QUON Chocolate

Chocolate that transforms into works of art before your eyes.


[TEXT]  HIDA Emiko


This article is a translated version, which was originally published in Japanese language on 30 September, 2022.

Reading time:4 minutes

(Date updated)25 July, 2023

(About this story)

An array of colorful chocolates are displayed in the store. Looking closely, you will notice that the chocolates have been elaborately crafted, some with fruit toppings or nut fillings. In fact, these chocolates were made by workers with intellectual disabilities. When NATSUME Hirotsugu, representative of QUON Chocolate learned about the working conditions of people with disabilities, he wondered why so few options were available and why wages were so low. His doubts led to the creation of these colorful and delicious chocolates. We visited Natsume in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture, where the main store of QUON Chocolate is located.


Chocolate makers who exude confidence


Grrrrrr. Dried tea leaves are crushed by a millstone. Chop, chop, chop. Dried fruits and tart dough are finely chopped with a small knife. The workers’ expressions are serious as they concentrate on the detailed tasks in front of them.

When we asked them, “Which product do you recommend?” they answered with pride, without pausing their work: “Chocolate mint. The terrine one.” “Rich berry.” “The milk chocolate tablet might be the best tasting in the whole world.”


The QUON Terrine is their signature product. A wide range of ingredients are used, such as domyoji sweet rice flour, hojicha tea, raisins, and pistachios.

QUON Chocolate is a brand based in Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture. Their signature product is the QUON Terrine, a combination of pure chocolate and ingredients from various regions of Japan, with over 150 varieties available. Among them is the beautiful Premium Terrine topped with colorful dried fruits and nuts, each one with a distinctive look that makes your heart race with excitement just by looking at it.


The visually stunning Premium Terrine makes a great gift.

QUON Chocolate has factories and retail branches across Japan, including franchises. One of the characteristics of this company is that more than half of its 570 employees are people with disabilities. And while the national average wage at a Type B “continuous support for employment services” facility (a place that employs people with disabilities who have difficulty finding employment at conventional places of business), is only about 16,000 yen per month, the company pays wages several times that amount.


An employee at work at the Toyohashi Factory, which operates as a Type B facility. Full-time workers can earn about 170,000 yen per month.

Company representative NATSUME Hirotsugu learned about the working conditions of people with disabilities while working as an urban planning consultant, and questioned the lack of options available to them and their low wages. When he struck out on his own in 2003, he opened a bakery that employs people with disabilities and complies with the minimum wage in Aichi Prefecture.


“I hope we can create a society that offers people a variety of choices,” says Natsume.

“Still, there was a wide gap between my ideal and the reality. Baking bread is a complex process, and in order to have freshly baked bread ready by opening time, we had to work on a down-to-the-minute schedule. It’s not a job that just anyone can do, and there were times when we had to fire people who just couldn’t keep up. We were struggling financially, and it was really rough for a while. Ten years after founding the bakery, I was agonizing over whether there was any other way to make it work.”


Colorful tablet chocolates in packaging drawn by the workers.

That turning point came when he met NOGUCHI Kazuo, who is now the chef chocolatier at QUON Chocolate. Hearing that “anyone can make delicious chocolate if they use the right ingredients correctly,” Natsume visited Noguchi’s factory with a healthy dose of skepticism. There, international students attending the Japanese language school next door were making luxury-brand chocolates during their break time.


“I saw that even amateurs could be involved in high-margin work through the repetition of really simple manual tasks. If they made a mistake, the chocolate could be melted and used again, and it has a long shelf life. Unlike bread, chocolate is a material that adapts to the individual’s pace. I could see the faces of people I had let go, thinking, ‘That person could do this task,’ or ‘If I could make a change here and there, that person could do it.’ From then on, I decided to make chocolate my business.”


A worker engrossed in folding origami, which are included as extras in the company’s products. When I requested a pteranodon from the book, he took on the challenge, saying, “This one is difficult, but I’ll try.”


A snapshot during a break at Powder labo. Everyone looks great!

If everyone strove to be present
for the people around them


Since launching QUON Chocolate in 2014, Natsume has created an environment tailored to each individual worker’s disabilities and characteristics. In 2021, he opened Powder labo, a daily nursing care facility in Toyohashi City that employs people with severe disabilities. This factory produces the fruit and tea powders used in the terrines, and the manufacturing process was introduced in the opening of this article.


The company’s powder-making process, which had previously been outsourced, is now performed in-house. By using millstones instead of machines, they are able to utilize the flavors of ingredients in an unadulterated state.

“Since daily nursing care facilities are not primarily designed for employment, wages are lower than those at Type B facilities. One source says that wages range from 3,000 to 5,000 yen per month. However, I thought that there must be jobs that people can perform even if they have severe disabilities. Some people are not good at creating things, but are good at destroying them. With a bit of creativity, that too can be of great value. At Powder labo, we pay more than 50,000 yen per month in wages.”


Natsume has felt a positive response over the past year, with people who were initially picked up and dropped off by car now walking to work enthusiastically on their own feet because they find the job rewarding, and with people gaining the ability to do more and more things over time. He also plans to expand Powder labo nationwide.


Powder labo second also opened in Toyohashi City. Here, the company rented a space on the first floor of a building so that workers who kick the floor due to their tics could work without worrying about those beneath them.

“The quality of our terrines has gone up since creating Powder labo, and so has the efficiency of the operation. We knew a person who was upset because they wanted to work but couldn’t, so we thought seriously about what we could do for them. When we did that, it led to our own growth. The same thing could be done in other industries. If everyone strove to be present for the people around them, I believe that Japan could become a truly affluent society.”


In December 2021, the company also launched QUON Chocolate DEMI-SEC, a baked confectionery store designed to be “a business that does not require a large capital investment and can be started by just two people (e.g., a parent and their child) living in a depopulated area or mountainous region.”


DEMI-SEC manufactures and sells financiers and terrine tarts made with lavish amounts of pure chocolate.


Fresh chocolate soft serve ice cream served at the main Toyohashi store. The upper edge of the cone is coated in dark chocolate, while the inside is coated with terrine chocolate for a fun variation in taste.

Their products are more than just delicious and beautiful. The colorful terrines from QUON Chocolate could be appreciated as works of art that pose the question, “Wouldn’t it be fun to live in a society like this?”

QUON Chocolate Toyohashi
Address: 1-4 Matsubacho, Toyohashi-shi, Aichi
Tel: 0532-53-5577
Website: QUON Chocolate Official Site