Cocoa exporter Ghana now makes its own chocolates, with a deeper taste
Rising middle class and a substantial international community are helping to propel demand for a locally made chocolate with a more cosmopolitan flavour and texture
Ghana’s cocoa beans have long had a worldwide reputation for high quality. But changes at home and investment from abroad are rapidly transforming this traditional industry.
Ghana produces up to 950,000 tonnes of cocoa beans every year, about one-quarter of the world’s supply, but the West African republic makes very little of the world’s chocolate. However, thanks to a new breed of entrepreneurs, that is starting to change.
Traditionally, Ghanaian chocolate has been hard and gritty, quite unlike the soft, creamy brands sold in Asia, Europe and the Americas. But a rising middle class and a substantial international community are helping to propel demand for a locally made chocolate with a more cosmopolitan flavour and texture.
In recent times, Ghana has imported about US$8 million worth of chocolate a year, but exported US$2 billion in cocoa beans. It is a gap the government has long been keen to address, and one that go-getting Ghanaian businesses are determined to fill. The new mantra is home-grown, home-made, and most importantly, bean to bar.
The story of ’57 Chocolates – named for the year of Ghana’s independence – is a textbook example. The family business launched in 2016 after a tour of Swiss chocolate factories, based on the premise that it made sense to make chocolate in a country that produced so many cocoa beans.
The company currently focuses on made-to-order chocolates, and has plans to diversify into retail sales in the near future, while adhering to its core values of using raw materials, adding value to them and processing them into finished articles rather than exporting cocoa beans and then importing chocolate.
Other start-ups have been swift to tap into the fast-growing market. Ruth Amoah set up Moments Chocolate with a simple experiment – buying a sack of cocoa beans and sitting down to make something that tasted good. After some trial and error, she refined the recipe, rented a retail space in Accra and now specialises in customised and corporate orders, with a lucrative niche making welcome gift chocolates for visiting dignitaries. Moments’ product line – totalling about 10,000 items a month – includes chocolate bars, truffles, praline bars and chocolate spreads, as well as biscuits and premium popcorn.
She also plans to set up an interactive space, educating visitors about chocolate and encouraging them to have fun making their own.
Supermarkets and petrol stations around Ghana stock Niche chocolates, which are as well-recognised as Lindt or Cadbury in other parts of the world. The Niche range of flavours is creamy, smooth and balanced. Like other Ghanaian chocolate manufacturers, Niche faces challenges with the volatile costs of imported milk and sugar, but remains the country’s dominant brand, and has healthy exports to Germany and Barbados.
While ‘57 Chocolates, Moments and Niche all supply bean-to-bar products to their local markets, Ghana’s first commercial chocolate factory has been running for nearly three decades. Omanhene – Ghanaian for “paramount king” – is focused on exports, and harvests cocoa beans from across the nation, which are then turned into premium chocolate with a deep and fruity flavour.
Ghana’s chocolate sector also seems to be benefiting from the nation’s brisk trading relationship with China. Chocolate makers and growers in Ghana took on a new and healthier outlook with a loan from China Exim Bank, earlier this year.
The US$35 million loan will be used by the Ghana Cocoa Board to build a processing plant that is expected to handle up to 40,000 tonnes of cocoa beans per year in the western region of Sefwi Wiawso. The board is seeking a further loan of US$1.5 billion to rehabilitate older trees, provide irrigation and build warehouses.
As one of Ghana’s top economic partners, China is seen as a healthy potential new market for the country’s chocolate makers.
The other big change on the horizon is the prospect of harmonising marketing systems with neighbouring Ivory Coast, which has a similar cocoa bean industry. The two countries are planning to set a mutually agreed floor price for their farmers and will announce the rate at the same time before each harvest.