Putting Madagascar on the chocolate making map
Founded on a principle of producing chocolate at source in Madagascar has offered its challenges for Made In Africa (MIA), but as co-founder Brett Beach explains, he feels they’re definitely making a positive impact in improving lives for farming communities. Neill Barston reports
It was a two-year stint in the American Peace Corp serving in Madagascar that would sow the seeds of Brett Beach’s ambition to create his future business in the confectionery sector. Having stayed on for six years in the island nation off the East Coast of Africa in several key roles including for the US embassy, when the chance to set up a business with his wife Sarah and give something back to the communities he had been among, it felt the perfect opportunity.
“I just fell in love with Madagascar” explains Brett of his initial experiences of being amid the Indian Ocean community, which was formerly a French colony.
While it has endured a complex recent political history in the intervening decades since independence in 1960, as well as its population hit by poverty, it has a strong, diverse culture and ecology, with six of its national parks forming a World Heritage site. It has also gained a reputation for especially fine cacao, which has been designated as fine flavour by the International Cocoa Organisation – which Brett and his team believed could form the basis of establishing a business that made and exported chocolate. See our exclusive Confectionery Production video with Brett here.
Fundamentally, it was set up to redress the key imbalance of the region providing 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa, yet it only produces one per cent of finished chocolate products, where most revenues are made. “Madagascar is where my wife and I felt we could make the most difference, as there’s a really uneven playing field with northern countries having such a head start for the most part,” explains Brett, who is British born, yet spent many of his formative years in America.
He passionately believes in his cause to support those communities that made him welcome in his youth during his early career. It’s clearly been a major challenge, yet it’s one that he feels is especially rewarding in being able to draw upon years of direct experience and having previously established another confectionery business in the US that gave him further insights into the sector.
“Our big push is in chocolate production, though we want to go way beyond that into other categories of food in Madagascar and other countries within Africa. “What we are doing offers a statement to the world, and we want to offer a great product that has a lot of authenticity in being made at origin this adds much more value to those in Africa.
“Every business has its aspirations, but the main thing for us is that it can keep growing at a sustainable level and create consumer excitement for what we do,” explains Brett who says that in the company’s third year of trading, the craft chocolate industry is really blossoming that is an encouraging sign on a wider level. Indeed, he says it’s certainly been a memorable initial spell for the company, as Confectionery Production has reported in charting its considerable development.
From an early crowdfunding campaign that successfully targeted a sum of £137,000 towards equipment and manufacturing systems for its Madagascan operations, through to a regular series of product launches, it is continuing to make its mark.
Ethical focus continues
Underlining its commitment to support local communities, the business delivered a sustainability report that underlined that its positive platitudes were very much matched by action on the ground. Its figures showed that in 2019, MIA addressed eight United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, supported 15 full-time jobs and protected over 5,000 trees in Madagascar.
Furthermore, its ‘1 for Change’ impact programme – funded by 1 per cent of sales – committed to ‘MIA Green’ to offset CO2 emissions with a tree planting programme and created a ‘Fruit Tree Scholarships’ to facilitate secondary school education for vulnerable students.
As the company highlighted, a political coup staged in 2009 within the country had resulted in its national education budget falling from $82 million in 2008 to just $14.9 million. This clearly had a dramatic effect on the quality of schooling for young people in the country, who now stand to benefit from its pupil sponsorship scheme.
In terms of its premium products, the business has continued to extend its premium chocolate range, which has focused on dark varieties with flavours spanning cranberry and hazelnut, baobab and salted nibs, almond and coconut, through to a raw 100 per cent cocoa offering.
The company’s efforts have seemingly paid off as it was rewarded with a Great Taste award for its dark chocolate drops. While the business is aware that its “We want to offer a great product that has a lot of authenticity in being made at origin this adds much more value to those in Africa,” – Brett Beach, co-founder, MIA chosen market is not one that yields huge volumes, its sheer quality is a standout attraction. “Madagascar doesn’t produce a lot of chocolate a year – around 6,000 tonnes, which is around half a percent of global production, but that’s about 10 per cent of fine flavour cocoa, so it’s in a really nice spot to offer a unique cocoa and chocolate,” he adds of its beans, which are primarily sought after Trinitario and Criollo varieties.
“I think in the next couple of years we will be in a position that bigger retailers will start to take note, and that’s when you gain the opportunity to spread the word through even more coverage,” adds Brett, who continues to champion the company’s sustainability mission that remains at the heart of what is proving a fast-rising and expanding enterprise. While he acknowledges that it’s still a work in progress, there have been encouraging signs despite the highly challenging conditions that continue to persist amid coronavirus.
“Ethical trading and sustainability are at our core – we have a dual brand promise of ‘amazing flavours that do good’. We work with Proudly Made In Africa, an NGO based in Ireland, working on auditing supply chains with third parties, and they measure the value we are adding in Africa.
“It means we are able to tell consumers that by buying from us, it’s supporting the country at origin, so we feel as if we are creating the ‘next level’ version of Fairtrade,” enthuses the chocolate expert who says they’re keen to ensure momentum with the business as it drives forward in developing new product ranges that are due to hit our shelves next year.