Madécasse was born out of an unwavering connection between Peace Corps volunteer Tim McCollom, and Madagascar, his country of service. His work wasn’t over just because he met his two-year commitment to teach English. Eventually, Madécasse was founded with the goal to end poverty for cocoa farmers in Madagascar while proving that the business of chocolate can be done differently.
The status-quo cacao supply chain, from production to chocolate making, is a web of middlemen making it difficult for brands to reach and interact with the cocoa farmer. To cut through the layers of opacity and have more control and impact over its anti-poverty goals, Madécasse created a vertically integrated bean-to-bar concept. This means the company works with and buys directly from farmers. Madécasse has also been adamant about providing additional on-the-ground opportunities for the community by processing and manufacturing all chocolate bars in Madagascar (a new facility is currently under construction). Manufacturing at origin provides farmers a connection to the end product and opportunities to participate in the value-add activity of chocolate making—an empowering step forward for farmers, absent in traditional cocoa supply chains.
Raw cocoa beans. The color variations indicate genetic variety and flavor profile.
In Madagascar, where 90 percent of the people live below the poverty line, efforts to build sustainable livelihoods are of critical importance. And trust breaks down when decades-long efforts by large international development complexes—from government aid to non-governmental organizations—have fallen short on promises to overcome poverty. Faith in aid and assistance entities has systematically deteriorated throughout the years, making it challenging for outsiders to earn trust from the farmers and the communities, but Madécasse is steadfast in its relationship-building efforts.
In fact, Madécasse is currently working with 86 farmers who earn more than 50 percent more income than the average Fair Trade cocoa farmer. Initial efforts for fair trade certification, which was only paying a 10 percent premium over the standard market price, were not yielding the anti-poverty returns the company stands for. By opting out of fair trade, Madécasse redirects costs of certification into a higher premium paid to farmers, a tool for reducing poverty, while also building trust and strengthening relationships.
Cocoa pods are harvested once a week with an ox-drawn cart.
Healthier chocolate is not an oxymoron. Indeed, Madagascar is home to heirloom cocoa varieties providing Madécasse chocolate bars with unique flavor profiles. Through heirloom cocoa Madécasse is on a mission to retrain consumer taste experience around chocolate. That means, trading in an experience that seeks milk and sugar for one that seeks cocoa because of its unique, exotic flavor notes. A chocolate bar with cocoa as the primary ingredient and stripped of excessive amounts of milk and sugar? It is surprisingly innovative, while providing more consistent income back to the farmers. That is feel-good indulgence consumers can all get on board with.
A bottoms up approach
The strength in Madécasse’s ability to challenge traditional cocoa supply chains is multifaceted. For starters, familiarity with the indigenous languages, learned while in the Peace Corp sets up the team with an intimate connection to the farmers. In contrast to communicating with farmers in French, the colonial language, which carries a shadow of domination and coercion.
To be a mission-driven social enterprise, with the primary goal to solve poverty through chocolate, means turning the status quo model on its head. Madécasse’s renegade approach to building supply chains challenges conventional wisdom by prioritizing the farmer first. This is in direct opposition to traditional supply chains that start from the consumer, and then set into motion the building blocks from that vantage point. Essentially backward, but for Madécasse, the way forward begins from the eyes of the farmer, by bringing the farmer closer to the consumer, by integrating them into the manufacturing process
Madécasse leads with the premise that patience, resolve and persistence will achieve its anti-poverty mission. Allowing for time is essential for building trust among farmers despite the fast-paced demands of western retailers.
Tim McCollum and Nate Engle meet with the president of a cocoa cooperative.
Editor’s Notes: Photos courtesy of Madécasse Chocolate
The Esca Bona Supplier Heroes is a reoccurring feature of suppliers that fuel innovation in the good food supply chain. These features explore the brand story, innovation, supply chain investment, research and partnerships that these companies undertake to improve the food system and consumer health. We select suppliers based on their commitment to the good food movement, their story, their sustainability initiatives, their focus on safe and efficacious ingredients, and their partnerships with their finished product customers.
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If you know of—or are—a supplier with a story to tell, email Sandy Almendarez, editor in chief, Natural Products INSIDER at email@example.com.