The income of cocoa farmers is abysmal, to say the least. They are not paid very much money for the beans they grow. Thanks to the start-up company Kumasi Drinks based in the Netherlands, they can now earn a bit extra. The young company squeezes sap from the pulp of the cacao fruit and turns it into soft drinks. That cocoa pulp has not been used before.
What is Kumasi Drinks?
“We make soft drinks from the juice of cocoa fruit,” says co-founder Rogiér Power. “This is basically a waste product. The cocoa fruit is the size of a rugby ball. Normally only the cocoa beans are removed from the fruit which is what chocolate is made from. The pulp itself is not used, while its juice is full of flavor. It is similar to a mix of lychee, pear and peach. By getting more out of the cacao fruit than just the beans, we are reducing food waste. In addition, the farmer also earns 30 percent extra income per kilogram of cocoa. By now, we have already processed more than one million cocoa pods in our soft drinks.”
How did you come up with the idea?
“Our founder Lars Gierveld is a television producer, and he had made a documentary about the cocoa industry in West Africa. He wondered why cocoa farmers there earn so little and what could be done about that. He then toured the Kumasi region, which is the second largest city in Ghana, where he followed a farming community for two years. It was there that he first tasted the juice from the cacao fruit. That juice was literally flowing into the soil, because nothing was being done with it. What a waste, he thought. That’s how the idea for Kumasi was born.”
Where does your cocoa juice come from?
“About two-thirds of all the cocoa around the world comes from West Africa. We source ours from Ghana. Just to give you an idea of how much income is lost there: in Ghana alone, about six hundred million liters of cocoa juice literally flows into the soil or evaporates during the fermentation process. An incredible amount. We could make more than ten billion bottles of Kumasi with that.”
How do you make soft drinks from the fruit flesh?
“The cocoa farmers harvest twice a year. Normally they open up the cocoa pod and then everything, including the fruit flesh (the pulp) is thrown in a big pile to let it ferment. It’s very hot there, so the fermentation process goes pretty fast. After six days, fermented beans are left over, which you can make cocoa from. We have taken a step in between. Instead of everything being thrown into one pile at once, our partner KOA is now going to squeeze the juice out of the pulp first. The farmers are paid a fee directly for that juice. And, of course, also for their cocoa beans to process it into cocoa.”
Was it difficult to procure investment?
“This was definitely challenging. We market a product that hardly anyone knows about. On top of that, we are still a relatively unknown brand and we process an uncommon main ingredient. As you can imagine, this poses quite a few risks. Fortunately, since we are a social-impact company, we can tap into various grant schemes. There are also investors who have the courage to stick their necks out so that a real impact can be made. It was through one of these impact investors (Unknown Group) that we managed to secure our first round of investment.”
What is the ultimate goal of Kumasi Drinks?
“We entered the market two years ago. We started with 20 farmers who supplied us with juice. In the meantime, the number has grown to 250. We want as many farmers as possible to be able to join us. We hope that we will soon be able to help 3000 farmers. Right now, we are focusing on cocoa fruit, but in the future we want to take on other residual streams. The more commercial Kumasi is, the more impact we can make. We also want to start to internationalize. In fact, after two years, we now have around a thousand retail outlets, so we also want to look across the border.”