three ingredients, and their $7 chocolate bars were made available at local shops like Zingerman’s and the People’s Food Co-Op.

Since then, their product was nominated by Zingerman’s Duff Anderson for the prestigious Good Food Award, and their products have made their way to stores in San Francisco, Dallas and elsewhere. The chocolate-making operation is not yet profitable, because, Wilson says, they're still investing in the operation.

Finding the right kind of beans from the Nacional trees is still challenging, too. Though farmers prefer the heirloom trees for their sentimental value, taste and quality, a hybrid cacao plant is being readily adopted in the area. Unlike the natural version of the Nacional tree, the hybrid version must be grown in a clear-cut area, needs pesticides and doesn't last as long.

At present, there is no way of telling if the chocolate you purchase is made from Nacional beans or other hybrid beans, Wilson said. She adds, though, that chocolate is not well studied.

Mindo Chocolate Makers offers ecotours in Ecuador, and chocolate-making classes at various locations around town. Wilson is hoping that, like microbreweries have done for beer making, an educational effort can boost the public's understanding of chocolate varieties and options.


say it plain

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 3:43 a.m.

If you look at the link to the cocoa genome project, you'd see that it's a collaborative effort among a bunch of universities with ag programs and the USDA, not a big conspiracy to take over chocolate or tastebuds by the government lol. Cocoa trees, I think we can agree, are a species we'd like to keep around. And they are challenged, especially as climates and ecosystems are changing. And they grow in parts of the world where easy 'use' of the trees (plantable in clear cut areas, for example) might be appealing, even if it means that the product becomes less desirable to consumers (the 'taste' part). Governments and ag researchers might like to know what 'tasty' trees have in common genes-wise and help preserve that trait, no? Surely whatever beans Mindo Chocolates makes use of have 'tasty' genes in abundance lol; their chocolate bars are really really good, some of the most flavorful chocolate I've ever had, yum! It's wonderful that it's organic and fair-trade as well...


Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 1:38 a.m.

Wow, this "I'm fighting Big Government" fad has become pestilent. Pests! Get over it. See, there's the fact that cocaine is produced from the leaves of -- cocoa trees - to justify government involvement and oversight. And yes - government research could end up developing ways to block the production of cocaine at its source. Compared to cocaine, those cocoa beans don't amount to more than... a hill of beans. The whole argument against government regulation, investigation and law enforcement is the equivalent to mental horse dung. Just TRY explaining away the continuum of criminal and unethical acts by individuals and businesses which - require - such government interventions: for OUR protection. Like, we are supposed to trust any crooks or any salesmen that come along and accept their claim that our government is being "unjust" to them??!! Hah! Seven dollars a bar: that's expected. This may be about affordability but it's also about the added cost of "buying local" and buying from small, necessarily less efficient sources. Like the dentists say: We can charge whatever price we want (and anti-competitively agree on) because we're the only place you can go to to fulfill your need. Meanwhile - I too will now "bite" on the hidden commercial message from this article. I may even make a special trip to Zingerman's for my first taste.

Hot Sam

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 2:06 a.m.

The fact is that he Coca plant, and the Cacao tree are quite different... <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> For the government to oversee imports for safety reasons is one federally fund a study regarding &quot;taste&quot; is quite another. I would like to know which beans taste better, it is simply not the job of government to find out for me...

Seasoned Cit

Wed, Sep 14, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

A great example of where our Govt is spending dollarsn that they of course have to borrow and pay interest. How about some research on running a balanced budgeted Govt?

Gregory Fox

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

The Mindo web site states clearly that they use heirloom certified organic shade grown cocoa, pay the growers a fair price and stress safe working conditions for the labor. So they would NOT be buying the pesticide and full sun-dependent hybrid beans. It is interesting that the best coffee is shade grown too, which is also better for the environment.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 7:26 p.m.

a man who made vending machines that could detect fake coins once trusted the government with his secrets they then stopped making all silver coins and have bene fleecing the american people ever since. do NOT trust them with what you are doing, they only want your info so the government can make money.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

From the headline, I was worried that the government was sticking its nose in for nefarious reasons ... pleasantly surprised it's otherwise. By the way, Mindo's brownies at Homegrown this weekend were the stuff of dreams ... must sell those locally!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

We sell our brownies at the Westside Farmer's Market on Thursdays and the Dexter Farmer's Market on Saturdays and at Lunasa.

Jen Eyer

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

The story was revised to clarify that Mindo does indeed use the heirloom Nacional bean, not the hybrid that requires clear-cutting and pesticides.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 6:08 p.m.

