Made In Africa (MIA) founder Brett was inspired to produce chocolate whilst serving in the Peace Corps in Madagascar.
What’s in a name? For Made In Africa (MIA), it embodies a concept in which social development is fundamental, a concept which showcases the positive potential of Africa through its extraordinary produce. Founders Brett, Sarah and their team are striving to reverse the economic impact upon the continent of current chocolate production: despite producing 65% of the world’s cocoa, communities in Africa economically benefit from less than 1% of the chocolate production process which is predominately carried out in Europe and the USA. MIA seek to empower local communities to take more control over this production process, teaching farmers how to ferment and dry well and partnering with a local factory. “Our mission is simple,” state Brett and Sarah, “to make amazing chocolate that does good. We believe that the best flavour and a fair supply chain can go hand in hand and that’s what we aim to deliver with each and every bar.”
By partnering with Africa’s best food entrepreneurs, MIA reinvents perceptions of the continent, collaborating with small independent Madagascan cocoa farmers and a local chocolate making team to produce a delicious end product of superior quality. Indeed, the International Cocoa Organization in London classifies 100% of Madagascan cocoa as fine flavour, a distinction awarded to just 10% of global production, Brett and Sarah highlight. Constant collaboration with production partners and market feedback are essential to shaping new product development. MIA works closely with the chocolate making team in order to develop the best roasts for inclusion and to fine-tune chocolate recipes in order to create a product of top quality.
HOW THEY BECAME MAKERS…
MIA was launched in the summer of 2017 by Brett and Sarah who aimed to unite a group of like-minded individuals around the central brand vision, namely, “that some of the very best foods can be crafted at the source of the ingredients in Africa, and in a way that creates a positive connection between producers and consumers.”
Brett, born in Britain and raised in the USA, developed a passion for Africa whilst working in Madagascar, first as a volunteer teacher and later as a project manager in social development. Brett has a decade of experience in chocolate prior to founding MIA as a co-founder of Madécasse. Sarah is a local of the picturesque Belgian town of Bruges, celebrated internationally for its own traditions of chocolaterie. However, it wasn’t until she began tasting single origin chocolate that she began to fully appreciate the extraordinary potential of cocoa varieties and the depth of flavour imparted by terroir and variations in the chocolate making process. Her passion for the richness of African culture and traditions was sparked as a tour guide on the Nile after completing a degree in marketing.
Made In Africa cooperates with independent family farms in Madagascar that range in size between 8Ha to 40Ha (a rugby pitch is approximately 1Ha in size). The majority of the cocoa is purchased from four farms in the lower Sambirano (cocoa) Valley and supports 44 cocoa farmers. Cocoa is harvested year-round, with peaks in June-July and October-November. Whilst beans are meticulously selected, of equal importance is careful fermentation and drying. This means that the natural red fruit notes, so special in Madagascan cocoa, prevail in MIA bars.
In line with the values of fairness in the supply chain that are at its heart, in the future MIA hopes to work closely with a development agency in order to expand partnerships with cocoa farmers and enable a transfer of the skills required to produce supérieur cocoa. This would spread economic benefit to more and more small, independent farmers. Crucially, MIA hope to enable the fermentation and drying process required for supérieur cocoa to be carried out at a smaller scale to render the process accessible to the most modest of producers, giving them a new opportunity to produce the cocoa themselves rather than selling their cocoa fresh to collectors. By helping producers to add more value to their beans by taking control of fermentation and drying, MIA hope to increase the price farmers receive.
MIA has developed a full line of bars that highlights the subtle flavours of Madagascan cocoa, ranging from distinctly flavoured pure dark bars (the MIA 100% cocoa bar contains no added cocoa butter and no added sugar), to bars incorporating a range of classic inclusions including candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and cranberries.
We sat down with co-founder Brett to find out more about his passion for chocolate and the brand that he’s built.
What’s your background? Why and how did you get into chocolate?
Brett, MIA Co-founder and Chocolate Enthusiast, is British by birth and grew up in the USA. He developed a passion for Africa during a six-year life-changing experience in Madagascar, first as a volunteer teacher in a village and then as a social development project manager. His passion for chocolate comes from a fascination he developed for the product during the ten years he previously developed another chocolate brand.
Sarah, Co-founder and Foodie, is Belgian and grew up in the quaint and picturesque town of Bruges. She left school with a marketing degree but took her first job in Africa to guide tours on the Nile. This experience opened her world to the richness of African culture and traditions. As a local to Bruges, she was literally born into the world of chocolate but it wasn’t until she started tasting single origin bars that she fully appreciated the amazing potential of cocoa varieties, terroir and the chocolate making process to create depth of flavour.
