How Do Our Chocolates Get from Haiti to the US?

How Do Our Chocolates Get from Haiti to the US?

Getting chocolates from Haiti to the USA: Mission Complicated!

In The Beginning, there was DHL

Shipping our precious cargo has been an odyssey, from day one. We admit, our first chocolates bars arrived in our luggages or in the luggages of friends and family (those were the days in 2015).

But soon (Dec 2015), we started shipping through DHL. This was a long and convoluted process from Ouanaminthe, in North East Haiti. Once we got the 60kg cacao bags from the co-op office in Plaine du Nord, we would send the heavy load to Port-au-Prince for fumigation (the Haitian government requires this fumigation certificate to export cacao-based product via cargo). Then we bused the same load of cacao back to our workshop in Ouanaminthe to handcraft the chocolates.

Complicated? Keep reading!

Once the chocolates were ready (to fly), we entrusted them to DHL in Cap (about two hours from our production facility) on Mondays or Tuesdays mornings and we included with the shipment all the Haitian government, the FDA and US customs paperwork (our factory is registered with FDA). DHL then transported our temperature-sensitive cargo to Fort-Lauderdale, where it cleared custom, then DHL forwarded it to its Cincinnati-hub and deliver it to our warehouse in New York by the next Wednesday or Thursday (less than 48 hours).

We avoided weekends transit days when nothing moves: we got several unpleasant and expensive surprises when the cargo stayed "we don't know where" over the weekends: the melted / untempered chocolates had to be returned to Haiti! 80% of the time, though, this process worked, for a good five years.

2020: the Descent Into Shipping Hell

Starting in 2020s, things started really unravelling in Port-au-Prince, security-wise: roads were not secured, inter-cities flights, mainly between Cap Haitian (CAP) and Port-au-Prince (PAP), were always full leading DHL to stop taking cargo from Cap; Port-au-Prince was the only receiving point.

After the chocolates got kidnapped on the way to Port-au-Prince in late 2021 (read - the chocolates were on a Sans-Souci long-distance bus where the passengers, the driver (and all the bus contents) were kidnapped for ransom), we said - time for Plan C.

Then (and now), there were no air cargo services from Cap Haitian; and no refrigerated container from the Cap Haitian port (we have asked everywhere, so if you know one - please let us know). In addition, the Dominican Republic would not let us transit through with our Haitian chocolates (that's another long story) - we direly needed to find a different route.

Our shipping partner CAS Express recommended we work with Fort-Lauderdale based LBM Custom Export. A God Send for us! Our no-nonsense custom broker found this creative (and legal) workaround where we could get our chocolates on commercial airplanes (in areas when cargo air freight is not available) and clear custom directly at our first point of entry in the USA (Fort-Lauderdale FLL airport in our case).

Since then, once or twice a month, we have been transporting between 200 and 800 lbs (sometimes close to half a ton) of chocolates in 2 to 10 luggages, up to 100lbs/each, with one to two schleppers to babysit the whole process.

We left Ouanaminthe at 5 AM, got to CAP airport by 7 AM, made the only US-bound commercial flight around 10 AM, cleared customs at FLL and got to NYC by 10 PM.

We have missed our fair amount of flights due to camionnette breakdown, traffic standstill when entering Cap Haitian, or road blocks thanks to "grèv, manifestasyon, peyi lock, lari cho". We have transported the chocolates bags on motor bikes at times. We have rented storage rooms (read: hotels with AC around the airport) to store our load when flights were canceled or if we feared trouble on the roads between Ouanaminthe and Cap. We have stand in countless lines, outside Cap Airport rain or shine, through check-in, through security, through customs, with the weird stares: "what are you carrying in those heavy bags".

Making it Worse: Enter March 2024

This process was working fairly "smoothly" for four years now. Our last pick up job went well (Feb 26th) and the next one was scheduled for March 17th. We had a big 2,800 bars order due on March 12th but had gotten an extension until March 19th.

But "Fòk Ariel ale" led to March 5th: Port-au-Prince airport was closed until further notice; all US-based major airlines stopped flying to Haiti (Spirit not only stops its flight in PAP but also the one in CAP). For us, it was time to find Option C (or is it Option D?).

The CAP airport reopened within 20 days (March 25th) - but Spirit didn't resume its flights. Sunrise, the local airline, that subcontracted through Global X had a limited luggage policy (2 luggages only was not an option for us). We kept searching.

We stumbled on Bahamas Air. The airline was resuming its Cap Haitian to Nassau Bahamas flight then continuing to Fort Lauderdale. Plus, it allows up 10 luggages per flyer. This works for us!

Just saying that this new route was not straighforward is a euphemism. Yes, we made it out of Cap Haitian into Nassau Bahamas (after literally spending from 7 AM to 1 PM checking in for a flight scheduled for 10:15 AM, go figure); but once going through US custom at the Nassau airport (yes - you can clear US custom from some foreign airports), we soon realize that commercial merchandises were not allowed on flights from Nassau, a pre-clearance airport, to Fort-Lauderdale. BPC didn't let the cargo through and returned the 6 luggages weighing 500lbs to us.

Hence, we devised the next creative detour to this journey: the chocolates and their bodyguard all flew from Nassau in Providenciales island to Freeport in Gran Bahama island; from there, they flew to Fort-Lauderdale, cleared customs and continued to New York.

This whole journey took 40 hours door to door: Ouanaminthe, HT - Cap, HT - Nassau, BH - Freeport, BH - Fort-Lauderdale, US - New York, US, for you and your loved ones to enjoy our delicious chocolates.

So, next time you enjoy an Askanya Chocolates bar, make sure you savor every bite of it, to the last one, because, boy, we indeed move heaven and earth to get it to you. Mission Complicated, but Mission Possible.

You are welcome!

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1 comment
  • Very captivating story indeed. I think you should exploit these issues for your next marketing rounds!

    François Chavenet on

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