Exclusive: MIA Chocolate brand creates Fairmade ethical sourcing movement

Ethically-founded chocolate brand, MIA (Made in Africa) has spearheaded a new ‘Fairmade’ network of businesses seeking to deliver the highest possible benefit to farmers at source, through ensuring the complete value chain is managed at origin, reports Neill Barston.

Brett Beach, co-founder of the company, spoke to exclusively to Confectionery Production at this year’s ISM event in Cologne, and revealed that its mission remained one of offer key support to producing nations that often lose out through the processing end of the industry being centred on Europe, rather than retained at source, where maximum financial benefit can be derived.

In response, the entrepreneur has helped forge the Fairmade network of small and medium-sized companies that includes its own chocolate making operations in Ghana and Madagascar, and other companies in the segment, including fellow Madagascar business, Chocomada, Loshes chocolate in Nigeria, Ohene Chocolate in Ghana, Latitude Craft Chocolate in Uganda, as well as Lovegrass snacks and food in Ethiopia.

The network, which includes a new website, to date totals more than 20 businesses across the continent of Africa, features businesses in other segments including fruit snacks, coffee, tea markets, to form an overall trading alliance, bound by principles of putting farmers first.

As MIA explained, the business differs from 99% of chocolate in the market, and it is part of just 1% of the world’s chocolate made in Africa – with what is the world’s poorest continent directly supplying 70% of the world’s cocoa. Through the brand’s work, sustainable employment and skills are provided, creating far more revenue for communities locally than via conventional supply agreements for ingredients.

Under its operating model, the complete bean-to-bar process of roasting, shelling, grinding and packaging is completed at source in Ghana and Madagascar for MIA products. The business works with Proudly Made in Africa (PMIA) to audit the brand’s supply chain of local partners in Africa according to the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, an auditing framework used by Fairtrade and other certification schemes. As part of this, it ensures 1% of all company sales are dedicated to development projects such as saving endangered species or to improve local community facilities.

Speaking at ISM, Brett said: “MIA from the start has been about making the product at origin, and creating more revenue for people where the cocoa is grown, but I think in order to get a movement recognised, it needs to be a crowd to make more noise.

“In 2023, we put Fairmade to the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (based in America), to get the term in its glossary, so it would have a clear definition of making a product at origin in an ethical way, and then went out and found other people doing something similar with other products, such as tea from Kenya, and salt from Tanzania, as well as nut butters. So we have all these people making products, so we wanted to gather them together so that people can see their values, and see the work that is being done,” explained Brett of the initiative, which he stressed was not in itself a certification, rather serving a purpose as a key industry group across food categories.

As he noted, the initiative is not in fact limited to the Southern hemisphere with the initiative, which presently has around 50% of its members producing chocolate, which he said could extend to other locations such as Hawaii where cocoa is grown.

“Ultimately, what I would like to see for the group, is more recognition from the industry, retailers and the press, and that consumers better understand it. Once you get that understanding, then the education is out there, then people will buy these products, not just for the quality, but for what they do. Personally, I think if there’s a platform that can take it all, Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade, and create a Fairmade scheme then that would be brilliant,” added Brett, who said that he hoped such ventures would help elevate the entire ethical production movement.

Rapid cocoa price rises

As Brett added in relation to the recent rapid cocoa price rises, he explained that the situation has caused notable concern within African communities, and its partner businesses, with the market experiencing notable turbulence financially.

Significantly, as Confectionery Production recently observed – global financial reporting on the cocoa prices on the New York and London stock exchanges has stated that the industry is at a ’46 year-high’ in terms of prices. However, the nominal reporting formulas used, do not account for four decades of inflation. While prices have in fact risen by a reported 60% in cocoa in the past year, resulting in 50% increases in retail chocolate prices in December 2023, the physical price of cocoa now, which stands at over $5000 a tonne, does not equate to a 46 year high – with the previous peak in 1977 of around $5000 now being worth around $28,000 in real terms, accounting for inflation.

Clearly, even if the present challenging situation may not in fact be a historic high, cocoa traders, farmers and consumers are all now feeling the market strain, faced with a number of challenges including a two-year cocoa bean deficit in West Africa, poor recent harvests with harsh weather conditions causing crop-damage, and wider inflation fuelled by the war in Ukraine impacting wider supply chain and logistics operations that have combined to place a ‘perfect storm’ of a market buckling under the weight of such pressures.

Reflecting on the situation, Brett added: “We have spoken with MIA cocoa and chocolate making partners in Ghana to understand the driver of higher cocoa prices. The war in Ukraine is one cause as many African countries depended on Ukraine as a source of grain. Post-COVID inflation also went above 30% in Ghana, so recent increases in cocoa prices, including the Living Income Differential, did not actually result in more buying power for farmers. It hardly kept them on par with inflation.

“Cocoa production is also down this season, in part due to irregular weather patterns related to climate change.

“In addition to the factors on the ground in West Africa, past experience tells us that there could well be a stock market hype that exacerbates the situation and drives the cocoa price up. Time will tell, but we would expect the stock market price to come down in time, although not to Q1 2023 levels.

“While the causes of the cocoa price spike are multiple, the shame remains that cocoa farmers are not the primary beneficiaries of the increases. We believe the industry needs to increase farm gate cocoa prices so farmers can earn a better living, and that we need to create more value-added value products beyond the farm gate in cocoa producing countries.

“Value-added chocolate products will allow future generations to enjoy skilled jobs and higher wages. This is why MIA pioneers the made-in-Africa business model that more than doubles the value of cocoa exports by making bean-to-bar chocolate in Africa.”




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