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Chocolate sweetens life in rural county
Last Updated: 2017-06-21 07:35 | Xinhua
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With European-style architecture and a sweet smell in the air, Aficion Chocolate Town in east China's Zhejiang Province is by no means a traditional food production base.

Within a 29-hectare resort town, colorful windmills turn lazily on the lawn. Tourists walk down a 156-meter-long glass passageway viewing the world-class chocolate production line in operation and visit parlors where they learn about chocolate culture, taste handmade chocolate, even design and create their own chocolate treats.

Mo Xuefeng, founder of Aficion, said locating it in Jiashan County, rather than Shanghai, was a fortunate decision.

Jiashan, a 25-minute high-speed train trip from Shanghai, is regarded as the metropolis's "backyard."

"I originally planned to set up a chocolate factory in Shanghai. But I was drawn by Jiashan's beautiful countryside scenery and excellent investment environment," said Mo.

The chocolate town is located within a provincial tourist resort and is surrounded by orchards.

Mo, 32, said he remembers imported chocolate was considered a luxury when it became available on the fledgling China market in the 1980s.

"My father gave me my first chocolate when I was in kindergarten. Back then most Chinese viewed it as a foreign and exotic curiosity," he recalled.

Chocolate has become increasingly popular as the Chinese population has become richer. The domestic chocolate market sees an average annual increase of 15 percent, Mo said.

Mo believes the Chinese affection for chocolate goes beyond its flavor. He wanted to capture their curiosity of the exotic treat.

With a total investment of 900 million yuan (around 131 million U.S. dollars), Aficion Chocolate Town opened to public in October 2014.

Mo brought specialized equipment from Switzerland and set up a world-class automated production line, which can mix, grind, refine, mold and package around 20,000 tonnes of chocolate each year.

By taking advantage of the surrounding orchards, the chocolate factory has not only developed various fruit-flavored chocolate products, but also attracted more tourists for local strawberry and blueberry farms.

The chocolate town has brought fame and fortune to the small county. Aficion has seen more than one million visitors since its establishment, provided jobs for 180 local residents and promoted the development of affiliated industries such as catering.

The town is one of Jiashan's signature projects, and is an example of the county's resolute reform in economic transformation by eyeing innovative and high-end industries, according to the county's Party chief Xu Qing.

In just three short years, Jiashan County has transformed its environment by eliminating 282 outdated and polluting projects and reclaiming 334 hectares of land for environmentally-friendly businesses like Aficion. During that time, it has also seen the establishment of 450 industrial projects using robots to do labor-intensive work.

While the industrial transformation continues and urbanisation has encouraged more people to move to urban areas, Jiashan has not completely abandoned its rural roots. Among the county's 9,500 households, 70 percent now live in towns while 30 percent remain in rural villages.

In recent years, the county has extended centralized water and gas supplies and sewage and garbage treatment systems to all rural residents.

Mo, a graduate from Boston University with a master's degree in finance, wanted to do more than just sell chocolate.

"Aficion, a Latin word, means 'affection' or 'love'. Chocolates from Aficion Chocolate Town have already become a special souvenir of Jiashan," Mo said.

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