Why a company is getting into bean-to-bar in Africa

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Tim McCollum went to Madagascar over 20 years ago as a member of the Peace Corps. Since then, he has helped transform the chocolate industry in the country by doing something unusual: making chocolate bars on the island itself.

“Madagascar has the original genetic cocoa variety of the Earth,” he explains. “It was not hybridized, like much of the cocoa produced in West Africa, which is used in most chocolate bars around the world. This means it has more flavor and a unique profile.

Although 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, chocolate bars are largely produced in Europe and beyond. McCollum wanted to change that equation. “Agricultural products do not generally bring in much. It is the added value that creates economic opportunities.

So, 13 years ago, McCollum decided to do something no other mainstream chocolate brand had mastered: set up a factory near the farms themselves and train farming communities in the production of chocolate bars. High quality. It became the heart of Beyond Good, formerly called Madecasse.

It took him, he says, almost a decade to find the right model. “It’s not easy to do. That’s probably why it’s not done.

Despite the challenges, he persevered, even if it meant temporarily producing their chocolate in Italy, while they fine-tuned their facilities in Madagascar. But he is someone who often goes against the grain. For example, Beyond Good chose not to participate in conventional certifications; instead, they focused on some basic data to ensure that they are creating a positive impact: is farmers’ income increasing? Is the standard of living of all the players in the company improving? How many farmers and workers are part of the supply chain?

“And since our farmers earn 5x more and exceed fair trade parameters, we simply bring in a third party and do a routine audit to determine our impact, rather than relying on those certifications,” McCollum says.

These audits indicate that Beyond Good farmers earn nearly $4 a day; in comparison, a typical cocoa farmer in Africa would earn $0.50 to $0.70 a day. A lot of that has to do with their direct commerce model, which cuts out unnecessary middlemen, says McCollum.

But there is still room to grow and evolve, he adds. As the coffee industry focused on high-quality arabica beans, saw the third wave movement take off in the United States and Europe, and created measures to encourage flavor and quality rather quantity, the cocoa industry, according to McCollum, is always behind. “If we were to compare chocolate to coffee, we are still in the 1980s. We have a long way to go in helping people taste the different notes of chocolate. At present, it is still largely milk and sugar.

This lends itself to the nascent bean-to-bar movement. He jokes that when they started the company, there were only three bean-to-bar companies in America, including theirs. Now there are hundreds of bean-to-bar businesses. “But we still only represent a very small percentage of the total chocolate market,” he notes.

Beyond Good, however, is expanding and going beyond its Malagasy roots to work with cocoa farmers in Uganda. This will allow the company to produce more chocolate, given that Uganda produces nearly three times as much non-hybrid variety cocoa as Madagascar. It’s easy to get to by air, and McCollum can replicate some of Madagascar’s successes there.

In the process of producing chocolate bars, McCollum became involved in wildlife conservation – in somewhat unexpected ways. For the past three years, the company has been working with the University of Bristol in the UK on how cocoa trees could help populations of lemurs, a species whose numbers are dwindling. Since cocoa is a shade crop that benefits from a protective canopy, it can also serve as a refuge for a variety of wildlife. McCollum hopes these cocoa trees could be part of the solution for conservation work in Madagascar. More than 800 cultivated acres already provide refuge for this endangered species, and the company plans to support this work because it is so closely tied to its own mission as a brand.

“A year or two ago I heard the term ‘regenerative agriculture’,” says McCollum. “But it turns out we had been doing this all along. Trees are vital to the ecosystem. Call it agroforestry, regenerative agriculture. All of this benefits wildlife, the community and the planet.

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