an organic affair with chocolate

Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2011-11-23 13:44

CocoáFair is the first organic bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Africa based on social entrepreneurship.

I do not realise on entering the factory of CocoáFair, tucked into the corner at the Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, that I'm about to learn more about social entrepreneurship than I am about chocolate.

For many of us just the promise of locally made, artisan, organic chocolate is enough of an invitation to have us reaching for a taste...and believe me, having sampled, it is a mouth-watering experience.

But Thor soon explains, as I query the name, that yes, CocoáFair is definitely about the fairness involved in the way the cocoa is traded, but the emphasis is also very much on the 'affair' with cocoa – not only the love of it, but the relationship of cocoa with the people who grow it, and the people who turn it into chocolate.

And an affair there most definitely is. On display on shelves to my right and left are bars of organic chocolate, pralines, truffles, a barrel filled with incredibly reasonably priced raw cacoa, organic sugar, and slivers of chocolate - bagged, and tied up with a ribbon.

Thor, the Dane who has imagineered the CocoáFair brand into being, greets me at the entrance to the below street level factory with a firm handshake. Nearby is Marlon, who first introduced me to the chocolate at the local Obz market, Zuki, whose ever present shadow in the kitchen behind me is the proof that chocolate is slowly being produced, and Thor's Italian business partner, Antonino (Tino to his friends).

Social entrepreneurship, Thor explains, has recently gained new meaning and is emerging at a rapid rate out of Europe and other countries where business now focuses on people, profit and planet.

I've heard the term 'people, profit, planet' bandied about quite a bit by some businesses who are not all that ethical about how they treat their people, but as Thor continues to explain, I begin to see the picture.

At CocoáFair the term translates into low price but high quality; an emphasis on the environment with systems already in place like using as little packaging as possible, and saving enormous amounts of water in a self-made mechanism (involving an old chest freezer, a black dustbin and several metres of copper piping) that recycles and cools the water necessary for making chocolate.

It is also about being organic, and more importantly about looking for social innovation, and giving value to people, so that the business improves the lives of many. Profit is important, obviously, so that reinvestment can occur, but the principle focus is on people.

Thor goes on to describe how the team are helping rebuild the cocoa industry in Uganda, which did not recover after the crops were destroyed under Idi Amin. “We aim to have the CocoáFair brand completely African. At the moment we're importing beans from Ghana, Peru, Equador and the Dominion Republic, but with the project in Uganda, things will change.”

“This is not a 'hand-out',” Thor continues, “our project will place the farmers in charge of the processing, so that they eventually own what is produced from cocoa beans in Uganda.” “Our intention is not only to buy cocoa beans from the individual farmers, but also vanilla pods, chilli, passion fruit - all used in the processing of the chocolate.”

The idea is that the Uganda project will begin processing their own products, like cocoa butter, from the beans, because a product immediately fetches greater value on the market, than raw cocoa beans.

Thor wants the farmers in the CocoáFair project to be equipped with the means to eventually own the products. He believes that this is the way out of poverty, through social entreprenuer projects, by which individual farmers collectively own the process of product production thus earning enough money to reinvest in further potential product production.

“But we need to put an infrastructure in place in Uganda”, Thor explains, which he believes starts at grass roots level with a Cocoa school that will make sure that children finish school, and are the best possible cocoa farmers because of it. At the moment, too many children are dropping out to help their parents produce cocoa for the market.

The ambitions of the project extend further still. Thor, whose background includes an ice cream chain in Denmark, intends taking the social enterprise to Denmark in 2012 where he will identify an underprivileged group and set up a similar project there, for the production of chocolate. A project that will use the cocoa beans and products coming out of Uganda.

Thor's idea is to get business and other interested parties involved as shareholders of the projects, so that he has money to invest in expanding the social projects. The idea is that, once it's worked in Cape Town and Copenhagen, they will get buy-in. Thor believes that social enterprises like this are the future.

I'm even more impressed when Thor begins outlining the little ways in which the project at the Biscuit Mill is a social entrepreneurship. Already the price of an organic bar of chocolate is more reasonable, at only R20 a 100g bar, despite being artisan and locally produced, than one can buy at Woolworths (who re-package the former Green & Blacks chocolate bar).

CocoáFair throw nothing away. All the shavings and 'waste' chocolate is mixed up to produce an organic chocolate which Thor intends selling in the townships at a ridiculous price of R1 for a bag of pralines.

He smiles when I exclaim at the cost. “In this way we can encourage entrepreneurship in the townships. When someone can then knock the price up and still sell a cheap bag of first-rate chocolate, then we're improving the lives of people – both those who sell and those who eat the healthier product.”

In a similar vein he intends bringing the price of the healthier chocolate down. One of the ways of reinvesting in people, CocoáFair believes, is to lower the cost of the healthier chocolates – so the 95% and 75% cocoa chocolate bars – so that they are more accessible to the average person, and not just those of us who can afford them.

And then there is Zuki Balata, whose dream, when she was interviewed by Thor, is to own her own chocolate shop. Zuki may have started by cleaning up, but she is fast learning the ins and outs of chocolate production, and soon Thor and CocoáFair will help Zuki realise her dream, when they open a shop in Woodstock.

I think I'm inlove with the concept of social entrepreneurship the way that CocoáFair is doing it.

Ask yourself: “If I want to buy chocolate and I stand in front of two chocolate shops. They are completely equal when it comes to quality, price, product etc. The only difference between them is the business model. Shop A is a social enterprise and shop B is a full profit orientated business enterprise. Which one would I enter?”

This article first appeared on SA Venues.