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View of Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii

Our Story

 In the Hawaiian language, kuleana can be defined as accepting responsibility with understanding and intent. It is our kuleana to serve our community to the best of our ability. At Maui Ku'ia Estate Chocolate, it is our privilege to support our local nonprofit community and implement pono practices into our business operations.

How We Got Here

In 2013, Dr. Gunars Valkirs, leased the farmland that would become the Maui Ku'ia Estate cacao farm. He began work on a cacao farm operation with the first cacao plantings and blessings occurring on the 2013 winter solstice. The winter solstice marks the estate's oldest trees - special hybrids that were created by our VP of Farm & Factory Operations, Dan O’Doherty.

By the time the first ten acres were planted in 2016, Gunars had to decide how to keep growing high-quality cacao while also maintaining an economically sustainable farm. The only way to make the business viable was to make and sell chocolate, but Gunars had a bigger mission.

Though the farm may have started as a hobby for our CEO, the decision to start a chocolate company was born.

Maui Ku'ia Estate Chocolate team

"The answer came from what my family had already been doing for eight years, giving back to the Maui non-profit community."

Maui Ku'ia Estate Chocolate staff with a pile of cacao pods

Through their family foundation, Makana Aloha Foundation, Gunars and his wife, JoRene, recognized that the needs in the non-profit community could not be met by current funding and wanted to do more. They decided to invest in building a chocolate company where 100% of net-profits would be given back to the Maui community, their home.

The decision to create a mission-driven chocolate company triggered factory design and construction, which was completed in late 2019.

Through navigating many difficult obstacles, we have gone on to produce some of the world's best cacao and award-winning chocolate - as evidenced by the 2021 Cocoa of Excellence Gold Award for the Asia Pacific region and the 2022 Good Food Award.

Our Impact

kuleana

Kuleana can be defined as accepting responsibility with understanding and intent.

Supporting Our Community

It is our privilege to be able to give back to the community in which our delicious chocolate is made, by donating 100% of our net profits to Maui charities and non-profit organizations.

Environmental Sustainability

We strive to continually improve our focus on sustainability. We have achieved a net zero carbon footprint through our dedication to agricultural production and solar powered facilities.

Maui Food Bank food donation drop-off at Maui Ku'ia Estate Chocolate

Laulima Cooperative Program

Our company was founded with the intent to donate 100% of our
net-profits to Maui's charities and nonprofit organizations that support our community. We've also developed a cooperative program called Chocolate Laulima, in which we partner with nonprofit organizations to enhance their fundraising efforts. We do this through hosting events and offering a collection of fundraising chocolate products that benefit these organizations.

These values are embedded in our company’s DNA and shared by all who work here.

Sustainable Chocolate

We currently grow 20 acres of cacao and have hopes to continue to grow our orchard. Our chocolate factory in Lahaina is 100% powered by the sun and isn't connected to our local power plant in any way. We do our best to source as locally as possible and utilize more eco-friendly supplies for our packaging and services. This is an ambitious, yet very rewarding, journey that we are on, and we are thrilled to have you as
part of it.

Cacao tree blossoms at the Maui Ku'ia Estate Chocolate cacao farm

Meet Our Founder

Founder Gunars Valkirs cutting cacao pod off cacao tree

Founder & CEO

Former biotech scientist, Dr. Gunars Valkirs, first leased the farmland in 2013 and began work on cacao farm operation.

Throughout his career in San Diego, Gunars always grew fruit trees. When he moved to Maui, he was Intrigued by the fact that Hawai’i is the only state in the U.S. where cacao can be grown outside. Gunars began planting cacao at his home in Kapalua almost 10 years ago as part of a UH Manoa field trial to determine what growing conditions were suitable for cacao.

Having previously considered making wine as a second career, Gunars realized the chocolate making process had many similar features to wine making. Wine and chocolate are also the perfect pairing, so he loved being able to explore a fascination with both at the same time.

Explore Our Chocolate