Menakao are a one of the few producers who make their chocolate entirely at source in the country the cocoa grows – in this case, the island of Madagascar.
Producing chocolate at source and buying beans directly means that they can work directly with the farmers to produce the best possible crop and give farmers a much higher price for their beans than they would otherwise get. Workers at Menakao’s factory & chocolaterie get generous wages, free transport, pensions and security for themselves and their families.
But the best thing about Menakao is simply the way it tastes. Their Madagascan cocoa has a natural fruitiness which shines through in all their products. Whether it be the exciting Combava (a citrus fruit) and pepper bar or the 100% dark chocolate with no sugar, we love the natural fruity notes that are present in all Menakao’s chocolate.
This is what we found out when we were lucky enough to chat with the maker themselves…
- What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
The Cassam Chenai family is originally from the Gujarat province of western India, and we have lived in Madagascar for five generations. Having started by manufacturing postcards, the family moved into the textile trade before exporting spices. As time went by, the family grew larger and some members began to seek their own fortunes. In 2006, I, Shahin – the 4th generation born on this beautiful island – decided to launch the dreamlike project of producing fine chocolate to enlighten the world with one of the most beautiful jewels of our country , the fine cocoa beans of the region of Sambirano.
- What mission have you set for making crafting chocolate?
While the vast majority of Madagascan cocoa is exported, processing our beans locally generates four times as much income for Madagascan workers, which we see as very important. We built our own chocolate factory and hired local staff to work in a highly secure environment. All our staff are paid above minimum wage, while the qualified technicians receive much more. Each of our 50 permanent employees (and 10 temporary) provide for an average 3.5 people. We buy cocoa from around 100 farmers.
- When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
Our first production unit was set up in 2005 and development started with our first recipes, with the help of a French Maître Chocolatier. We are about 60 persons now.
- Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
We are working on three new bars for Christmas 2015. They should be available in September. We invested in our communication: offline with some french journalists and online with our new website, facebook, twitter, instagram launched recently. Ideally after expanding in Europe, the next market will be North America.
- How did you source your beans?
We work closely to the cocoa producers in Madagascar, to avoid a purely commercial relationship with them. That’s why our beans are produced by the best planting cooperatives and plantation in the upper and lower Sambirano Valley.
- What is your favourite food? Have you any favourite chocolate makers?
I have a soft spot for ice cream, but of course, we appreciate and enjoy all other chocolate as well!