While imported chocolate and sweets lined supermarket aisles in Ghana this past holiday season, there is a quiet, sweet revolution bubbling away in this country known for its cocoa.
Ghana is the second-largest supplier of cocoa to the global market—cocoa beans from Ghana make up about 25 percent of the global supply. The country is widely known for its cocoa beans, but not its chocolate.
There has been a local brand available for the past few decades, but it’s far from what American or European supermarket shelves will typically carry. It’s harder and grittier, sold throughout Ghana, often by hawkers making the most of traffic jams.
But tastes are changing in Ghana—there is a rising middle class and a large foreign community. While sweets might not be as popular as they are in the west, imports show they are growing in popularity, as does increasing availability at supermarkets.
Statistics from 2014 to 2016 show Ghana imports are between US$2.23 million and US$8.06 million worth of chocolate a year, but exports between US$1 billion and $US2 billion of cocoa beans a year.
When it comes to exports, according to government figures, Ghana and neighboring Côte d’Ivoire account for about 60 percent of the world’s output of cocoa. Despite this, the two countries jointly commanded revenue of about US$5.75 billion in 2015. This measures against a global market value of US$100 billion for chocolate in 2015.
In October 2017, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said the trend “cannot, and should not continue.” It is time to enter “different kinds of commercial interests,” to see more processing and value-enhancing aspects of the development of the cocoa industry in Ghana, he said.
The government has been talking about the billion-dollar gap, but large-scale change has been slow-moving. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs have been processing, melting, flavoring, and branding Ghana’s cocoa to make sure Ghanaians reap the rewards of cocoa—creating homegrown and homemade bean-to-bar chocolate products.
In 2014, Ghanaian sisters Kimberly and Priscilla Addison returned home after taking a chocolate factory tour in Switzerland. They started wondering why Ghana wasn’t producing chocolate with its abundance of cocoa beans and were inspired to set up their boutique chocolate company, ‘57 Chocolates, in homage to Ghana’s independence in 1957. They make chocolate engraved with visual symbols originally created by the Ashanti of Ghana.
‘57 Chocolates officially launched in 2016, and since then the Addison sisters have been working on made-to-order chocolates, with plans to start retail sales in the new future. Their business is based in a pride for Ghana.
“It’s important for us to be Africans in Africa, using our raw materials and adding value to them and processing them into finished goods, rather than exporting them in their raw form and importing them back into the country as a finished good. That’s not right, it should not be that way,” Kimberly explains. “We should be creating [from] what we have in this country.”
Kimberly finds demand is increasing as more people hear about her and her sister, and more people want to support locally made products.
Other companies like ‘57 Chocolates are beginning to tap into this market. After moving home to Ghana from England three years ago, Ruth Amoah started making Moments Chocolate. With a background in startup support, she wanted to create a business adding value to a Ghanaian resource.
“I used to criticize Ghanaian chocolate all the time because it’s so hard. Every time I bit, it was rigid. I would give it to my friends in England and no one would want it,” Amoah says. “I decided to do something about it. Why can’t we get chocolate that’s like the European style?”
Amoah visited a cocoa farm in Ghana’s Central region, bought a sack of cocoa, and started experimenting. Now, she has refined her recipe, and her products are in very high demand in the area. She has a retail space in an upmarket area of Accra but struggles to stock it. She says she receives a lot of customized and corporate orders, which keep her busy. Amoah also makes welcome-gift chocolates when heads of state visit Ghana.
According to Amoah, 2018 will see Moments scaling up, as demand for premium, quality products grows.
She makes chocolate bars, truffles, praline bars, and chocolate spreads, and she is working on cookies and premium popcorn. On average, Amoah makes 10,000 chocolate bars per month. In the near future, she hopes to create an interactive space in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, where people can learn about chocolate and have a go at making their own.
While both ‘57 Chocolates and Moments are currently only working on a per-order basis, Niche Chocolates is available in supermarkets and fuel station shops through the country. After starting chocolate bar production in March 2016, their product received front-and-center placement in top supermarkets in Accra throughout 2017. Offered a few different flavors, customers like that the bars are creamy, smooth, and balanced.
However, they are not without challenges, Niche Cocoa Industry Limited Marketing Manager Akua Kwakwa says, citing the high and volatile cost of imported raw material needed such as milk and sugar.
Despite the challenges, Kwakwa believes it’s important for Ghana to produce its own chocolate “to enjoy the benefit of value addition—both financially and in improving our sense of national pride.”
Producing chocolate in Ghana will also create more employment opportunities, help bring foreign exchange into the country, and contribute to reducing the volatility of world market cocoa prices, Kwakwa says.
Niche exports via private label customers in Germany and Barbados, but the company is planning on more exports in 2018.
While ‘57 Chocolates, Moments, and Niche all supply bean-to-bar products to their local markets, Ghana’s first commercial chocolate factory was established 27 years ago to purely export.
American Steve Wallace’s factory just outside of Accra sees cocoa beans plucked from trees across the nation, turning into premium chocolate products which are then exported across the world. Wallace started Omahene in 1991 as the first commercial chocolate maker in Ghana, and perhaps the first brand in the world to offer bean to bar single origin chocolate.
While Omanhene has been around for 27 years, Wallace says he is not surprised others are also pushing bean-to-bar chocolate in Ghana. “Chocolate has an evocative story and it is an evocative product.”
But Wallace has words of wisdom for those who are also wanting to push this “evocative product,” and help plug that gap between what Ghana earns in selling cocoa and what the large corporations of the confectionary industry make.
“This is a labor of love. Any rational venture capitalist would have fired me years ago and closed what I do down,” he says. “It took many, many years to get where we are. You do it because you really believe it’s important.”