The founder of one of Colombia’s sweetest icons – ‘Chocoramo’ – passed away Wednesday in a Bogotá clinic at age 90. Rafael Molano Olarte (1924-2014) was very much of a household name across his native land – one revered by all – especially children who when raiding the pantry for that after school snack, cast their eyes on an orange-wrapped package of joy, the ‘Chocoramo.’
Chocoramo withstood six decades of change, preserving a retro look, a spongy interior and original ingredients handed down by Molano’s grandmother, more than six decades ago.
Working out of a kitchen in the Los Alcázares neighbourhood of the capital city, Rafael Molano began to build an empire at age 26, especially with the loyalty of construction and factory workers, who found comfort in an affordable snack, considered a meal in itself, and best accompanied with cup of tinto or juice from the corner store.
As an employee of Bavaria in the 1950s, don Rafael Molano decided to go it alone thanks to a business loan he received from the brewery’s workers cooperative. Not unlike Leo Kopp and his Pilsner, Molano would perfect the chocolate snack.
He had neither special recipes nor secret ingredients; only those which his grandmother used in the kitchen. Neither did he count on partners or strategic allies apart from his wife, Ana Luisa Camacho. But he did know what he wanted: to start his own business, one that would be hypnotic and adventurous.
In the post-Gaitán city, few empresarios devised strategic plans, and much less market segmentation. It was another, more innocent age for invention and enterprise. But Rafael Molano, whose only diplomas were persistence and decisiveness, intuited that his core market lay in the company for which he worked. So every day, he took cakes to Bavaria and from his cubicle, where he oversaw deliveries, sold his home baked cakes to his fellow workers. The few initial loafs turned into dozens, then hundreds.
‘Ramo’ earned it name because of the bags in which Molano’s cakes were wrapped – as in a ‘brunch’ (ramo in Spanish). The name stuck and soon, Rafael Molano, gathered a fleet of bicycles to deliver these bundles from store to store. Mauricio Molano, one of Rafael’s sons, remembers the joyous occasion in the family when “demand surpassed supply.” As a result of the intuition and fast-moving “hot cakes” of the business, in 1956, Rafael gave his business a more formal structure, but based on the original recipe. Some refinements were added, such as preventing the cake slice from crumbling. But there was no “new” nor “improved” needed. The company was growing leaps and bounds.
Ramo’s name and reputation spread from the corner store in Bogotá to other cities. Since don Rafael and doña Ana Luisa were determined from the start to keep their prices low to make their products accessible to low-income clients, the family began to produce their raw materials on their farm, cutting out the meddlesome ‘middleman.’
The growth of the company was inevitable and brought with it the need to innovate and offer a wider range of products. In 1972, the company released the Ponqué Gala lines, which were followed by crackers, corn chips (Tostaco) and ‘Lecherita’ cookies.
The company of Rafael Molano, Productos Ramo S.A. operates three production plants, from their flagship in Mosquera (Cundinamarca) to one in Sabaneta (Antioquia) and Palmira (Valle). The company employs 3,000 staff as well as 1,500 independent contractors. In order to maintain their high standards in quality, the firm produces its own flour and chocolate.
In recognition of their solid business leadership Productos Ramo S.A. has won numerous business awards, including International Sales & Marketing Executive’s Top 20 Companies in the World. In 2007, Rafael Molano Olarte was condecorated with the “Businessman of the Year” award by the Universidad del Rosario.
With the help of his eight children and his wife, Rafael Molano perfected an idea, which arose from a desire to be independent and raise the income level of his household. His corporate vision has now been passed on to a younger generation, but can still be summed up in these words: the ability to survive and to give permanence and profitability to a business focused on long-term growth. But above all, it’s about doing things ethically always, and from the heart.