Farm-to-Bar Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate Wins Gold


Lahaina’s farm-to-bar chocolate maker has brought home a win in what has been described as “the most prestigious awards competition in the cocoa industry.” Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate was recognized as a Producer of Excellence and received the Gold Award in Asia Pacific at the International 2021 Cocoa of Excellence Awards announced virtually on December 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy.

dr Gunars Valkirs in the MKEC Retail Store after handing over the certificate. He said, “We are thrilled to represent and support these high standards of quality nationally and internationally, and to let the world know that we grow incredible cacao in Lahaina, Maui.” PC: Courtesy

MKEC was also named a 2022 Good Food Award winner in the dark chocolate category on January 14, 2022.

MKEC is the only According to a company release, the company has ever won a Cocoa of Excellence Award and a Good Food Award for dark chocolate and the cocoa from which it is made. Maui Ku’ia Estate 70% Dark Chocolate and its Lahaina grown cocoa were the winning entries for both competitions.

The Cocoa of Excellence Awards are the standard of excellence for cocoa producers; Recognizing quality, expertise and exceptional flavors while preserving cocoa diversity around the world. For the 2021 edition, MKEC’s chocolate was compared to 231 other samples from 53 different origins.

All producers sent dried cocoa samples to France, where they were then processed into liqueur and dark chocolate containing 66% cocoa was made from each of the top 50 finalists by a single chocolate maker.


In the Asia Pacific region there were 13 finalists; eight were awarded gold and the other five silver or bronze. Another US/Hawai’i producer was recognized: Lydgate Farms from Kaua’i won silver.


“These awards confirm what we have always known: that we can produce world-class chocolate from farm to table,” said MKEC Founder and Principal Chocolate Company Dr. Gunar’s Valkirs. “I couldn’t be prouder of our chocolate company and our amazing team. I would like to thank everyone, especially our Vice President of Farm and Factory Operations, Daniel O’Doherty, for his expertise in guiding us for many years. and our cocoa farmers, David McPherson and Palani Wright, for their tireless efforts during the development of the farm into what it is today.”

The Good Food Foundation named Maui Ku’ia Estate Dark Chocolate, 2020 Harvest a 2022 Winner in the Dark Chocolate Category. An in-person awards ceremony has been rescheduled for March 4 in San Francisco. MKEC was previously named one of 351 finalists from nearly 2,000 nationwide entries representing 42 states.

Another finalist from Maui is Pauwela Beverage Company (in the beverage category); Other Hawaii finalists include: Big Island Coffee Roasters (confectionery); Slow Island Food & Beverage Co. (Elixirs); Akaka Falls Farm (honey and preserves); Big Island Bees (honey); ‘Ulu Mana (Snacks).


Now in its 12th year, the prestigious Good Food Awards recognize food that is “tasty, authentic and responsible” and meets high standards of social and environmental responsibility, craftsmanship and taste. Winners will be named in 18 categories ranging from cured meats to chocolate. The “Chocolate” category recognizes “the bean-to-bar manufacturers who are leading the way and making really high-quality bars in every way,” according to the foundation.

“To be recognized by these two organizations at this level so early in our chocolate career is an incredible honor,” says Valkirs. “We are thrilled to represent and support these high quality standards nationally and internationally, and to let the world know that we grow incredible cacao in Lahaina, Maui.”

MKEC’s mission is supported by its Chocolate Kuleana – a pledge to return 100% of net profits to Maui nonprofits. And as part of the Chocolate Laulima program, shoppers can designate a preferred partner charity when purchasing items and give 40% of the sale proceeds back to the chosen charity.

Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate is located at 78 Ulupono St. in Lahaina. Hours of operation are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., seven days a week.

Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate Inc. (MKEC) is Maui’s first farm-to-bar chocolate factory and the largest chocolate factory in Hawaii. MKEC was founded in 2015 by former biotech entrepreneur and full-time West Maui resident, Dr. Gunars Valkirs, founded with the aim of growing and manufacturing some of the finest chocolates in the world here on Maui and then giving back 100% of net profits in collaboration with its wholesale partners to charities and non-profit organizations on Maui. Cacao trees need a tropical environment to thrive, making Hawaii the only US state where cacao can be grown outside of a greenhouse. The company makes Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate from cocoa grown locally on its 50-acre farm and Ku’ia Estate Chocolate from cocoa sourced from a single-variety family farm in Ecuador and the rainforests of the Brazilian Amazon. MKEC’s retail store offers a window into the factory and the 2,000 square foot. The upstairs open-air pavilion offers chocolate tastings and 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Mauna Kahalawai, including a view back up the hill where the Maui cocoa was grown and harvested. PC: Courtesy

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