When did you start your company — and with whom? How many are there of you?
The MIA brand was formally launched in the summer of 2017. Brett and Sarah co-founded the business to unite a group of like-minded individuals who share the brand values and vision: that some of the very best foods can be crafted at the source of the ingredients in Africa, and in a way that creates a positive connection between producers and consumers. As of January 2018, there are three other parties in the MIA brand family.
Having dedicated a career to development work in the southern hemisphere, Conall, the Africa Expert, embodied MIA values and understood the challenges producers face in getting their great products out of Africa. Conall was a perfect addition to a business rooted in Africa!
Ideas and visions are great but they need a name and identity to come to life. Enter Dynamo Ltd, a unique branding and design agency that saw all the potential to tell the positive story of Africa’s beauty, flavours and human potential, and to do it through a brand that gives more back.
Not last and not least, GIST Initiatives Ltd, a UK platform that unites a group of Social Impact Investors, supports the MIA cause, not just through finance but also with a strong network of advisors and collaborators.
What mission have you set yourselves for making chocolate?
MIA is a bit different than many brands in that our mission is to partner with Africa’s best food entrepreneurs to create delicious products that shine a light on the amazing potential on the continent. When it comes to chocolate, MIA collaborates with Madagascan cocoa farmers and a local chocolate making team.Our mission is simple: to make amazing chocolate that does good. We believe that the best flavour and a fair supply chain can go hand in hand and that’s what we aim to deliver with each and every bar. We collaborate with our production partners by shaping new product development with our ideas and market feedback. We work hand-in-hand with the chocolate making team to develop the best roasts for our inclusions and to fine-tune chocolate recipes so that, together, we can create the best product possible.
Where do you want to go next? New bars? New beans? New markets?
In 2018-19, we will create two new everyday 75g bars as well as seasonal flavours and a gift pack. In a second phase of new product development, we will extend the MIA chocolate range to baking and drinking chocolates. Our long-term plan is to go beyond chocolate and Madagascar to collaborate with other communities in Africa around products such coffee, honey and nut butters. While the UK and continental European markets are at the heart of our brand development, we will also target the US in the future. Additionally, we have a shipment of MIA scheduled to go to Australia in February 2018 and we will continue to expand to other markets where there is demand for MIA.
What is the story behind your company name?
MIA is a concept that defies business logic and flips the status quo upside down to do something new. Why is it that ‘Made In Africa’ is not a tag we see on popular clothing brands, delicious foods and tech products? The MIA brand family was drawn together by the desire to give this question a real-life answer.
We wanted to create a name that speaks to the core of the brand but also in line with our conviction that quality should come first when it comes to food. It took lots of searching and experimenting with ethnic names and nonsense words before we discovered MIA right in front of us. We immediately fell in love with the name because it is just that, a name, and it’s only when consumers dig deeper that the social story and acronym ‘Made in Africa’ come forward. We want people to buy MIA for quality but hope that like us they fall in love with the ‘Made In Africa’ MIA for its higher purpose.
Who designed your packaging – and what are you most proud of about your packaging?
Dynamo Ltd designed MIA packaging. We are proud to have played an active role in the development of packaging that is both artistic and functional, featured in a square-ish format that stands apart from the many rectangular bars in the market.
How did you source your beans?
We know the Sambirano (cocoa) Valley of Madagascar well through previous work so we are familiar with the different cocoa varieties – forastero, trinatario and criollo – that dominate certain areas. The beans are sourced in collaboration with the chocolate factory based on the product specifications for what is called supérieur cocoa in Madagascar. Supérieur is a reference to the fermentation and drying process. Working with farmers to meet these standards ensures that the natural red fruit notes that make Madagascan cocoa so special infuse MIA bars.
In the future, we hope to create a partnership with a development agency to expand cocoa farmer partnerships so we can spread the economic benefits and skills transfer of supérieur cocoa to more independent farmers.
What inspired your choice of wrapper/mould design?
We wanted MIA packaging – from design, to carton format, to flow packaging to mould form – to reflect our unique approach to Africa and the high quality of the ingredients that are crafted into finished chocolate.
The International Cocoa Organization in London classifies 100% of Madagascan cocoa as fine flavour, a distinction awarded to just 10% of global production. Our effort to reflect this quality in the packaging led us to feature gold foil to punctuate a simple yet elegant design. The fine patterns and the diamond on the front panel are also intended to convey the quality of the product and the care that goes into crafting it.
