One of the mainstays of the Ghanaian economy is cocoa. The West African nation and Ivory Coast make up the world’s top cocoa-producing countries. Despite producing cocoa for centuries, Ghana in particular has done little to add value to the product except to ship it in its raw form for foreign exchange.
Ghana’s nascent cocoa industry processes around 15% of the cocoa harvested in the country and the rest exported. However, in recent years, more and more Ghanaians have taken steps to venture into the sector.
One such person is Edmund Poku, who is a former banker at Wall Street. Poku was working as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs when one of his MBA professors urged him to follow up on his thesis and set up a private cocoa processing company in his country of birth.
He subsequently relocated to Ghana to start Niche Cocoa in 2011, which produces cocoa products and chocolate for export and the local market. Specifically, it produces its cocoa products and confectionery for supply to the worldwide chocolate, ice cream and bakery industries, according to Howwemadeitafrica.
Niche Cocoa has the capacity to process 60,000 metric tonnes of cocoa beans per year, making it the largest fully integrated cocoa processor in Ghana. The company makes semi-finished natural and deodorized cocoa butter, specialized cocoa liquor, and natural and alkalized cocoa powder. It also makes refined chocolate, chocolate drinks and spreads.
Niche Cocoa operates within the free zones enclave in Tema and has so far received certifications from Halal, Kosher, Fair Trade, Organic, FDA, Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) and UTZ, which underscores the fact that the company’s products are of high standards.
In Ghana, cocoa consumption is low compared to Europe. Conservative estimates show an average Ghanaian consumes about 0.5kg of chocolate a year, while on the international market, it is about 10kg. Poku said his ambition is to increase chocolate consumption in Ghana and Africa following the recent expansion of his confectionery production. The company recently acquired ownership of one of the largest melting plants in Germany, which allowed the brand to access European end-user chocolate manufacturers, according to Howwemadeitinafrica.
Poku and his team have also established a subsidiary company called Niche Cocoa Services in the state of Wisconsin in the U.S. in 2021. The company will pulverize cocoa cake into cocoa powder for industrial customers in the U.S. market, per Howwemadeitinafrica.
The success of Niche Cocoa has not been without challenges, Poku said. It’s not easy competing with multinational firms when buying beans during the main crop season, he explained.