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What’s the difference between chocolate and beer?

Robert Ashton cropped webRaised in East Anglia, working on farms and attending agricultural college, it was inevitable I would grow up liking beer. You see the dry, sandy soils and proximity to the sea make East Anglia the perfect place to grow top quality malting barley. It’s no surprise then that Adnams has been brewing beer on the Suffolk coast for centuries. Beer belongs here.

But the same can’t be always said about chocolate, as I learned when I met Ghanaian project manager turned chocolate maker Ruth Amoah recently. I’d been invited to speak at the recent GUBA awards event at Greenwich, which showcased Ghanaian UK enterprise. Surprisingly, there’s a thriving diaspora in London, bringing some of the colour of west Africa to grey Britain.

Ruth had come over to meet potential trade buyers and told me her story. Chocolate was for her currently a cottage industry, using her garage as a factory and employing her mother to grind beans obtained from a nearby farm. To my mind, it was a chocolate equivalent to a micro-brewery, converting local crops for local consumption. Surprisingly, she is the first independent business to make artisan chocolate in Ghana.

Like so many product-led enterprises, Ruth faced the classic growth conundrum. She needs investment to grow, and customers to deliver the cash to fund that investment. I suggested crowdfunding, as an obvious way to connect consumer and chocolatier. Angus Thirlwell’s Hotel Chocolat raised £3.7m by issuing chocolate bonds, that in part rewarded investors with chocolate. If it worked for him, surely it could work for Ruth.

‘In today’s digitally connected world, crowdfunding is the perfect way

to connect a Ghanaian entrepreneur with customers across the world’

But talking with Ruth, two simple facts became very clear. Firstly, it’s tougher in Ghana to be innovative than it is in the UK. Other speakers at the same conference spoke about the challenges of chilled distribution, in a country where factory prepared foods were the exception rather than the rule. There are some very practical barriers to overcome. But secondly and perhaps most significantly, was the apparent barrier to crowdfunding, where consumers in Europe and the USA are reluctant to invest in an African enterprise.

This seems a shame, as our perception of the continent on Africa being all very ‘third world’ is less than accurate and more than unfair. Ghana has a vibrant, growing economy and politically is very different from some other African countries. A Ghanaian Real Estate company was also at the GUBA exhibition, promoting some very trendy Accra houses.

It strikes me, in today’s digitally connected world, that crowdfunding is the perfect way to connect a Ghanaian entrepreneur with customers across the world. Anyone who uses Ebay will know the ease with which things can be delivered anywhere in the world, so why not crowdfund in Europe to produce chocolate in Ghana? I like the idea of European customers having the opportunity to invest in chocolate production where it is grown.   Do you?

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