Despite living in the world’s biggest grower of cocoa beans, Ivory Coast residents have never quite embraced chocolate as part of the national diet.
The African country’s first major chocolate factory hopes to change all that.
With an investment of €6m (£4.28m) and production capacity of 10,000 tonnes per year, the plant will produce chocolate “made in Ivory Coast” on an industrial scale.
President Alassane Ouattara, touring the new facility in the commercial capital, Abidjan, earlier this week, told Agence France-Presse: “We wanted to be able to … make chocolate for Ivorians, for Africans and especially west Africans.”
Cocoa is Ivory Coast’s biggest cash crop, accounting for 22% of gross domestic product, more than half its exports and two-thirds of people’s jobs and incomes, according to the World Bank.
Although it has been the mainstay of the economy since independence from France in 1960, the “brown gold” does not feature strongly in its French-influenced cuisine. Last year a YouTube video went viral showing Ivorian cocoa farmers tasting chocolate for the first time.
Patrick Poirrier, chief executive of French chocolatier Cémoi, which owns the plant, said: “The arrival of a new chocolate factory in the world’s larg- est cocoa producer … will also allow Ivorian planters to finally access the pleasure of chocolate.”
Tristan Borne, managing director of Cémoi, which opened a bean-grinding operation in Ivory Coast in 1996, wasquoted by Reuters as saying: “We’re targeting the local market, then progressively we will expand to the sub- region.
“We have buying capacity of 120,000 tonnes of beans and grinding capac- ity of 70,000 tonnes, including the 10,000 tonnes of chocolate per year.”
The factory would initially produce cocoa powder and chocolate spreads before moving on to tablets, Borne added.
Despite its French ownership, the plant represents a small victory in the continent’s battle to profit from its natural resources instead of exporting them to be processed elsewhere. Botswana has moved towards cutting and polishing its diamonds domestically, creating local jobs.
Ivory Coast currently processes around a third of its cocoa production lo- cally, most of it into semi-finished products such as cocoa butter and pow- der. The industry and mines minister, Jean-Claude Brou, told Reuters at the opening: “The government’s objective is to process at least 50% by 2020.
Ivory Coast’s 12 grinding facilities processed nearly 570,000 tonnes of beans in 2014, up more than 20% from the previous year, he added. The country is poised to become the world leader in cocoa bean processing.
It produces more than 35% of global cocoa harvests and enjoyed record production in excess 1.7m tonnes in 2014. Producers saw profits of €2.13bn (£1.52bn), according to Ivory Coast’s coffee-cocoa council, while world- wide cocoa reaped some $13bn (£8.35bn) in profits.
But those figures were dwarfed by the world’s chocolate earnings, which were nearly 10 times greater that season, according to the International Cocoa Organisation. The majority of chocolate found on Ivory Coast’s shop shelves is imported from abroad.
French-speaking west Africa’s largest economy has registered growth of around 9% since the end of a decade-long political crisis in 2011.