Sweet Success

March 21, 2013—Children are generally surprised that alumnus Peter Blommer’s (C’85) chocolate factory isn’t like Willy Wonka’s. That disappointment goes away, he says, after he gives them a piece of chocolate.

Blommer is the chief operating officer of Blommer Chocolate Co., North America’s largest processor of cocoa beans. The company was founded by Peter’s grandfather, Bernard Blommer (C’30), and his great uncles, Henry Blommer Sr. (C’26) and Aloysius Blommer (C’31). He recently returned to campus to meet with students during a Dean’s Lunch Seminar and to explain his path after graduation.

Although Blommer followed the family tradition to Georgetown, he didn’t see himself going into the family business. “While we all worked in the business, our father really encouraged us to do our own thing,” he said. Blommer spent summers and school holidays working any job he could find at the factory, from trucking to sales. “We always had the dirtiest and hottest jobs, which I always took pride in so I could dispel any sense of entitlement,” he continued.

As a government major, Blommer thought about a career in politics, but instead he joined the Baker Scholars Program and combined his liberal arts education with an interest in business. He worked on Wall Street and at the Dole Food Company, before joining the family business in 1991.

With three factories in the United States, Blommer Chocolate processes 50 percent of the cocoa beans that enter the United States. “We roast and process cocoa beans into cocoa liquor, which is sold to [companies] like Mars and Hershey, or we take that liquor and press it into cocoa butter or cocoa powder,” he said. Blommer describes the company as “fully integrated” because it is involved in the entire manufacturing process from beans to final products. “We sell any type of product that you can make from a cocoa bean.”

To sustain the company, Blommer has focused on the benefits a family can bring to a business. “Today we are privately held. We appreciate this business, and we understand that we, as a family, are a positive influence and a competitive advantage for the business,” he said. His generation has grown Blommer Chocolate seven-fold in part from a critical focus on what their company needs in a globalized marketplace. “We bring in intelligent non-family senior management. We didn’t want to be limited to what family members could bring,” he explained.

According to Blommer, the family becomes a competitive advantage because of their long-term view and their ability to understand cocoa farmers who also manage family operations. “We’re looking at our business from a generational point of view rather than quarterly,” he said. This systematic view is evident in the company’s early focus on sustainability in the cocoa industry.

“It’s a challenged crop,” he explained. Cocoa beans are grown in countries near the equator in Latin America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. “These small holders don’t have access to a lot of knowledge and tools,” he said. Blommer Chocolate decided to develop training programs to “improve farmers’ livelihoods.”

“We pay a premium for quality, and we are providing training for farmers to increase their yields [and] to be better environmental stewards,” he explained. “We [also] provide social programs around child labor to make sure the cooperatives that we work with understand the appropriate use of kids on their family farms.

“The whole idea is to make the cocoa livelihood a healthy one, where the next generation of farmers will want to farm. That they’ll see it as a good business,” he said.

In creating training programs, the company’s focus has not been just on cocoa beans but on the people who produce cocoa beans by providing programs in education, agriculture, and ecology. For these efforts, Blommer Chocolate received a 2012 Sustainable Standard-Setter award from the Rainforest Alliance.

Blommer believes that he can expand his own business and bring the best product to consumers by helping everyone in the supply chain. “We have a responsibility to our business that there is a long-term supply, but also to our people in the supply chain, the farmers. We have a responsibility to help them gain from their part.”

—Elizabeth Wilson