“We bought a lot of equipment. We invested. We had large quantities of pralines scheduled for March 8, International Women’s Rights Day. Packaging, design … But on February 24, everything changed.”
Iuliia Beikun is a chocolate maker in Kyiv. On the night of the invasion, with her 9-year-old daughter and her rabbit, she sleeps in her Prius at the bottom of an underground parking lot. “It was cold. People slept on the floor.” Iuliia “does not panic”. She books, but she knows that bomb shelters are “rare” in her city. She decides to leave. She puts Candy Buffet on standby, her chocolate shop to fashion her. “I paid my employees. I went west, my mother’s town, but the threat persists.” The day before the war, I had a meeting to find out how to distribute my chocolate. I had a future. “Everything vanished.” Even in the west, you don’t know where the rockets are falling. I don’t want it for my daughter. “
So Prius heads to Romania: “All my employees who have children did the same: the flight to Europe”. Among her neighbors, Iuliia Beikun approached chocolatiers from all over the continent. She doesn’t have the head to revive her business, but she just wants a rooftop and a “For my mental health” job. Through a Dutch colleague, she got in touch with Björn Becker, co-founder of the Mike & Becky chocolate factory in Uccle: “Björn told me I had to come to Brussels, that he could help me. I came”, smiles Iuliia in her elegant dress of traditional inspiration. “We talked about chocolate. And we have this great project to promote the Ukrainian bean-to-bar.”
The “bean-to-bar” is the ambition to design your chocolate from bean to bar. Mike & Becky is one of the tech proselytes in Brussels. With its founders Björn Becker and Julia Mikerova, Iuliia lives on. He is German, she is Russian, they have a family in Moscow. These Uccle chocolatiers have as little taste for Putin’s totalitarian ideas as industrial chocolates. In their laboratory, the founder of Candy Buffet forgets a little about bombs, except for the chocolate ones.
The story brings as much comfort as a 70% black square. After the excitement of February 24, the Brussels duo turned to their Ukrainian colleagues. In addition to Candy Buffet, they brought together 5 other Ukrainian companies: Sisters A. Chocolate (Lutsk), Stranger Chocolate (Poltava), Sol Chocolate (Cherkasy), Meetty (Kremenchuk) and Healthy Choice (Odessa). “Enthusiasts. They invested everything in cars and beans. But today: forget it! In the big Ukrainian cities, nobody thinks about affording a 5 euro tablet anymore”. The situation speaks for itself. “It’s war over there. A real one. One of our contacts can’t fix his machines because his engineer is at the front, with a real gun.”
Their idea to support colleagues: to sell their tablets here, in Belgium and everywhere in Europe Björn and Julia receive the wonders of the 4 corners of Ukraine and make their network work. Friends in The Hague, Cologne, Paris, Lyon or Ghent offer them in their specialist shops. “We have already sold half of the shares.”
Another problem arises: the supply is stopped. Björn turns to its suppliers in Antwerp and Rotterdam. “I dare tell them we need beans but we don’t know how to pay. All three replied within an hour’s walk.” Jute bags are not offered, but their bills are written without a date. “That’s great! We pay when we can.” The gesture allows Ukrainian friends to produce the tablets, ship them to Europe and wait for the proceeds of the sale before paying the bill.
On May 16, two pallets of the precious brown gold await at Heysel, which will leave for the east “when the truck is full”. This is humanitarian aid, so “no paperwork”. But Björn no longer sleeps peacefully. “It is not known to what extent he will be able to drive the truck. But through Telegram, the contacts there have already arranged: they will be able to collect the load wherever it arrives.”
20,000 tablets in sight
With this ton of cocoa, the 6 chocolatiers in the attic of Europe will produce the equivalent of 70% brown gold. “That’s 20,000 tablets”. It is nothing: it corresponds to a quarter of the annual production of Mike & Becky. Enough to dissolve Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. “To promote this Ukrainian bean-to-bar, we launched an Instagram account: Blue Yellow Cacao.” Iuliia Beikun did not give up on design. The sale will be made through partners: specialized counters, grocery stores and other coffee roasters or bars.
The icing on the tablet, the Ukrainian fighters will be entitled to their squares. Björn: “A small part of this production will be sent to the front, to offer some comfort to the troops defending the country. I get goosebumps.”
Iuliia is already thinking of relaunching Candy Buffet. Although the appearance of her creations leaves little doubt about her experience, she also hopes to take advantage of Brussels to work part-time in the laboratory of one or other of our chocolate stars. Björn: “she’s a professional, she doesn’t need to test herself”. After that? “I have a future again. I’ll go back to Kiev when the war is over. So I don’t know when.” He is sure: Iuliia is not chocolate.
At kyiv, we want colored chocolate, but mostly not brown
The chocolate market looks very different in Kiev. The most surprising thing for a Belgian consumer: “Ukrainian doesn’t want brown pralines”. Here’s how Iuliia Beikun’s creations come in pearl blue, snake green or cherry red. “The customers are mainly companies that order pralines in the colors of their logos.”
Public holidays, such as Mother’s Day, increase orders: “For these holidays we create more than 2,000 pralines a day. We work like hamsters in their wheel.” For Christmas, Candy Buffet also offers … piñata. Or specially designed advent calendars.
The president’s chocolate
In Belgium, the “bean-to-bar” is starting to make a splash, especially with prestigious ambassadors such as Pierre Marcolini. Ukraine didn’t start until 2021. The shelves are still dominated by the Roschen brand, founded by former president Petro Poroshenko. “It’s a low-end, very cheap chocolate. That’s why some Ukrainians still don’t understand why to buy bean-to-bar tablets. I would like to educate people, especially my community, which mainly represents women between 35 and 40 with children. and high income “.
At the Candy Buffet Instagram counter, over 15,000 await Iuliia’s return to taste her great wines.