MIA occupies a unique position in the market when one considers that despite producing 65% of the world’s cocoa communities in Africa do not benefit from even 1% of chocolate production (predominately made in Europe and the USA). We communicate the specialty nature of the product and the unique brand promise – amazing food that does good – in the alternative shape of the packaging, dedicated flow pack and a chocolate mould that mirrors the pack design.
What innovations in tech, crafting, marketing etc. are you pursuing?
Our main innovation is the approach we take to brand partnerships with producers in Africa. MIA forms a positive connection between the creative entrepreneurs on the least developed continent in the world and consumers in wealthy nations, and the link is in the unique form of a finished product.
In marketing, MIA takes a different approach to brand development by placing an increased emphasis on the blogger community and other social media opportunities (vs. emphasis on traditional print press). We are taking this approach in an effort to create a direct bond with our target audiences: conscious consumers and foodies.
What is your favourite food? Wine? Other chocolate makers?
Residing in Belgium, beer is one of Brett’s favourite drinks. Boasting over 300 breweries, bottle fermentation and a passion to match, Belgium offers a beer to pair with everything. Sarah loves simplicity and really appreciates artisan cheeses for their depth of flavour and fresh bread as a daily staple.
What chocolate achievement are you most proud of to date?
MIA is a young brand so we have a relatively short history. The achievement we are most proud of to date is the creation of a full line of bars that pays homage to the subtle flavours of Madagascan cocoa yet creates variety with a range of inclusions and distinctly flavoured pure dark bars.
Is there anything else you want to tell us, or you think our customers should know?
We want consumers to know that when they buy any product, including MIA, they are forming a connection with everyone in the supply chain, from the cocoa farmers to the chocolate makers and on to the to the transporters, distribution partners and retailers. At MIA, we work hard to ensure fairness and shared success for the network of connections that is made to covert cocoa from the farm to chocolate at the factory and an enjoyable experience at home.
2. YOUR BARS
Who farms them? What’s their mission? How long have they been growing cacao (co-op, the farmer, bean supplier)
We collaborate with the chocolate factory to buy cocoa from independent family farms ranging from 8Ha to 40Ha. The majority of MIA cocoa is purchased from four farms in the lower Sambirano Valley that support 44 cocoa farmers.
When are the harvests?
Cocoa in Madagascar is harvested year-round with peaks and slow seasons.
What is the fermentation like? How long is it? What do they use?
Our current farmer partners use the traditional wooden box cascade system with approximately 6 days of fermentation and 6 days of drying (varies depending on the season). The cascade system requires 300 to 1,000 kg of fresh cocoa (100 to 333 kg of dry cocoa) for proper fermentation. During the fermentation and drying process the precursors of flavour are developed and many of the harsher cocoa flavours are released (gases released during sun drying).
In the future, we plan to partner with a social development organisation to introduce small-scale fermentation that gives individual farmers the ability to ferment their cocoa in baskets at volumes starting around 50kg of fresh cocoa. This small-scale and alternative process essentially makes supérieur cocoa production accessible to even the smallest cocoa farms. If we can prove the small-scale system it will popularise the production of supérieur cocoa and mark a new opportunity for many farmers who can only currently sell their cocoa fresh to collectors at lower prices.
How are the beans dried?
Our beans are sun dried.
How is the cacao transported?
Fresh cocoa is transported by ox cart from field to farm. Once cured and dried to 8% humidity content, the cocoa travels by truck from the Sambirano Valley in coastal northwest Madagascar to the chocolate factory in the central highlands.
How did you find them? (Sent a sample, visited them, etc.)
The factory has partnerships with the cocoa farmers, some of whom we already knew from past work in Madagascar.
Are there any unique steps/special tweaks to this recipe? (Without revealing any secrets!)
The inclusions in our bars undergo a second roasting with a special process to keep the ingredients crunchy and fresh.
What machinery has been used?
Cocoa is roasted in a coffee roaster and ground in a universal conche.
Any other notable ingredients? (e.g particular sugar, milk or additional flavour)
The MIA 100% Cocoa bar only contains cocoa liqueur (no added cocoa butter). The existing inclusion bars feature classic ingredients like candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and cranberries. In 2018, we will launch two bars that push the boundaries on inclusions by incorporating super foods; one bar features hemp seed and the other will have a chocolate base with sherbet-y baobab powder.
Roughly how long does it take? How long is roast, conche, ageing?
MIA bars are conched for 48 to 72 hours. They undergo a “natural” aging of 2-3 months on their way to the UK and other markets around the world.