(Bloomberg) -- Worldwide, candy consumers and manufacturers have been hit by the recent unprecedented rise in cocoa prices. Severe weather, including intense rain then droughts in West Africa, where 70% of the world’s cocoa is sourced from, have meant a steep decline in supply. 

But one segment of the confectionary world is experiencing gains, despite the challenges and record-breaking price increases: African chocolate makers. In such countries as Ghana and Ivory Coast, several small companies are seeing increased demand for their ethically made chocolate, from audiences in Asia, Europe and the US. 

Chocolate has become infamous for its associations with ESG-related issues, including child labor and the lack of sustainability in its production cycle. Regulations have been rolling out since last year; on Dec. 30, 2024, the European Union Deforestation Regulation will require chocolate makers and other companies to prove that goods imported to Europe comply with environmental requirements. The impending rule is already challenging the supply chain in West Africa and threatening to further hike up chocolate prices. 

Yet demand for ethically made chocolate from Africa is ramping up, and local companies are working to increase their supplies of truffles and bars. The Ghana-based artisanal brand ’57 Chocolates has seen its sales grow around 150% from 2022 to 2023, according to co-founder Priscilla Addison. (Before prices started rising notably, demand for chocolate grew last year in many parts of the world, including the US, where sales hit $25.9 billion in 2023, a 5.8% increase over the preceding year.) In Ivory Coast, Le Chocolatier Ivoirien has also seen sales grow 27% in the past two years, according to founder Axel Emmanuel.

Producers in Africa cite another reason for the growing demand for their chocolates beyond the ESG rules: consumers who increasingly want a product with a sense of place and authenticity. “In the US, people are excited about chocolate made at the source,” says Selassie Atadika, founder of Ghana-based Midunu Chocolates.

Addison agrees. She is seeing customers in Africa, Europe and the US turn to small, local brands because they want to “buy something knowing where the cocoa is from.” But there’s another reason to seek out products like her ’57 Chocolates besides authenticity: They feature singular ingredients and techniques. And they’re delicious. Read on to learn more about these five pioneering African chocolatiers.

Midunu Chocolates, Ghana 

Since 2014, Atadika has been making her artisanal, organic chocolates with cocoa beans from local farms in Ghana and infusing them with spices, teas and such fruits as oranges from across the African continent. In 2020 she started exporting products to the US, such as drinking chocolate and truffles, handcrafted by a team of women using traditional methods of fermenting cocoa beans in plantain and banana leaves to bring out intense cacao and caramel flavors. The 2.8 oz. bars go for $12; truffle boxes cost $72.Before launching her company, Atadika worked as an emergency specialist for UNICEF; there she developed an interest in “celebrating indigenous African cuisines.” The resulting sweets feature combinations like white chocolate, infused with the superfood moringa and Rooibos tea spiked truffles. Next, Atadika plans to expand Midunu Chocolates into the European Union and across Africa. 

MIA (Made In Africa), Ghana and Madagascar

Although MIA’s headquarters are in the UK, its operations are in Ghana and Madagascar for the entire process, from production to packaging. The reason, says co-founder Brett Beach, is to “prove that Africa can make great chocolate.” His company specializes in such flavors as cashew ginger spice, sea salt and cocoa nib, and vegan creamy cashew, as well as a 75% dark chocolate bar. The products have won multiple Great Taste Awards from the Guild of Fine Foods in London.

MIA chocolates are “Fairmade,” which the Fine Chocolate Industry Association defines as made from start to finish at the origin of the cocoa with locally sourced ingredients, materials and labor. “If you say Fairtrade right away, people think better farming conditions,” says Beach. MIA’s products are available in Europe and the US, and Beach says he’s seeing increased demand. (He declined to share specific figures.) Products range from $9 for a 3 oz. bar to $32 for a 500 gram (1.1 lb.) bag of chocolate discs for baking.

’57 Chocolates, GhanaWhen Kimberly Addison lived in Geneva almost a decade ago, she visited the Swiss chocolate maker Maison Cailler’s factory. After discovering that there were very few African-based companies in the business, she and her sister Priscilla launched ‘57 Chocolates in 2016. The name pays homage to the year the sisters’ native country, Ghana, gained independence from Britain.

The company exports its chocolates to Europe, the US and even the Maldives, with boxes of six 1.7 oz bars for $25 and a $65 Phenomenal Women gift box. Among popular flavors are hibiscus chocolate, which has notes of Christmas mulled wine. “We're really trying to give people a tour of Ghana—whether or not they can come visit us, they can experience Ghana through our chocolate,” says Priscilla. 

Le Chocolatier Ivoirien, Ivory Coast

Around 15 years ago, Axel Emmanuel quit his job as an account manager at Banque Atlantique in Ivory Coast to become a chocolatier. He studied under chefs in Abidjan, Berlin and Paris before founding a company that organizes women-led cooperatives on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast. His mission is to “revolutionize the cocoa industry” through a program that trains farmers’ wives in the bean-to-bar process. “I saw that there was a big gap between the farmers that earn $1 a day and the big chocolate companies that are in ... magazines,” says Emmanuel, who was featured in the Netflix docuseries Rotten, which exposed the dark side of the supply chains of many foods. Emmanuel’s break came when he won $100,000 in the 2020 African Business Heroes competition established by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy. (He claims Ma is now a customer.) Emmanuel works with an agronomist, or soil specialist, to produce his chocolates, infused with unlikely ingredients such as banana milk, puffed rice milk and black ginger. The innovation has paid off: His products were named Best Chocolate in the World at the 2022 Paris International Agricultural show. 

Le Chocolatier Ivoirien exports about 100,000 bars a year across the globe; the company’s biggest market is in the US. Emmanuel believes interest in his chocolate comes because customers know they’re having an “impact it has on the livelihoods of the women in Ivory Coast,” he says. Now he’s fundraising to build a factory that can process about 100 tonnes of cocoa per month—around 10 times the amount the company produces now. 

Savanna Chocolates, ZambiaIn 2018, sisters Chiinga Musonda and Lynn Musonda Phiri founded their company with the goal of building a global brand of luxury African chocolates based on single-origin cocoa beans sourced from a women’s cooperative in neighboring Tanzania. Savanna, which claims to be one of the first chocolatiers to manufacture chocolate in Zambia, employs a majority female team for the production process.

Before getting into the chocolate world, Chiinga worked in asset management profitability at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and as a director of business strategy development at UBS AG in New York; Lynn worked for Zambia Telecommunications. They decided to go into the chocolate business after realizing that it’s “not rocket science,” says Chiinga. Now the pair make sweets in such flavors as chili dark chocolate, baobab dark chocolate (the white, citrusy fruit baobab is native to Southern Africa) and ginger milk chocolate, which won the Bronze award in the 2019 International Chocolate Awards. Besides being sold in markets in Tanzania and Zambia, the sisters export their products to customers in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and the US. Next, they are looking to expand into retail markets in the EU and the US. The 2.8 oz bars start at $4. 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.