Living Koko

In 2017, Glen Reiss was hiking in Papua New Guinea and met a local cacao farmer who could no longer work due to an injury. The farmer, Andrew, told him that he only received fifty cents a kilo for his crop and he didn’t know how he was going to look after his family.

Glen was shocked by Andrew’s story and upon returning to Melbourne, Glen and his partner Phoebe Preuss were determined to build a wholesale business and supply chain that would provide a sustainable living for cacao farmers in the Pacific.

Professionally, Glen is a consultant for defence equipment projects and Phoebe is a performance artist and a Pasifika cultural consultant to institutions such as Museums Victoria. Living Koko is Glen and Phoebe’s passion project that they work on outside of their day jobs.

The heart of Living Koko’s work is to support village communities in Samoa, inspired by Phoebe’s Samoan roots.

Cacao is very much part of Samoan culture. For instance, Koko Samoa is a traditional drink made from 100% cacao that’s roasted and pounded into a paste. It is offered to visitors as a welcome drink in much the same way that you might offer guests a cup of tea or coffee.

“My mother, my aunties and uncles, my grandfather – they all know or were cacao farmers in Samoa and we rely on my extended family’s relationships to source a lot of the cacao for Living Koko,” explains Phoebe. “Our relationship with the farmers is very respectful and we connect over a shared value approach. We believe that food sovereignty is of utmost importance and we aim to honour the person who in turn has honoured the earth by nurturing the cacao plant.”

Living Koko now supports over 130 domestic, independent farms in Samoa, including small enterprises run by women. They sell the farmers’ beans directly to producers as well as manufacturing cacao products from chocolate bars to face masks and selling the end product to cafes, caterers, restaurants and beauty salons.

“My mother, my aunties and uncles, my grandfather - they all know or were cacao farmers in Samoa and we rely on my extended family’s relationships to source a lot of the cacao for Living Koko,” explains Phoebe. “Our relationship with the farmers is very respectful and we connect over a shared value approach. We believe that food sovereignty is of utmost importance and we aim to honour the person who in turn has honoured the earth by nurturing the cacao plant.”

Phoebe and Glen started out selling and processing 400 kilograms of beans a year to now over 6000 kilograms a year. Their dream is to eventually build a satellite manufacturing space in Samoa to provide more employment opportunities for the local community.

While Living Koko’s Braybrook site is predominantly a wholesale operation, customers can still purchase their allergy-safe, vegan and organic products online on the Living Koko website.

Also, once a year Living Koko hosts an “Open Day” where their products are sold at wholesale prices and you can take a tour of the Braybrook production facility and learn how Glen and Phoebe integrate no waste manufacturing practices into their work.

Chocolate lovers should try their best-selling product, the Koko Duo. It’s a block of 70% dark chocolate studded with cacao nibs, foil wrapped in brightly hued red and blue packaging. The pattern was created by Jacob Tolo, a Melbourne-based artist of Samoan descent, and inspired by a sarong that Phoebe’s mother used to own, matched with the colours reflecting the Samoan flag.

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