Patty Limpe and her Antonio Pueo chocolate factory

Patty and her chocolate factory 
By Walter Ang
Dec 2007-Feb 2008 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

The Asian Dragon team is ushered into a high-ceilinged office with tables and equipment crammed into available space. There's nothing fancy about the wide hall except that it has a distinct aroma wafting through the door.

An invigorating scent cuts the air as Patricia Limpe offers us steaming hot chocolate in dainty porcelain cups. She smiles and announces, "They call me the chocolate lady." Patty, as she prefers to be called, is simply stating a fact. After all, she is the only woman who has stuck her nose into the male-dominated chocolate manufacturing industry.

But what a nose it is. As the manager of one of oldest chocolate factories in the Philippines ("I've been told that we're actually the oldest chocolate factory in Southeast Asia," she shares.), she's been able to sniff out a winning recipe to keep it alive and well.

"The chocolates we make now are produced in exactly the same way they were made back then. We are faithful to the original recipe so we can preserve its distinct taste and its unique character," Patty says proudly. "We want to maintain the authenticity of our chocolates. In fact, we still use the original machines of the factory. No one makes those kinds of machines anymore."

Antonio Pueo Incorporada was founded in 1939 by Spanish immigrant Jose Maria Pueo. The company is named for his godfather, a Spanish friar, from whom he learned the knowledge of chocolate making. In the 80s, Pueo sold the factory to Patty's father, Julius, after losing a big account supplying to a fastfood chain.

"My father has a passion for acquiring food companies with a history. Pueo chose my father among other potential buyers because our family wasn't in it just for the money. Our family really cares about the process and the final product," she says.

With a family business that has diverse interests across several food manufacturing companies, Patty is the designated member who "sets up new projects." However, despite managing other companies, most of her time is dedicated to the chocolate factory. It's a one-woman show where she handles almost every aspect of the process, from purchasing the raw ingredients to marketing the final products. "I'm even the one who designs the packaging!" she laughs.

The core of the business is still the tableas, round discs of chocolate goodness sold in rolls that come in pure form or mixed with milk. "Everyone wants the taste of chocolates but no one wants to bother with preparation anymore. I try to make it as easy for them as possible," she explains.

With this as the jumping off point, this self-confessed "food scientist" has created a whole line of new products ranging from instant chocolate drink mixes to chocolate cookie mixes. Popular are her oatmeal and champorado mixes as well as her churros con chocolate mixes. "These are the same stuff that people having been eating or drinking, but now it's easier to make." Her efforts are well appreciated, so much so that her churros mix has won an award for "Classic Products Made Convenient."

She is proud of the fact that they don't scrimp on quality when it comes to ingredients. "We use only the best fermented cacao beans. We don't use sun-dried beans because it lacks flavor and aroma. When it comes to chocolates, the higher cocoa butter content, the better its taste," she points out. "Antonio Pueo is made with all 100% cocoa butter still intact."

"All the ingredients are locally sourced." Patty beams. "We're in the chocolate and coffee belt, the area twenty degrees above and below the equator. Countries that are in the belt have the humidity, sun, and shade to grow cacao beans." The results are definitely world-class since Pueoe chocolates are currently exported to countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, and China.

It really is Patty's advocacy to bring chocolate to more and more kitchens and dining rooms. Starting them young, she has been teaching grade school children how to mix and bake using Pueo cookie mixes for years now. "It not only tastes good, it's good for you, too," she says. For proof of the health benefits of chocolate, Patty asks us to look no farther than the founder of the factory himself. "Jose Maria Pueo drank chocolate everyday of his life and passed away only last year. He was 97 years old."

As the sole custodian of his legacy, a healthy respect for tradition has guided Patty in maintaining the longevity of the Pueo name into our modern times. Patty brings out the original metal printing plates of the old labels used for packaging and proceeds to show us the delicate evolution of small adjustments and changes of the labels into their present designs. "We had to do a gradual process. We couldn't just change the labels right away since people are very familiar with the brand name."

It is this same careful thought and meticulous care that she imbues into the birthing of new products carrying the Pueo name. "I don't develop ideas only for them to become fads," she says. Now, her own vision comes to light as she proclaims, "I want to be like Kellogs, whose cereals have been around for hundreds of years. I create products that will last."