GENEVA – A Swiss-Peruvian co-operative venture has radically changed the rules of the chocolate manufacturing game with its rejection of standard flavors and a business model that allows farmers to have a real stake in the company.
Choba Choba was born in 2015 with the aim of improving the lives of small-scale cocoa producers, who – scattered and with no real power of decision – often occupy a precarious position in the industrial chocolate manufacturing chain.
In this joint enterprise, Swiss-French businessmen and Peruvian cocoa producers partnered to create a co-op in which farmers who own small plantations in the Peruvian Amazon are shareholders and decide the price of the cocoa they cultivate.
The global chocolate manufacturing sector is completely dominated by a handful of multinational corporations.
Producers in the poorest countries receive less than 6.6 percent of the total added value of each ton of cocoa beans they sell, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Christopher Inauen, the Swiss founder of Choba Choba, used to work for Chocolats Halba, a division of Coop Cooperative, the world’s fifth-largest chocolate producer with around 2.5 million members.
At his prior job, Inauen managed fair trade and sustainable agriculture programs in Peru, a common practice for large companies in the sector.
Inauen focused his activities around the Alto Huayabamba valley, an underdeveloped region in the Peruvian rain forest that, prodded by the national government, went from cultivating coca plants to planting cocoa crops.
After working for eight years in the communities of Santa Rosa and Pucallpillo, Inauen realized that his efforts to improve the lives of farmers were not having the desired results.
“It was a great shock,” the Swiss businessman told EFE.
He decided to change the rules of the game, starting Choba Choba (which means “I help you, you help me” in Quechua) with his French business partner Eric Garner and 36 Peruvian peasant families, who are shareholders and decide the price at which they sell their product.
The “Northern rebels” and “Southern rebels,” as they like to call themselves, decided to get rid of middlemen and sell their chocolate exclusively online, instead of the usual channels such as supermarkets or retailers.
The chocolate is carefully made by Swiss chocolatier Felchlin using only cocoa powder, cocoa butter and unrefined cane sugar.
Choba Choba looks to transform the international chocolate market; 75 percent of the chocolate made worldwide is produced by three corporations: Nestle, Mars and Mondelez, despite there being six million small cocoa farmers.
According to Inuen, these industry giants use standardization processes involving oils, nuts and other products that result in a homogenous flavor and lower quality.
At such a young age, Choba Choba has already made an impact for the better on the lives of the Peruvian farmers-cum-stockholders.
One of them, Maria del Pilar Castillo, said they were seeing a higher income than before, although it varied according to the production percentage and the size of each cocoa plantation.
While farmers now hold about seven percent of all shares, their participation in Choba Choba is expected to rise to 33 percent in 2020 and 51 percent in the long haul.
“We believe that the true goal of a business does not reside in generating profits for individuals,” Choba Choba’s website reads.
It adds: “We believe the main purpose of a company, wherever it operates, whatever its business consists in, should be bringing people together, to create shared value for the global community and generate positive impact on the ecosystems.”