For a long time, Uganda has been woefully overlooked by chocolate makers, despite having prime, bio-diverse regions for growing premium cocoa. Determined to establish a new reputation for Ugandan cocoa — Jeff Steinberg, founder and managing director of Latitude Craft Chocolate – became fascinated with the idea of an organization that could sustainably support thousands of rural African farmers on a day-to-day basis, as well as producing high quality chocolate. Armed with determination and a clear vision, his dream became reality when Latitude Craft Chocolate came to birth in 2016 as a vertically integrated social enterprise.
The company commenced production and selling of chocolate locally in 2017. “Our team’s obsession with quality and sustainable development inspired us to start making our own chocolate at origin, which eventually gave way to our bean to bar factory in Kampala,” reveals the founder. The company later rebranded at the end of 2020, expanding the sale of their products to East Africa, the USA and Europe.
Currently the factory is based in Kampala with raw material sourcing and processing facilities spread in Western Uganda. Latitude Craft Chocolate works with over 2,500 certified organic farmers.
The Chocolate Making Process
“Our chocolate is bean to bar, meaning that we cover the entire process ourselves,” reveals the founder. He further says that their staff purchases fresh cocoa directly from farmers at collection points that are a walking distance from the farms. “We pay farmers a premium price of 15-20% above market average,” he says.
The purchased cocoa is first exposed to an intensive quality check before being taken to a nearby fermentary. “Here, the cocoa undergoes a two-week process of fermentation and drying to develop the chocolate flavour. After hand sorting and quality checks, the cocoa is ready for the chocolate factory,” avers Jeff.
At the chocolate factory in Kampala the raw materials are drum roasted to bring out the desired chocolate flavours. The beans are crushed and the outer shell removed in a process called winnowing. This leaves them with ‘nibs’, the core component to chocolate. “The nibs, along with cane sugar, cocoa butter and other locally sourced ingredients are mixed and refined in special machines to create a silky-smooth texture and flavour. Finally, the chocolate is tempered, molded into bars and individually hand wrapped by our diligent team at the factory,” he explains.
Mr. Steinberg adds that the chocolate bars come in various flavours. “We currently have five core flavours. They are: Semuliki 70%, Rwenzori 80%, Dark Milk, Bukonzo Coffee and White Caramel. We also have a range of couvertures and cooking chocolates for home and professional chefs such as blocks, chips and discs which are available in dark, milk and white chocolate.”
Behind the brand name
The brand name was informed by their focus on the craft of producing cocoa and making chocolate that exposes consumers to the world of chocolate beyond their traditional supermarket candy. “Our dark chocolates only contain cocoa and sugar. All our bars are hand-molded and hand-wrapped which takes expert precision and time to ensure consistency,” he explains. Mr. Steinberg also admits that they have no secret recipes. “We have nothing to hide about how we make our chocolate, and you can visit our factory yourself to come and see the whole process.”
Mr. Steinberg describes the region as an excellent place to set up shop. “Everyone is incredibly friendly and entrepreneurial, and there are far too many business opportunities for one lifetime.” He however cautions that this may present a challenge on where to focus, as it can be easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of everything and take simple parts of doing business (like transporting chocolate) for granted. “Finding focus and simplifying our goals and procedures has been key to our success. As a new business and a start-up, the ability to move forward and learn swiftly was one of our biggest assets,” he says.
He also mentions that the team and production has been gradually growing over the past few years. “We started with a tiny team of three and are now a certified B-Corp run by over 25 full-time motivated Ugandan staff. We work with over 2,500 contracted smallholder farmers and our main aim is to support these partners as fully as we can.” On top of that, the company provides its partners with access to insurance (health, disability and life) as well as comprehensive training on organic practices and financial literacy. “We’re developing a micro-loan program to further support farmers during the off season, whether it’s paying for school fees or ensuring their income is secure in times of need,” says the Executive.
Moving forward, Mr. Steinberg says that their long-term goal is to provide a premium cocoa market in Uganda and reach over 10,000 cocoa growing households by 2026. “We are and always will be committed to supplying sustainably sourced cocoa and chocolate products — which positively impact thousands of households,” he declares.