Unique Business Venture Makes Chocolate in Ghana
Call Steven Wallace, president of Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co., an entrepreneur ahead of his time.
Wallace’s Milwaukee-based company has been marketing premium single-source chocolate from Ghana since 1994 — way before single-source chocolate was the latest confectionery industry buzz word. Even more notably, Omanhene chocolate is not only produced using 100 percent hand-picked cocoa beans from Ghana, it is manufactured in Ghana as well in a business model that is testament to Wallace’s vision and determination.
Made exclusively from Ghanaian shade-grown cocoa beans, Omanhene chocolate has a distinctive, full-bodied taste. The company offers a 48 percent cocoa dark milk chocolate that boasts the richness of dark chocolate and a bit of the mellowness of milk chocolate as well as an 80 percent dark chocolate product.
“I wanted to showcase the bean,” says Wallace, explaining his decision to go the dark milk chocolate route. “But I knew most Americans grew up on sweet, sweet chocolate.”
The Omanhene story starts back in the summer of 1978, when Wallace fell in love with the country of Ghana as an American Field Service foreign exchange student living in a small Ghanaian village. Fast-forward to 1991, when Wallace, by then an attorney by profession, founded Omanhene. (The word comes from the African Twi language and is the title for a traditional king or chief, the repository of ethical and moral authority in Ghana.) It’s an appropriate reference because Omanhene is built on Wallace’s own strong ethical convictions and a desire to create a viable economic opportunity for Ghanaians. He worked closely with government authorities in Ghana to determine a fair price for the cocoa beans he purchases there. The Omanhene factory is located about 45 minutes outside Accra, Ghana’s capital, just a short distance from the cocoa farms where the beans are grown. Workers are shareholders in the factory and enjoy free meals, healthcare and transportation as well as subsidized housing.
Wallace built the business on shoestring, borrowing against his life insurance and taking out a second mortgage. Making the chocolate close to the source of the beans enhances product quality, Wallace contends.
The company is closely held and does not divulge revenue figures, but Wallace reports that Omanhene has posted average annual growth of more than 55 percent over the course of the past three years.
Last year chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo, a former executive chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Hollywood and Chicago Spago restaurants, joined the Omanhene management team.
Omanhene Moves into the Mainstream
Since its introduction in 1994, Omanhene Chocolate has been sold primarily in natural and specialty food stores and cafes, as well as in the gift basket market.
So when the news came earlier this year that the 155-store chain of Roundy’s supermarkets would begin carrying two Omanhene single-source chocolate bars, as well as its drinking chocolate and cocoa for baking, it was a major breakthrough for the company.
It also represents a key step forward for the Ghanaian economy, noted Dr. Kwame Bawuah-Edusei, Ghana’s ambassador to the United States. Bawuah-Edusei traveled from Washington, D.C., to Milwaukee early this spring for a special sampling event held at Roundy’s downtown Metro Market store. “The government of Ghana recognizes the significance of this [Omanhene’s Roundy’s breakthrough],” said the ambassador on the day of the event. “That’s why I’m here.”