Tim McCollum went to Madagascar over 20 years ago as a member of the Peace Corps. Since then, he has helped transform the chocolate industry in the country by doing something unusual: making chocolate bars on the island itself.
“Madagascar has the original genetic variety of cocoa from the Earth,” he explains. “It was not hybridized, like much of the cocoa produced in West Africa, which is used in most chocolate bars around the world. This means it has more flavor and a unique profile.
Although 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, chocolate bars are largely produced in Europe and beyond. McCollum wanted to change this equation. “Agricultural products generally do not bring in much. It is the added value that creates economic opportunities.
So 13 years ago, McCollum undertook something that no other mainstream chocolate brand had mastered: setting up a factory near the farms themselves and training farming communities in the production of high-quality chocolate bars. quality. It became the crux of Beyond Good, formerly called Madecasse.
It took him, he says, nearly a decade to find the right model. “It’s not easy to do. This is probably why it is not done.
Despite the challenges, he persevered, even if it meant temporarily producing their chocolate in Italy, while they fine-tune their facilities in Madagascar. But he is the one who often goes against the grain. For example, Beyond Good chose not to participate in conventional certifications; instead, they focused on some baseline data to make sure they create a positive impact: is farmers’ income increasing? Are the living standards of everyone involved in the business improving? How many farmers and workers are in the supply chain?
“And since our farmers earn 5 times more and exceed fair trade measures, we just have a third party that comes in to do a routine audit to determine our impact, rather than relying on these certifications,” says McCollum.
These audits indicate that Beyond Good farmers earn almost $ 4 per day; in comparison, a typical cocoa farmer in Africa would earn between $ 0.50 and $ 0.70 per day. Much of this is because of their direct trade model, which cuts down on unnecessary middlemen, says McCollum.
But there is still room to grow and evolve, he adds. As the coffee industry focused on high-quality Arabica beans, saw the third wave movement take off in the United States and Europe, and created measures to encourage flavor and quality instead. as quantity, the cocoa industry, according to McCollum, is still lagging behind. “If we were to compare chocolate to coffee, it’s still the 1980s. We have a long way to go in helping people taste the different notes of chocolate. Today, much of it is still milk and sugar. “
This lends itself to the burgeoning bean-to-bar movement. He jokes that when they started the business there were only three bar bean businesses in America, including theirs. Now there are hundreds of bean-to-bar businesses. “But we still only represent a very small percentage of the total chocolate market,” he notes.
Beyond Good, however, is growing and going beyond its Malagasy roots to work with cocoa farmers in Uganda. This will allow the company to produce more chocolate, given that Uganda produces nearly three times as much non-hybrid variety cocoa as Madagascar. It is easily accessible by air and McCollum can replicate some of Madagascar’s successes there.
In the process of producing chocolate bars, McCollum got involved in wildlife conservation – somewhat unexpectedly. For the past three years, the company has worked with the University of Bristol in the UK on how cocoa trees could help populations of lemurs, a species that is declining in numbers. Since cocoa is a shade crop that enjoys a protective cover, it can also be home to a variety of wildlife. McCollum hopes these cocoa trees could be part of the solution for conservation work in Madagascar. More than 800 cultivated hectares already provide a refuge for this endangered species, and the company plans to support this work as it is so closely linked to its own mission as a brand.
“A year or two ago I heard the term ‘regenerative agriculture’,” says McCollum. “But it turns out we did it from the start. Trees are essential to the ecosystem. Call it agroforestry, regenerative agriculture. All of this is good for wildlife, the community and the planet.