Exclusive: Cocoa upcycling business Koa set for ISM showcase

With cocoa bean processing traditionally experiencing considerable wastage, Koa is among a small group of firms making a key impact with environmentally-friendly methods forging new confectionery ranges. Neill Barston speaks to co-founder Anian Schreiber on its rapid rise ahead of its appearance at this year’s ISM. 

Six years on from its foundation, Swiss-Ghanaian start-up business Koa has plenty to be proud of with the strides it has made with its responsible sourcing and processing of cocoa fruit products. As we recently reported, the company has celebrated becoming a B Corp enterprise for its efforts to offer significant support to the farming communities at the heart of its business.

The ethically focused venture (which will be appearing at ISM at Hall 5.2 stand F028 between April 23-25) gained this coveted certification standard with a notable score of 95.7 points, which it believed offered a significant boost to its activities, as it seeks to drive forward its mission to improve positive change in offering a viable income stream for farmers in West Africa.

Its inventive operating model has seen it being described as a disruptor business, through upcycling of the cocoa fruit in an environmentally sound manner to maximise benefits to farmers. As the company asserted, it is believed to be the first enterprise in West Africa to have unlocked a new value chain around the so far discarded pulp, which has seen it quickly rise to prominence. It has worked closely with cocoa smallholders, with a focus on reducing on-farm food waste, generates additional farmer income, which in turn creates new jobs in rural communities.

Crucially, as the business noted, it has brought new ingredients to the food and beverage industry for applications ranging from chocolate and confectionery, through to ice cream ranges, as well as drinks. Confectionery Production previously met its teams at last year’s ISM event in Cologne Germany, showcasing its broad series of environmentally friendly products.

This has seen it forge significant partnership deals with the likes of Lindt & Sprungli for what is reportedly the first chocolate bar sweetened with cocoa pulp. Impressively, this propelled the company into notable levels of industry recognition for its sustainability credentials. Furthermore, the firm has swiftly grown from its original small core team, through to a position of employing just over 70 across its global operations.

New production facilities
Underlining its rapid expansion, as we covered last year, the business gained a $10 million growth capital towards building Africa’s largest pulp processing plant for upcycling cocoa fruit. This latest investment from private enterprise and institutions, will create the new processing site at Akim Achiase, in the Eastern Region of Ghana.

This is destined to scale up its production capabilities tenfold, allowing the company to cooperate with thousands of additional cocoa smallholders in the country. Beyond the creation of its second manufacturing facility which is soon to be completed in Ghana, it has also worked with farmers in other innovative ways.

Perhaps most significantly, the company formed an international collaboration using blockchain technology as a secure payment system for farmers within its supply chains. Speaking to Confectionery Production, the company’s Zurich, Switzerland-based managing director and co-founder Anian Schreiber enthused about the future prospects for the business. With a considerable amount of momentum now being generated around its operations, he observed that consumers were increasingly embracing the strong ethical messaging and tangible operating practices that underpin the business.

“I think that becoming a B-Corp is very important to us in terms of being well recognised for the efforts we are making, and also to measure ourselves against the promises we made when we started out. “Koa has been focused on making a business that will work for people, planet and profit. So this is something that began our vision for our work, and B Corp is the perfect way of measuring this within our business model,” reflected the company’s co-founder, who had previously worked at a senior level within the green energy sector prior to co-founding his present venture with a like-minded team.

As the German-born entrepreneur acknowledged, there have been some significant market tests to grapple with over the past few years, including attempting to drive the company forward amid the extreme market turbulence of the pandemic. Unfortunately, as that major episode in world history slowly fades from view, fresh challenges in the form of a major energy crisis and the ongoing war in Ukraine have created additional supply chain issues that continue to impact across all industries.

Despite such factors, Anian added that the business is determined to continue with its mission, with the investment that it has attracted having already seen notable impact on the ground. As he revealed, it was his former experience working in the energy industry supplying green power within Africa, which resulted in identifying a similar gap in supporting rural communities make the best possible use of their natural resources.

Describing its series of products, Anian added: “When we process cocoa, we think about everything other than the cocoa beans, the sidestream products, particularly the cocoa pulp within the pods – and from this comes the juice. We can also make concentrates, and natural cocoa fruit powder that can be used to sweeten and flavour products within the confectionery, drinks and ice cream sectors. In making these items, we are able to make full use of cocoa pods, with three quarters of the fruit previously not being used,” he explained of its approach, which has helped transform post-harvest processes into far more viable opportunities for smallholder farmers.

He explained that there had been an encouragingly favourable response to its portfolio at the likes of ISM in Cologne, as well as last summer’s edition of Chocoa in Amsterdam. “I find it really fascinating every time we are there in Ghana – we are now working with 2,500 farmers we work with, and at high season around 100 employees, and we can see the force and power of our processing on the ground.

“So honestly, my most rewarding times are those spent with smallholder farmers and our teams there, and to realise how much this value creation and transformation of the value chain means to farmers and the local community. After four years, change is happening, in terms of the communities, their confidence and in what opportunities now exist for them,” he concluded on its ongoing work scaling up its agricultural enterprises.

With its work clearly having a major positive impact on West Africa and beyond, the company will soon be shifting to an even-higher level with its additional production facilities that are helping shape a brighter future for many working at the sharp end of the industry within farming operations for the cocoa sector.



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