Today, I’m taking you to Nigeria, where another African woman is doing amazing work in the chocolate industry.
Her journey is a fascinating one. But no spoilers. I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself. Ready? Let’s hear it.
By 2016, Uzoamaka Izukanne Igweike (aka Uzo) had been an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) consultant for over a decade. Her job was to help companies implement software solutions to optimize their business processes.
But consultancy wasn’t the only thing that occupied the Nigerian entrepreneur’s mind. In fact, she loved something that had nothing at all to do with computers or software. Uzo loved baking. Not just baking, but “I really loved baking with (yes, you got it) chocolate.”
However, as with every great story, something was wrong. What was wrong, Uzo?
“I found it very difficult to find good quality chocolate. Even when I found it, it was extremely expensive. I’d always known that Nigeria was one of the largest producers of cocoa in the world, and it didn’t make sense to me that we weren’t making any chocolates per se.”
Uzoamaka was right to question the status quo. Indeed, Nigeria is a top 5 exporter of cocoa beans, so something was surely wrong if she couldn’t make her own chocolate, even better chocolate, for her baking. And she was determined to find out.
“So I just went to Google and typed in how to make chocolate at home, and it came up with a lot of articles and I drank it all in.”
Uzo was quickly drawn into researching chocolate-making after that Google search, and she was prepared to stay up late to read and learn more about how to make her own chocolate bars. In her words:
“I read, I studied, I did the research and I realized that really, I had the ingredients that I needed to make good quality chocolate, even better chocolate than those around the shelves. I mean I needed essentially cocoa beans and sugar, so what I did was that I tried to improvise.”
Solving Machine Challenges
After demystifying chocolate-making and gaining confidence that she could do it, she searched for the equipment she’d need:
‘’I looked through the articles for the equipment, the tools that I needed, and I realized that I could improvise with things that I could find around. The only thing I didn’t have then was the refiner, which is a proper chocolate-making machine, but I was lucky.’’
She was lucky because while doing her research, she learned applications were open for entrepreneurs to get funding from the Tony Elumelu Foundation. The problem? Uzo “hadn’t made a bar of chocolate before”.
But that would not stop her: ‘’I had this idea that you know, I thought would resonate with them. So what I did was put in my application.”
And her application was successful. They loved her idea of a local chocolate business and gave her the funding. And that was how Uzo bought her first refiner. “From there, I started making chocolate.”
From Experiments to Quitting Her Job
Armed now with her refiner, Uzo experimented with crafting chocolate. “We made bad chocolate and good chocolate. It was inconsistent, but we tested it with family and friends. We got a lot of encouragement from them. After three years, I found the courage to leave my regular paid job and then focus on making chocolate.”
Thus, in June 2020, Uzo launched Loom Craft Chocolates, a cocoa bean processing, and artisanal chocolate-making company based in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2022 alone, customers in and outside Nigeria ate 52,000 of their bars! She hopes to double the figure in 2023.
Nigerian Chocolate for Sustainability
What we can all admire about Uzo is that she has made crafting and selling chocolate her medium of contributing to the development of her nation. It’s also her means of sharing Nigeria with the entire world. How?
From the ingredients in her bars to her package designs, Uzo partners with local cultivators and package designers. And she’s convinced that these relationships help other Nigerians earn from their craft while challenging them to grow their businesses and deliver even better services.
But that’s not all. Using home-sourced ingredients also means Nigerians can now taste flavors they can tell stories about. Loom bars include local ingredients like coffee, sesame, fonio, cashew, ginger, and beloved Nigerian treats like kuli-kuli, balla kwabo, and the spicy ose nsukka. And no matter how far away they are, Nigerians and Africans, in general, can take a quick trip back home with a taste of Loom chocolate.
It’s also worth mentioning that Uzo is a proud member of the Cross Atlantic Chocolate Collective, the African-Caribbean alliance aimed at helping cocoa growers in Africa learn chocolate-making. Sharing her knowledge with other members has helped farmers like Mrs. Leticia Yankey transition from growing cocoa to making their own chocolate bars.
Inspiration to the Youth
Uzoamaka is putting Nigeria on the chocolate-making map through Loom Craft Chocolate. But as a young woman who has worked extremely hard to bring her business to scale and make an impact, she’s easily an inspiration to all young people in Africa trying to build a business to make lives better at home.
To these young Kings and Queens, Uzo says “the world is yours for the taking”. She also believes that ‘’by focusing hard on your dreams and solving problems little by little, you can realize them.’’
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