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Chinese chocolate village reaps sweet success

China Daily| Updated: May 26, 2021 L M S


Family members try making chocolates at Aficion Chocolate Village in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, during this year's Spring Festival. HU LINGXIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Zhejiang-based theme park has all things related to the treat, chance to make some yourself

HANGZHOU-Mo Xuefeng was obsessed with chocolate as a child. Later in life, he turned his passion for the delicacy into something sweet-a chocolate village theme park in his hometown.

Mo was born in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. His father runs a successful packaging company, and he was expected to join his father's business when he grew up. But the younger Mo secretly dreamed of doing something else.

"I've loved eating chocolate since I was a little boy. But I knew that my parents and their friends did not have much chocolate to eat when they were young, and it had never been a big deal in their lives," he said.

Mo now runs Aficion Chocolate Village, a confectionary-themed tourism resort in the township of Dayun, Jiaxing.

The facility features all things chocolate-from a chocolate factory and tasting booths to venues popular for wedding photos. As it is only about 100 kilometers from cities like Shanghai and Hangzhou, the village draws huge crowds from surrounding areas.

During the May Day holiday alone the village attracted more than 50,000 visitors, according to official figures.

The village's success comes amid China's booming tourism industry.

According to a report from the China Tourism Academy, 4.1 billion domestic tourist trips are expected to be made in China this year, up 42 percent from 2020, and domestic tourism revenue is expected to surge 48 percent to reach 3.3 trillion yuan ($513 billion).

After graduating from university in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in 2019, Mo went on to earn an advanced degree in finance from Boston University in the United States.

"I remember teachers would bring chocolate to class," he said.

During this time, he managed to visit many chocolate factories and museums across the world, from Mexico and Belgium to Pennsylvania in the United States. The idea of building a chocolate village started taking shape in his head.

"I wanted to create a chocolate village that not only makes chocolate but also welcomes visitors for village tours to appreciate the chocolate culture," he said.

Mo said that chocolate is healthy and that he wanted to promote it in China where "the chocolate culture was yet to be explored" and "many chocolate names were relatively unknown compared to foreign brands".

"I saw an opportunity," he said.

In 2011, Mo graduated from Boston University and faced a dilemma. He could either choose to stay in the US to launch a career or go back to his hometown to work at his father's business. While these seemed like his only options, he eventually decided to come back to China to launch a business of his own.

Things were not that easy at the beginning.

"There was nobody to learn from because there were no chocolate villages in China as far as I knew," he said. "I contacted a designer, but the designer did not know what I wanted at all."

Mo went overseas again to draw inspiration. Even now, he still travels to other countries at least twice a year to learn from foreign chocolate townships.

In July 2012, Mo decided to settle his chocolate village where he grew up in the township of Dayun and named it Aficion Chocolate Village.

"Dayun is my hometown, and the local government was promoting tourism," Mo said. "The area has great transportation conditions. So it was perfect."

As one of the biggest chocolate-themed villages in Asia, Aficion centers on chocolate-making research and development, while also offering recreational activities such as village tours and experiencing chocolate-making, among others.

To make the best chocolate, Mo bought equipment from Switzerland and selects quality raw materials from around the world.

With the support of the local government, the village started making chocolate under the Aficion brand in February 2014, and the tourist attraction officially opened to the public later that year.

"We do not just want to be a chocolate maker," Mo said. "We want to spread chocolate culture and promote chocolate-based tourism."

Mo said he hopes people who visit the village approve of the chocolate quality and will want to buy some to take home after having a taste.

"When consumers buy our chocolates, they will know that the chocolates come straight from the factory in the Aficion Chocolate Village," Mo said. "When they visit the village, they will see our advanced equipment for themselves, and they will trust our product quality."

The village has won several awards since its debut. In 2014, it was named a provincial "demonstration base for industrial tourism". It was honored as a provincial "demonstration characteristic town" in 2016. The next year, it became a national-level tourist attraction.

Since 2014, Aficion chocolates have hit the shelves in more than 20,000 supermarkets in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Aficion has also launched online channels, selling chocolate on platforms such as Taobao, JD and yhd.com. Mo has also tapped the wedding industry by making wedding candies. His team is beginning to explore markets in other areas in China.

"It is a sweet business to me," Mo said. "I will continue to do my best to make the best chocolate and promote chocolate culture."