Koa nets US$10M to scale upcycled Ghanaian cocoa fruit
13 May 2022 --- Food upcycling start-up Koa – specializing in repurposing cocoa pulp, a byproduct from the chocolate industry as value-added ingredients – has captured US$10 million in funding to raise its processing by tenfold at its plant in Ghana. The company also plans to share its upcycling technologies with 10,000 additional cocoa smallholders.
Cocoa pulp has been “vastly underutilized” for practical reasons, Daniel Otu, production and operation Director at Koa, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“The lack of infrastructure and the climatic conditions in cocoa-growing regions of Ghana requires a new approach with innovative processes and local investments. There’s only a short time window to preserve the fresh pulp.”
“To manage that, we developed a decentralized process together with cocoa smallholders that smoothly integrates into the local and traditional harvesting setting,” he explains.
The result of this process is that the new method only needs three hours between pod breaking to pasteurization.
Juicing the last bit of profit from cocoa
Koa’s whole upcycling process reduces the on-farm food waste around cocoa fruit, generates additional income for farmers from previously discarded cocoa remains and brings new ingredients for the F&B industry.
“We currently offer three products to cover a wide range of applications. Koa Pure (cocoa fruit juice) is ideal for beverages or ice cream. Koa Concentrate (concentrated juice) is used for various pastry products, jellies or bakery goods. And for chocolate products or applications such as cereals, Koa Powder (dried cocoa fruit) is the matching ingredient,” explains Otu.
According to Koa, this innovation that increases “significantly local farmer’s income” is achieved without additional investment costs. According to Koa's numbers, farmers get some extra US$344 for a ton of the cocoa waste pulp, compared to the US$240 paid in the Fairtrade system or the US$70 paid by the Rainforest Alliance.
Koa selects the farmers where it brings its technologies with a gendered approach – aiming to target 40% of women farmers, following the core objectives set at the IDH Farmfit Fund for smallholder farmers .
Solar power and flood protection
Coming from the solar industry sector, Koa is aiming to add its solar power capabilities to existing value chains in rural Ghana.
“Thanks to solar power, we can process the cocoa fruits next to the farms, even in remote areas. For this, we use a mobile processing unit, which is 100% solar-powered. The extracted pulp is then brought to our factory for final processing and packaging,” says Otu.
“At our factory, we’re constantly expanding the photovoltaic system, which is currently feeding a fifth of our energy use.”
Ghana, which suffered from floods in the last years, is still a safe place for Koa to situate its facility and proceed with its rural investments. According to Koa, flooding usually occurs in urban and peri-urban areas with few housing development controls.
“We are located in a village in the rural area of the Central Region and were not immediately affected. However, we invest in architectural design with landscaping and agroforestry to mitigate this in our area,” highlights Otu.
For future expansion plans, Koa has scouted locations that were considered to be in non-flood-prone areas.
New blocks in the blockchain
Otu revealed to FoodIngredientFirst that pastry chef Jeff Oberweis from Luxembourg was the first business to integrate Koa’s “tamper-proof” blockchain system. He adds that he is “very encouraged” by the reception of its technologies since it was released in January.
“Since the system's launch, we have received a lot of interest as the combination of mobile money transactions and blockchain is new in the cocoa sector,” he remarks.
“We sense a great interest by both companies and consumers in taking transparency to the next level.”
The technology allows customers to monitor the extra income paid to farmers in real-time, with transactions being public, transparent and verifiable. Koa expects to reach over 12,000 farmers in the next two years and has currently over 2,200 in its value chain.
A QR code on the packaging of the product containing Koa ingredients brings consumers to the Seedtrace platform where they can verify the additional farmer income.
By Marc Cervera
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