Fairafric – Changing the Chocolate Industry

Fairafric, the young German-Ghanaian social business, is revolutionising the chocolate world by turning attention back to chocolate’s country of origin.

Although 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, less than 1% of the world’s chocolate is made in that region. Fairafric, a young progressive enterprise, is changing this system – its premium-quality organic chocolate is produced from tree to bar in rural Ghana, greatly increasing Africa’s share of the value chain in the chocolate industry.

FairafricFairafric’s founder Hendrik Reimers had always toyed with the idea of adding value to Africa’s agricultural produce, instead of just shipping it to Europe, and when he met Yayra Glover, a Switzerland-trained Ghanaian lawyer, the idea took clear shape. Their meeting created a partnership that led to launching production of Ghana’s first organic chocolate products in 2016.

By shifting the entire value chain to the cocoa-growing country, local income per tonne of cocoa is quadrupled: instead of paying only the cocoa price, Fairafric supports the development of local economic structures and creates mid-market jobs in the sector.

“In order to achieve this goal, we produce world-class chocolate in Ghana – from tree to bar. In doing so, we create jobs outside agriculture and multiply local income in cocoa’s country of origin. With every purchase of a Fairafric product you help to create qualified jobs in Africa, which in turn lead to higher income, better access to higher education and health care,” says the company.

New Factory

Last year, the business achieved a major milestone – its very own, solar-powered organic-chocolate factory was commissioned in the midst of a global pandemic.

Michael Marmon-Halm, the Managing Director of Fairafric Ghana Limited, says: “Increasing demand in Europe required new capacity and better operations control. Taking charge of the entire production process, which before was subcontracted, was the only solution if Fairafric was to grow to its fullest potential.”

He admits though that it was not all plain sailing: since the project commencement coincided with targeted lockdowns in Ghana aimed at curtailing the spread of the coronavirus, airports were closed and purchased equipment and installation teams could not arrive.

The challenge did not lessen Michael’s dedication – he asked Ghana’s president himself to intervene and allow the country’s main airport to stay temporarily open for a small installation team to arrive and help with setting up its production facility. This has been achieved, and the construction was completed in a record six months.

Michael, who had been working with the company both indirectly and directly before becoming Managing Director, reflects that Fairafric is one of a kind for a number of reasons – not only because of its first-ever Ghanaian chocolate-making operations.

The factory is powered by renewable energy and operates in a highly environmentally friendly manner. Fairafric is the only factory in Ghana, and perhaps in the whole Africa, which packs its chocolate in 100% biodegradable material, using not aluminium foil but fully biodegradable film. At the repeated request of its customers in Europe to buy its chocolate without packaging, Fairafric also decided to join the zero-waste movement and to supply zero-waste stores.

For Local Development

But it is its social impact that is a clear differentiator, says Michael. “Most businesses in Ghana prefer to be located in the capital for the obvious reasons – infrastructure, energy networks, the internet… We felt that if anybody should feel the full impact of the business, it should be the cocoa farmers and the growing community. For this reason, we set the factory up in a rural location.”

He explains that Fairafric is currently owned by 360 individuals. The main shareholders are the founders, who decided early on that they wanted customers, employees, and suppliers to be shareholders in the company. The key idea here is to be sustainable not only from a social and environmental perspective but from a financial one as well.

“We hire locals within the community, and the factory now employs 85 people, of whom a high percentage are women. We really push for gender equality, which is not that common in the manufacturing sector in Ghana.”

Partnership with the farmers is key, and supporting that partnership is one of the company’s priorities. “We work closely with a cooperative that brought together around 5,000 farmers, and we make sure that we identify the areas where we can help the farmers the most.”

“We are buying the beans and paying an extra premium for growing the beans in an organic way. This will help change the economic status of these farmers. We pay the highest cocoa premiums in West Africa: $600 per tonne of cocoa. Thus, the farmers can finance secondary and tertiary education for their children,” Michael acknowledges.

Sweet Success

Fairafric exports 90% of its output to Europe, to Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and France (soon to be followed by more) where demand for high-quality organic chocolate is significant. Organic dark 70% chocolate with tiger nuts and almonds is particularly popular, and Michael explains that most of Fairafric’s consumers love the particular African ingredients, including tiger nuts, which are not so common in standard chocolate products.

“We are also seeing increasing sales of our artisan chocolate products like pralines. These, as well as chocolates that include fruit such as mango, pineapple, baobab, moringa and more recently, fruit balls chocolate are all experiencing massive demand.”

He reveals that such massive demand calls for expansion of the business and the company has clearly defined plans going forward. “The next step would be a ‘backward integration’. While we buy the beans, processing of these is subcontracted to a partner who supplies the factory with a semi-finished product. The aim is to have our own primary processing line to have the complete process under control, from raw beans to flavour development and final product shipment.”

This will call for increasing staff numbers and the company has already engaged in the process. By the end of 2022, the management plans to double the number of employees to 150 and it will not stop there.

“We are planning to expand the premises to include a restaurant for our staff as well as for outsiders who want to have a good meal and develop the business in line with the current global trends of healthy living. With every bar of chocolate we make, Fairafric has a tremendous social impact, and we intend to keep it that way.”

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