I'm not going to lie, chocolate and I are on pretty good terms and I've been known to over-indulge -- my easy justification is that it's good for your brain. But most of the commercial chocolate I'm used to comes from one variety of bean that gives fantastic crop yields but a disappointing flavor (it's called Forastero). Even more worrisome, most cocoa companies don't pay workers enough to get them out of poverty. Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla aims to fix both problems.

Seeing and fixing trouble firsthand

Madécasse Chocolate got its start in 2008 founder and CEO Tim McCollum went to Madagascar as a Peace Corp Volunteer. Tim did the Peace Corps from 1999-2001 and worked in the US between then and starting Madécasse (never stopped thinking about Madagascar).That work exposed McCollum and the other volunteers to the chocolate industry and to the poor local communities. Determined to help, they sought to turn the traditional model, which puts both distance and middlemen between growers and consumers, on its head.

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To start, Madécasse's team swapped the bland Forastero cocoa with lower-yielding (but more flavorful) Criollo (heirloom) cocoa, which makes up just 5 percent of the world's cocoa production. They formed relationships with the cocoa growers, visiting them directly at least four times per year and educating them about the higher quality of Criollo. They then committed to pay those growers a premium--often double what the growers would get for Forastero--for the better crop. They also established production standards, which means they use the best of the best beans and meet USDA organic requirements, all while publishing transparency reports with detailed information about their operations.


McCollum also shared some deeply rooted insights into Madécasse and their outlook,

"The long-term goal of our company is to change the way the world experiences chocolate - from the cocoa farmer to the end consumer.

Most consumers don't have access to a bar of chocolate that has real flavor in it. And that status quo in the industry results in most cocoa farmers not being able to make enough money farming cocoa to feed themselves.

We've found a way to solve both problems."

Delicious products that make a difference

So far, Madécasse produces 8 types of chocolate bars, 3 kinds of baking discs, vanilla extract and vanilla beans, as well as bulk chocolate discs and vanilla. They've stuck with dark chocolate, which follows the industry trend toward chocolate with high cocoa percentages, but their chocolate, far from being bitter, actually has fruity notes because of its quality. The company is expanding to make the chocolate right where the beans grow, which will help growers even more. They're a perfect example of how a direct trade model can be both profitable and impactful for the world. And as Madécasse says, it's time to #RethinkChocolate.

Now who's up for following their lead?