With the launch of the #Choose Artisan campaign recently, the spotlight has been shining firmly on those women artisans in Africa who are creating world-class luxury products right here on the continent. Chocolate Mamas Gourmet Tanzanian Chocolate Company is an entrepreneurial startup making real waves in the luxury artisan chocolate space in Africa, and its co-founder, Jaki Kweka, has big ambitions for the brand going forward.
LoA had a real treat this month, speaking to Jaki about how she made the radical career move from lawyer to luxury artisan chocolatier and how she is now focused on building a great brand and business.
"I obviously didn’t start out making chocolate in my career, in fact I was a lawyer before that."
Tell us about your own, really interesting journey to becoming a luxury chocolate brandbuilder and entrepreneur in Tanzania.
I obviously didn’t start out making chocolate in my career, in fact I was a lawyer before that. But, the idea came up one night when I was talking with my business partner and our spouses when we were out having dinner and drinks around 3 years ago, and it was one of the many business ideas that we had at the time. Initially, we talked about opening some sort of patisserie, creating mostly high-end chocolate delectables, but we looked at the challenge of getting a constant, reliable supply of high quality chocolate in the country. We realised that this was a gap in the market that could be filled and our entrepreneurial journey started there and we decided to start making our own chocolate.
That is quite a career move, from lawyer to luxury artisan chocolate brand builder, tell us more.
Yes, but I was always making things on the side such as baking pastries and selling them not just to family and friends but as a sideline business whilst I was still working as a lawyer. So, this wasn’t such a sudden move, it was something I was already passionate about but hadn’t up until that point thought about turning it into a business properly.
"We looked at the challenge of getting a constant, reliable supply of high quality chocolate in the country. We realised that this was a gap in the market that could be filled and our entrepreneurial journey started there - we decided to start making our own chocolate."
So, having taken the leap into entrepreneurship formally, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced to date, particularly when it comes to building a luxury artisan brand?
Challenges, oh my goodness, don’t get me started! The two biggest challenges in Tanzania for most businesses here are the unreliable power grid and the availability of capital for scaling up, things like that. Let me give you an example - during one of our relocations, we encountered one key challenge when we found that our local production took a tumble because we found out too late that our local production area had low voltage, meaning that we couldn’t run our machines without a generator. This meant that we had to run all our production using a generator, and the low voltage causes damage to machines in the long-term, so we encountered all of these challenges and they felt really huge at the time and hard to deal with. But these things are a burden to most businesses here. However, as I always say, if you are passionate about something and you can see that what you are doing has a big potential, then you find a way around these challenges.
One of the challenges specifically relating to chocolate itself, and because there is no other person in Tanzania making chocolate, and all the other chocolate is imported, means that this is what people have got used to. So when we started making Tanzanian gourmet chocolate, people were a little bit sceptical about their locally made product. However, those that try our chocolate really like it and become our loyal customers, so we are really happy with that.
"Interestingly here in Tanzania, there is a growing interest in not just chocolate but also the export of cocoa in the country, so this global interest is good for everybody."
There is a growing global interest in artisan handcrafted luxury products from Africa right now. How is this positively impacting on your own brand and products and where do you see Chocolate Mamas as a brand going to over the next few years?
Interestingly here in Tanzania, there is a growing interest in not just chocolate but also the export of cocoa in the country, so this global interest is good for everybody. We have had quite a bit of interest from people abroad looking to buy our chocolate, but we are still a very small company. Therefore, we are really excited about the prospect of scaling up as we now know we can export and do well
So the future is looking bright for Chocolate Mamas. How is the current global media attention helping to raise awareness around your company and products?
It is definitely helping. Our short term plan is to expand regionally in the first instance, into Nairobi, Kampala and Kigali and places like that, but after that, we are looking to slowly grow into Europe and the US. So we are definitely looking at future exporting.
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Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love those brave and passionate women entrepreneurs who take the leap, follow their dreams, and create an entrepreneurial journey for themselves that is truly unique, producing proudly African products along the way. Jaki Kweka is one such entrepreneur, building a wonderful business that celebrates the incredible raw ingredients produced by her country, and turning them into world-class, uniquely African, luxury artisan products that the world is beginning to love and want. The highly specialist world of the luxury chocolatier has a new woman entrepreneur to watch. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa