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Bringing chocolate home: Africa is more than the world’s cocoa basket, says Madécasse

By Oliver Nieburg+

26-Nov-2014
Last updated on 28-Nov-2014 at 23:03 GMT2014-11-28T23:03:31Z

Madagascan chocolatier Madécasse says that Africa can make the transition from cocoa producer to chocolate maker
Madagascan chocolatier Madécasse says that Africa can make the transition from cocoa producer to chocolate maker

The chocolate industry and fairtrade movement are perpetuating poverty in Africa by relying on the continent for it’s agricultural assets rather than manufacturing potential, says Madagascan chocolate maker Madécasse.

Madécasse is a bean-to-bar chocolate company set up in 2008 by former Peace Corps volunteers. It sources cocoa from and produces chocolate in Madagascar through a copacker.

“What we realized was that Africa is not poor because it does not produce agriculture, it’s poor because it does not produce finished products,” Madécasse co-founder and co-CEO Tim McCollum told ConfectioneryNews.

Agriculture-reliant economy

Africa is the world’s leading producer of cocoa, coffee, bananas, rubber and copper, yet still the poorest continent in the world. “All they produce is crops,” said McCollum.

Over 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa and while around 40% of global cocoa is processed at origin, less than 1% of chocolate manufacturing takes place in Africa.

Madécasse CEO Tim McCollum says that manufacturing will help bring Africa out of poverty.

Perpetuating poverty?

Madécasse's website claims the company has four times the impact of fairtrade chocolate. We asked McCollum how that could be quantified.

“It could be an understatement,” he said. “Fairtrade only addresses the agriculture and it perpetuates poverty – on a macro scale it keeps Africa poor.”

He said that cocoa accounted for around 5-10% of the cost of a chocolate bar, which comes mainly from production costs. He said that by producing in Madagascar, Madécasse kept the economic benefits in Africa.

“The model has never really been done before,” said McCollum. “What we saw was a big opportunity to change how people live in Madagascar.”

Stuck in their ways or concerned by infrastructure?

He said there were two reasons why the industry shied away from manufacturing in Africa.

“The first is they don’t think to do it.  They think Africa produces cocoa and the rest of the world produces chocolate, closer to the consumer. That’s old fashioned and just the way it’s always been done.”

But he added: “There are some logistically challenges that are valid and we experience everyday.”

Do transportation concerns on Africa's dirt roads put chocolate companies off manufacturing on the continent?

Madagascar lacks infrastructure. Transportation is usually on dirt roads and internet access is sporadic. The climate can also be problematic, but Madécasse’s copacker is based on an elevated plateau where it is quite temperate.

The company uses a contract manufacturer based in Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo that processes the cocoa, produces chocolate and wraps the product. 40 people work at the factory.

Madécasse also sources sugar and vanilla locally. “All ingredients that exist in Madagascar are sourced in Madagascar,” said McCollum.

“The first five to six years have been a learning. We’ve had pretty strong growth but we’re expecting much larger growth in the next five years.”

Will consumers pay more?

Products are currently sold in the US, France, UK and Australia and the firm is currently negotiating contracts in South Africa.

Madécasse's 75 g chocolate tablets retail for $5.99 range. Could the price put consumers off?

“There’s a greater interest in transparency and quality that’s changed the way Americans eat and select food,” said McCollum.

He said that the beer industry was once mainly big brands, but now craft brewers were challenging large multinationals.

“The phenomenon has undone the traditional beer industry and you are seeing a similar shift in the chocolate industry even though it’s a few years behind.”

“The market is changing and it will be a matter of time before people are willing to pay.”

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