Chocoa attracts some of the world’s most skilled artisans and innovative businesses

The key annual Chocoa festival in Amsterdam once again successfully highlighted some of the major new releases from around the world. Neill Barston reflects back on an event that was one of the last shows to be held since major lockdown moves were put in place by governments around the world over the past two months


For its eighth edition, the Chocoa chocolate festival in Amsterdam saw a wealth of new products being showcased from around the world, as well as major discussions on sustainability.

The main conference day centred on critical topics making headlines on how improvements are being made within the cocoa supply chain by some of the biggest players operating within the industry.

Among those presenting was Bas Smit, global vice president of marketing for Barry Callebaut, who outlined its development of ruby chocolate and its most recent launch of wholefruit chocolate, which uses the entire cacaofruit, whereas previously up to 70% of each fruit would go to waste.

Confectionery Production attended the launch of the product last September, with the business expected to bring the product to market by next year, once commercial partners for its full development have been taken forward.

Consequently, questions from the audience were raised on whether the fact complete fruit is now being sold to Barry Callebaut, if this would negatively impact on the prices that are paid to farmers.

Smit responded: ”This starts with the people who run the business – close to half of the dividend we pay out goes for education for the less privileged in the world. So, the more successful we are, as well as the more ruby and wholefruit chocolate there is, the more benefits to farming communities there are, as that is how we operate on a value level.

“We are in this to create more value for the whole world, creating more category growth for those who sell these kinds of chocolates, for consumers, and for the farmers as well. It’s there for everyone, and we have no hidden agenda over this.”

Another key speaker for the session was Alloysius Attah, CEO of Ghana-based Farmerline, an organisation supporting farmers. He discussed the group’s  mission in Africa was focused on helping a large number of smallholders, many of whom operate in isolated rural areas, become entrepreneurs through increasing their access to apps offering a host of practical measures and assistance.

Recently, Farmerline was named by Time magazine as having among the best 100 inventions that are making the world better with its Mergdata web and mobile application. This is  reportedly now assisting a total of 200,000 farmers across a total of 13 African countries.

As the organisation explained, the scheme includes software designed for farmer profiling, certification, mapping, and trace- ability parameters. It is also capable of arranging digital payments.
Attah said: “When we started we thought technology could fix everything, but seven years on, we realised that we had to embrace old- school approaches as well. “We need to embrace micro-entrepreneurs, creating jobs for them and look at how technology can reduce costs for farmers make money for them through making their opera- tions scaleable. This will be a big part of our mis- sion for the next 10 years,” explained the CEO, who said the ‘holy grail of sustainability’ would not be achieved without enabling behaviour change within farming communities.

Karen Reijnen, innovation director for Rainforest alliance, explained there had been some notable changes over the past five years in terms of improving farming conditions.
She said: “There are a lot of interesting innovations in the cocoa sector. We see improved basing and tracking of cocoa, mobile payments and sourcing,
but which of these have an impact? We developed a data collection app, and from that you could see all the indicators and measures of agricultural practices.

“The tech was interesting, as was the data. But what was most powerful were the discussions between the farmers, the traders and the brands. But technology is just a tool. It gives you insights, but it only leads to change if you talk about it together, with issues like pruning being identified as having not been done, so it’s only by discussion do you drive change.”

Empowering women
Furthermore, Richard Kooge, development man- ager for Care Netherlands, a charitable organisation in the cocoa sector, asserted that providing direct sup- port to women and girls in African farming communities was its key priority.

Among the case studies raised, he highlighted the success of a sister project from an initiative called 100 weeks, based on the con- cept of making regular no- strings attached weekly pay- ments to women in selected locations of eight euros each via mobile phone.

This also included sessions on financial management, with the broader aim of delivering economic empowerment. He said the ongoing scheme, funded by donations to the charity, had proved a genuine success in providing targeted assistance.

For his part, James Le Compte, CEO of Ecuador- based To’ak chocolate, explained that he had founded a joint initiative known as Orijin, centred on creating a traceability and storytelling application that was formed from a collaboration between several industry players.

“At To’ak we rely a lot on storytelling, as there are some incredible stories that we have through the history of cacao in Latin America and Ecuador in particular, and also the incredible steps that cacao passes through to make it into your hands.” He explained the drive to create a new app was based on a belief in forging more radical transparency which allows consumers to see the full production process.

Furthermore, he also stated that consumers were now far more willing to pay additional cost for such products that held a high level of provenance. He added: “We didn’t just want to build a tool and wanted the information to be the by-product that was a byproduct for farmers, helping them improve productivity. Knowledge is power and there’s a huge number of smallholders who are not benefitting from this revolution in agricultural tech – so it’s partly built to help farmers to help their productivity.”

The session concluded with a new element in the form of a late night TV show style discussion panel that featured several invited guests to address the barriers that remain regarding farmers becoming entrepreneurs within their communities.

This included Judy Zwinkels, head of communications at Nestlé, who spoke of a key project ‘that was created as we wanted to be more transparent’ which unfolded with a venture with journalist Lars Gierveld. He explained: “I talked to Nestlé, and they said they wanted to give me a blank sheet on this to be independent. We asked ourselves – why are farmers in Ghana and Ivory coast so poor despite sustainable programmes, and what can we do about that?

“It was an exciting year of investigation going over there to Ghana – it was a strange situation – we said that would do this but we want to start a business with farmers. That’s the only way of getting to know them really well, and created a cocoa juice business,” he said of the unique initiative, which he has now turned into a documentary film.

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