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Chocolate-loving family cooks up a sweet international business

Chocolate-loving family cooks up a sweet international business

February 4, 2013 at 12:00am

Chocolate has an appeal that’s simply irresistible – just like love. For one blue-and-gold family, these two ingredients are one and the same. 

Photos by Doug Garland ’10

The Alexander brothers – FIU alumni Juan Carlos ’04, Nicholas ’07 and Andrew ’12 – are bound by the sweet stuff at home and at the office. The three work together at Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa & Chocolate Specialists, a company founded in 2009 by their father, John.

“It’s fun seeing my brothers every day,” Andrew says. “I don’t really know a lot of people who get to say that. We’re close anyway, so it’s great to be in business with one another. It’s one of the perks.”

In collaboration with one of their international partners – Brazil’s Cruz family, which has a 130-year legacy of expertise in cocoa and chocolate – the Alexanders are well on their way to cornering the private-label market in South Florida.

Chocolate creations

At their 50,000-square-foot Miami Gardens headquarters, their 44-person-strong team can produce as much as 1.6 million pounds of chocolate each month. That includes the store brands sold by well-known South Florida retailers like Sedano’s supermarkets and Navarro pharmacies.

The Tierra Nueva chocolate company produces chocolate for a variety of private-label brands.

“We can provide a service for smaller stores. Our minimum order isn’t what Hershey would want,” says Nicholas, explaining that the company accepts orders to manufacture as little as 3,000 pounds at a time – about five palettes – and even has an in-house designer on staff to develop customized packaging for clients.

“We’re involved with the product every step of the way,” Juan Carlos adds.

The company’s goods reach well beyond the local community: Tierra Nueva makes, among others, the Norwegian Cruise Line chocolate bars, sold shipboard in the gift shop, and the Chocolate Rico peddled to tourists in Puerto Rico.

Based on their own feasibility study and the potential they see in private labeling – currently only 3 percent of chocolate made in the United States carries a small-brand name, as compared with more than 30 percent in Europe – the brothers feel very confident moving forward.

“We’re going to keep growing because a lot of people are looking for something at a value-brand cost with a premium taste,” Nicholas explains. “We see a long, fruitful future in this.”

A family affair

A Cuban exile who has called South Florida home since 1959, John Alexander could not be prouder that three of his five children have chosen to take ownership in one of his companies. (He has another son, Eric ’08, who works for his grandfather, and a daughter, Sophia, who is attending college in Boston.)

John Alexander, second from left, with three of his sons – from left, Juan Carlos, Nicholas and Andrew.

“They’re all learning the business, and you want someone to carry on what you’ve started,” says the patriarch, whose diverse portfolio included a freight company in the ’80s and now comprises export for duty-free ventures and travel retail enterprises. “Working together makes dinner very interesting.”

Dinnertime talk often centers on the business – or FIU Football.

“I’m a football fan,” Juan Carlos blurts out.

“He is!” Nicholas confirms. “He’s always telling stories about his time at FIU and taking me to the games.”

That camaraderie partly explains how the three have done so well in a relatively short time. In 2011 sales increased by more than 50 percent, and they have visions of continued growth this year.

Three heads for business

But love can get you only so far in business. Smart decisions and an innovative spirit form the base of their success.

“My father has also done a very good job of giving us responsibility and entrusting us with handling it,” says Nicholas, who takes care of the finances while Andrew covers sales and merchandising and lawyer Juan Carlos tends to legal issues. “These are all large responsibilities. We feel the pressure of not letting him down, as well as the pressure of working together.”

Understanding what’s been given to them has imbued the brothers with drive. Together they are manufacturing and marketing a promising new non-chocolate product. Tierra Nueva Coffee Thins use coffee beans in place of cocoa beans to create a unique pick-me-up. The sweet squares won a confection-industry award last year.

And while they’re thinking big in every aspect of their business, the Alexanders hold the company very close to their chocolate-soaked hearts. There’s no talk of growing the place to sell it off, for example.

“We want to pass this to our future generations,” Nicholas says. “We don’t look at making a dollar for tomorrow. We look at it for our family and the future of our family, so that we can all enjoy what we’ve been able to do here in the United States.”   

Facts and figures

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