Cocoa fermentation - a process to help beans develop flavor - is usually done by farmers covering cocoa beans in banana or plantain leaves for six to seven days. This method is known as heap fermentation.
Under Toms’ tray fermentation, farmers in Ghana place cocoa beans in stacked trays provided by Toms, to improve the quality of the cocoa and reduce the fermentation time.
Two years ago Toms launched Ekstra, a brand that only uses tray fermented cocoa rather than heap fermented beans.
“It’s one of our most successful products, so we’ve had to recruit more farmers this year,” Lene Hjort Lorenzen, corporate social responsibility manager at Toms, told ConfectioneryNews.
“It’s a win-win because the farmers are happy, we are happy and it’s actual a commercial product.”
Advantages over heap fermentation
Fermentation requires oxygen so when a farmer is heap fermenting, he or she must turn the heap every other day.
“A good size heap can weigh half a ton and the farmer does not have any tools other than hands and feet to do that,” said Lorenzen.
“We discovered that Ghanaian scientists developed a fermentation method that gives better cocoa quality and taste and also alleviates the work for the farmer.”
Lorenzen said that tray fermentation took only four days and meant farmers did not have to turn heaps because oxygen was uniformly spread between the trays.
“The grind time for tray fermented cocoa is also shorter so the whole process is shorter. The farmer will get his pay quicker and he uses less plantain leaves,” she continued.
A thousand farmers
Participating farmers are rewarded a $75 per ton premium for using the method.
“We started rolling it out slowly. To start it was only 80 farmers to see how it went. The farmers were very happy so we rolled it out to more and more farmers.”
Toms’ tray fermentation project now reaches 1,000 farmers. Lorenzen said the farmers required training to learn the method.
“You would be able to taste a significant difference and that is why we have created a new brand because we couldn’t just put it in our existing products because it would change the taste,” she said.
“We started with the basic chocolate - 70 and 80% cocoa - but now we have added some flavored ones such as licorice and orange. We also now have mini chocolates and in Denmark there’s a type of thins we use on bread – thin slices of chocolate you put on bread. This is very normal in Denmark.”
Not relying on certification
Toms, in collaboration with Ecom has achieved traceability for all its cocoa purchased in Ghana, which accounts for 84% of the firm’s cocoa supply.
“We are trying to do the things existing certification schemes require, but we are not certified by them. It’s because we want to follow a standard but we want to tell the story ourselves. We’ve not been so interested in the logos and the marketing part of the existing schemes because we have strong brands ourselves,” said Lorenzen.
She said that Toms planned to use the upcoming ISO/CEN standard for sustainable cocoa that was due to be developed by the end of 2016. See HERE for more details.
Products in Toms’ Ekstra range carry a tray fermentation logo. “We think the consumer probably needs a little help to understand that and there’s a QR code, so if you put your phone on the bar you get access to our website with a film.”
There is also more information about traceability and tray fermentation and another QR code in the inside of the packs.