- Founders: Dr. Sara Marquart, Dr. Maximilian Marquart
- Founded in: 2021
- Employees: 2
- Money raised: $6 million in seed funding
- Ultimate goal: To creat a sustainable alternative to conventional chocolate.
Vegan chocolate without cocoa but with a recognizable chocolaty taste. The German start-up QOA wants to become a sustainable alternative for chocolate lovers. Why is QOA needed? Founder Sara Marquart explains.
How does it work?
“QOA is developing the world’s first cocoa-free chocolate. We ferment and roast by-products from the food industry, such as oats and other gluten-free grains. Then we add yeast to that to make sustainable cocoa. It works a bit like the way you can make wine out of grapes when you add yeast to them. An added benefit is that we don’t have to use as much sugar. Real cocoa is bitter, which is why there is a lot of sugar in chocolate to disguise the taste. Toasted and fermented oatmeal is less bitter and therefore QOA needs less sugar to get the same sweet taste. Chocolate also needs cocoa butter, which we make the same way: ferment, roast and add yeast. Instead of milk, we use oat milk, so it’s completely vegan.”
“Moreover, QOA can be made locally unlike cocoa. The beans can’t grow everywhere. QOA also really tastes like chocolate; we did blind tests with taste experts. They could not taste any difference between a real Snickers and a Snickers with QOA instead of chocolate. A Snickers is easier to recreate because the caramel and nuts also add to the taste sensation. Nevertheless, the texture and taste of QOA is fairly similar to chocolate.”
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What problem are you solving?
“After meat and cheese, chocolate production is the most polluting of all food. For every kilogram of chocolate, 19 kilograms of CO2 are released. In addition, rainforests are cut down to grow chocolate beans. Because of the high demand and low sales prices, farmers are forced to continue in this unsustainable way of production. Five million tonnes of cocoa are needed each year to meet the demand. That doesn’t mean QOA is a replacement. We love chocolate. Chocolate with cocoa can then become a luxury item for which a higher price is paid, and so that farmers are paid a fair price. We are still exploring whether the use of QOA has negative impacts on cocoa farmers. Our goal is to provide an alternative. This could allow farmers to shift to more sustainable farming practices like we are seeing now in the coffee industry.”
Who are the founders?
“My brother Maximilian Marquart and I are both scientists. I am a food chemist and specialize in the creation of flavor. Maximilian is not just a scientist, but an entrepreneur as well. He recently successfully founded two companies and in the past has been involved in setting up and supporting start-ups.”
Is there a demand for vegan cocoa-free chocolate?
“Consumers have become more aware of their carbon footprint. But it can be difficult to work your way through all the certifications and labels. It can be very confusing, because you can never be sure if a product is doing what it promises on the label. Since QOA doesn’t use cocoa or milk like other chocolates, labels for sustainable cultivation and production are no longer needed. Thirty-five hundred people have signed up for the beta version of QOA and five hundred have received the test kit. The feedback we receive from these test kits will be incorporated into the development of the product. We sent out a prototype earlier this year and it came back that 90 % would buy QOA. We were obviously very happy with that feedback.”
Would you like to read more stories about start-ups? Find the previous instalments in this series here.