What catches my eye is that the HYBRID requires a CLEAR CUT and Pesticides- and is being &quot;readily adopted in the area&quot; anyone else notice that? Are these people nuts? They are clear cutting the rain forest for chocolate bars...Oh my god. Are These Dexter business people, that own a bed and breakfast in Ecuador. promoting or discouraging this practice? am stunned that a local business is not questioning tis nor is this article... I am going to need more information about this business before I spend a dime and I would think the news would do the same.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

@Andralisa, I am really excited about the passion that this topic creates. Saving the heirloom/fine flavor cacao beans is a topic that is near and dear to us. I Just wanted to point out that we (MIndo Chocolate Makers) are working very hard to ensure that we are purchasing none of the hybrid beans that need clear cutting and chemicals to survive. We purchase only from farmers who sell Nacional (not hybrid but heirloom beans). And I also would like to note that we only purchase certified organic beans, shade grown beans, we pay more than fair trade prices to the farmers, we personally visit the farmers and are currently working directly with the farmers to help them sell to other artisan chocolate makers so that they can receive a better price for their highly valued beans. We are not only questioning the clear cutting of the rain forest, but we have spoken to over 60 farmers and are encouraging them to keep their Nacional beans, to not clear cut and not spray. We must pay them more for their beans so that they can afford to grow them. And that is how we get to the $7.00 chocolate bar. I think our customers prefer to eat a small piece of chocolate that they can feel good about and that tastes fantastic. ~Barbara


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to try the chocolate before they started selling it. I am so happy they are getting the recognition they deserve. For die-hard chocolate lovers like myself, they've set the bar for chocolates.(pun intended, yep I'm a nerd ;) I've had many chocolates and spent money on various imported varieties and can say from experience, they've got it!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Would Willy Wonka stand for this US government intrusion? Do the British mess with Bertie Botts?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 9:51 p.m.

Willy Wonka was British also.

G. Orwell

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

It is very strange the USDA would get involved in such a trivial matter. Is the USDA gathering info in order to shut down the sources of these heirloom coco trees in favor of the corporate owned, clear cut, pesticide using coco trees? The USDA favors GMO crop that require a lot of pesticides and herbicides. That should say it all. If I were Mindo's, I'd keep the trade secrets secret.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

@Fatkitty What about government involvement in the development of semi-conductors, the internet and disease research? As far as regulations go, what happens when we deregulate? Toxic mortgages and securities tied to them. The Crash of 2010 which is still poisoning our economy. Good for Mindo, I love chocolate and next time I see one of their bars, I will try it. Patronize your local businesses, it creates jobs.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Yeah, but - chocolate? And the US Govt is going to conduct this research, paid by whom?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

This is another government program that is going to cost MUCHO Dollars when a Green and White School just up the road has been monitoring this for many years. MSU has been studying this for many years and has enough information and results to provide this type of information to anyone. I have been involved in the Chocolate industry for many years with one of Michigan's best Chocolate companies located in Petoskey Michigan. But can the Federal GOvernment use this information, no, they need to spend money to have their own Study, Really kind of stupid isn't. This is one of the reasons why the country has the problems we do!!!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

Just think of the job creation. jejeje


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 4:44 p.m.

Government can't just take someone's word, they have to do things officially. This makes sense to me... Limits the margin of error.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

&quot;another coffee shop and pay $4 to$6 for an exotic coffee.&quot; Nope, won't do that either.

UM Rocks

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

Typo: &quot;making high-quality chocolate *FORM* just three ingredients&quot;

Somewhat Concerned

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

I think we've spotted one way the federal government could reduce its spending without hurting anyone.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

There must be more to this story. The government's involvement in ANYTHING results in more regulations, more taxes, more cost to the consumer, more cost to the business owner, and on and on. I don't get it. With so much out there that NEEDS government attention (how about securing our COUNTRY'S BORDERS and enforcing immigration laws, etc) why this?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

gofigure said: &quot;$7 for a chocolate bar. No thanks!&quot; As a reality check, $7.00 buys, as of 2010, what $1.25 bought in 1970. And we all realize that the value of the dollar has decreased since just last year. To be shocked at the price of this fine chocolate shows we have just not adjusted to the sad reality of the decrease in the value of our currency.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.

