The process of making nougat—a gooey candy traditionally eaten at Christmastime—can take up to four hours and requires the utmost attention to detail. A creamy mixture of egg whites, honey, and caramelized sugar sprinkled with slivers of assorted nuts is quickly poured into trays lined with thin, edible paper.
The warm, sticky mass is laid flat by a heavy wood rolling pin and cut into small, delicate pieces once it cools. It’s sweet, chewy, and fills your mouth with a nutty deliciousness that is reminiscent of holidays gone by.
Luis Diego Soto Clausen has been perfecting his craft making this delicacy for more than thirty years. Today his candy business employs more than 15 workers and his sweet treats are enjoyed by confectionery lovers around the world.
Soto, who founded San Jose-based Turrones de Costa Rica (with brand name Turrones Doré), took his first steps as an entrepreneur out of necessity when his family found themselves in financial turmoil. To make ends meet, just after finishing high school, he started a business selling his homemade nougats door-to-door. People loved them, and his stack of orders grew into a full-grown business. Fifteen years later, he opened his first candy factory and began large-scale distribution to stores and markets in the surrounding area.
In the small town of San Isidro in Heredia province, Soto warmly welcomed the Atlas Network team into his brightly-lit nougat factory, which is filled with the tantalizing aroma of the inside of a Milky Way bar.
There are seven dedicated employees in the production area of the main factory, and we watched them weighing out almonds for each batch and carefully pouring out batter into their wooden panels.
This candy used to be only consumed during the holidays, but the entrepreneurial Soto started this successful enterprise with the idea of making nougats a year-round treat.
Known by their brand name of Turrones Doré, the demand for Soto’s sweets has skyrocketed—so like any successful business, Soto needed to expand to a larger and better equiped production facility. While many Costa Ricans had access to banking institutions, very few had access to traditional loan products—making it harder for businesses like Turrones de Costa Rica to grow with the demanding market.
After many years of persistent hard work, Soto was able to overcome regulatory obstacles and time consuming procedures to finance the construction of a new Turrones de Costa Rica production facility which, in turn, created new jobs in the community.
Luis Loría and his team at the Instituto de Desarrollo Empresarial y Acción Social (IDEAS), a San José-based free-market think tank and Atlas Network partner, sought to change this. IDEAS led a widespread effort to remove barriers to doing business by working with the Ministry of Economics, Industry, and Commerce (MEIC) to design and implement policies that would help small businessmen like Soto have greater access to credit—and thus more opportunity to build their businesses.
So far, their efforts have been successful.
Policies designed to help small entrepreneurs are helping businesses of all sizes secure credit, expand their businesses, and provide their employees with more benefits.
Today, Turrones Doré is available in more than 450 stores across Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Domincan Republic, and Puerto Rico. His expansion has allowed him to hire more employees, help them build their production skills—and in doing so, lift more fellow Costa Ricans out of poverty.
We could celebrate that our work contributed to significantly ‘move the needle’ in terms of access to credit in Costa Rica, but that would not capture adequately the life-changing impact of the reforms,” explained Luis E. Loría, president of IDEAS.
“It is only when we look at how the creative and productive potential of individual entrepreneurs like Luis Diego is unleashed, thanks to the access to credit, that we can appreciate how dreams are transformed into realities, the unemployed find new job opportunities, and those living in poverty are able to escape from that condition and aspire to increasing levels of prosperity.”
IDEAS played an important role in facilitating access to credit. With their help, and the vision and entrepreneurial spirit of people like Luis Diego Soto Clausen, Costa Rica is building a more secure and prosperous future.