Brett Beach is hoping for some sweet success in his new venture with partner Timothy McCollum. The duo founded Madécasse, a company that grows and manufactures chocolate “from bean to bar” in Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa.
Beach works with a handful of farming cooperatives that grow and harvest the beans. He then employs locals to manufacture the finished product. Seeing a product through from start to finish locally is a rarity, and Beach is proud that Madécasse has created what others may consider an ethical indulgence. “Making the chocolate in the country creates much more value for the people,” he says. (See a YouTube video about Madécasse here.)
Perhaps the desire to do things differently comes from Beach’s stint from 1999 to 2001 in the Peace Corps, where he learned the language (including three dialects) and culture of the indigenous people. He stayed an additional four years and then returned to his hometown of Lawrence, Kan. But the call to do more proved irresistible. In November 2008, Beach answered, and Madécasse chocolate was created. Their initial funding included $50,000 of their own money.
Beach is doing his part to change the centuries-old European custom of exploiting the rich, natural resources of emerging nations. Madagascar is renowned for producing the world’s finest cocoa, but in nearly all cases, the beans are exported, limiting the economic benefits for the local people. By manufacturing and packaging — not just growing — the chocolate in Madagascar, Madécasse is able to generate four times more income than Fair Trade methods alone.
The plan is catching on. In the first year, his company started with modest sales of about $10,000. For 2010, Beach says, the goal is $500,000. Already, Madécasse is sold in more than 200 U.S. stores, including 70 Whole Foods outlets, as well as high-end grocery stores and specialty boutiques.
“The appeal for consumers to be able to help by buying this product has been an overwhelming success,” Beach says. He credits LMU for teaching him that individuals, including those in the business world, can make change.
But don’t expect Beach to become an expat any time soon. Although he spends several weeks a year in Madagascar, he knows the importance of the U.S. market to the people he employs. “The real value is talking to the people who buy the chocolate in the western world — that’s what will make the difference for the people of Madagascar.”
Christelyn D. Karazin ’99 is a writer in Temecula, Calif., and a frequent contributor to LMU Magazine.