In 1970 a chocolate bar was a nickel. It was 25 cents by 1976. Now I don't want to think of how much a chocolate costs. Especially the size of the things these days.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

I agree mhirzel, some of the same people who express shock and dismay over $7 for a bar of fine chocolate probably think nothing of stopping daily for a Starbucks or another coffee shop and pay $4 to$6 for an exotic coffee.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

Yes but wasn't a chocolate bar about 15 cents then ?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

As a chocoholic, I'm very interested in Mindo's chocolate. However, as an environmentalist, I shudder to read that a hybrid cacao plant that is being proposed rather than the heirloom trees &quot;must be grown in a clear-cut area, needs pesticides and doesn't last as long.&quot; Considering that this couple is reportedly involved in ecotourism in Ecuador, I would think they would be concerned about the ecological incorrectness of hybrid trees replacing natural trees, especially when their growth calls for pesticides and clear-cutting, which is already well on its way to destroying Brazil's rainforest, which is considered to be the lungs of the continent.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

I agree with Cassandra. There is a revolving door between gov't and industry. I suspect Monsanto in interested in the genetic engineering of cacao plants so they can sell more's criminal what they've done with corn and soy , etc.....


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

FWIW, chocolate (the kind with very high cacao content, and very little sugar, anyway) is good for your health - apparently reducing risk of heart disease and some other things. It also seems to have anti-depressant effects. Chocolate flavonoids and polyphenols are an important part of its nutraceutical effects, and potential low cost, high flavor health benefits. Increasing these effects are reasons for the USDA to be doing a genome study, since I personally would rather be spending money on chocolate than on undertested, overpriced often dangerous products being produced by Big Pharma, and sold at higher prices to under-insured americans than they are in the ROW.

Ed Smith

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:59 p.m.

I got on the USDA &quot;Cocoa Genome Project&quot; Website... these people, their company nor their organization are mentioned... Mars is. Did the reporter contact the USDA at all?


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

cannot help but agree with some of the commenters &quot; the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help gather cocoa tree samples for a project in which government is trying to determine what kind of cacao beans make the best chocolate.&quot; With out a greater context it is hard to understand why the US government is in this project when it should clearly be drivin by the marketplace. Perhaps there is a reason the gov't wants to know what beans make the best chocalate (isn't that subjective?) but until we know, it just seems like an over-reach and an way to funnel money to businesses for things they should be doing on their own.

Stephen Landes

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:33 p.m.

This is a perfect example of government spending money and involving itself in activities that should be beyond their scope. This couple belongs to the FineChocolate Industry Association. If the Association thinks this is something worth investigating for the benefit of their members then let them fund it and do the work. We do not need the Federal government getting involved in this private industry issue. It's not like they are examining these beans for food safety; a useful Federal activity when sales are or can be multi-state.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

One of the best chocolates I have ever tried!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

$7 for a chocolate bar. No thanks!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

$7 a bar? Sounds like the rich and famous are able to afford. As for me? Trader Joes sells European chocolate for half that.

Original Ann Arborite

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

Wow! $7! Gee, maybe I won't b able 2 try 4 awhile. Maybe they should make small little bite sized options 4 cheaper?

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

From the headline, I thought they were in trouble! I figured I.R.S. or importing issues. Thank goodness it's nothing like that. As a chocolate freak, I'm going to have to try their wares. I love good quality chocolate. And knowing it's local makes it that much sweeter.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

Meh, $7 for a quality chocolate bar doesn't phase me. I wouldn't say I buy them regularly or anything, but as a treat occasionally I can justify the splurge. I've spent that much on a Vosge's Dark Chocolate bar with Bacon and Sea salt. (So incredibly delicious, no matter how grody it sounds.) It's worth it to treat yourself occasionally!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

I agree. It's sad when we hear of government invovlement we always think it is something negative. I have not tried their products because I agree with gofigure's comment below. I also agree with Stephen Landes' comment about this being government excess. This is great work, but it should be done by a private company, possibly with a partial government grant, but not by a government agency.

Wolf's Bane

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 12:18 p.m.

Ask the Swiss and the Dutch, instead!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

I have had European chocolate and it is very good. Much better then American standards.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 11:48 a.m.

Arbor Farms carries their chocolates also. I can vouch for the chocolates having an excellent taste and texture.

Original Ann Arborite

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

I will have 2 stop by Arbor Farms and try 1-It's International Chocolate Day!

Hot Sam

Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 10:54 a.m.

&quot;&quot;&quot;The USDA project is interested in identifying so-called "fine flavor" beans, &quot;&quot;&quot; While I can understand the USDA checking for product safety, this is a classic example of federal government excess... As for Mindo Chocolates, I must give them a try!!!


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

Gotta keep congress happy especially when they are spending millions on another frivolous idea to spend our money.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 11:38 a.m.

and of course - the USDA is going to spend million$ on this project because chocolate is their mandate.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 10:49 a.m.

Sounds very interesting -- best wishes with all of your endeavors and looking forward to trying one of your chocolate bars.