MIA is a chocolate brand that makes products in Africa at the source of the cocoa. The decision to produce locally is made with a clear purpose: to support skilled manufacturing jobs and bring four times more benefit to local communities versus the export of raw ingredients. Part of only 1% of the world’s chocolate that is made in Africa, MIA takes the path less followed. Why would a brand go through all the challenges of making finished products in Africa? Understanding Co-founder Brett Beach’s journey gives us part of the answer. 

The life path of MIA Co-founder Brett Beach has taken him from Europe to the US to Africa and back again. A look back reveals how a series of experiences in these distant parts of the world find a common thread through a chocolate brand that connects consumers in the Northern Hemisphere to the Africa that Beach called home for six years; six years that would shape him forever.  

Born in the UK, Brett emigrated to the US with his mother and siblings when he was three. His life in the US first landed him in the isolated foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains where water came from a hand pump and snowy winters made a snowmobile the best transport. At eleven, Brett moved one state away but a world apart from his childhood perspective; Kansas, the centre of the North American Wheat Belt, would be his new home until university.

Childhood in the USA

Beach reflects: “As a child, you don’t know how to verbalise differences in culture, but shortly after my arrival in Kansas I sensed that the rural farming culture was very different from the mix of Hispanic American communities and communal living I had left behind in Colorado. What I subconsciously realised is that adapting and learning from new settings is the best way to make friends and get the most out of life.”

Passionate about sports and at home in nature, Beach had a childhood filled with the outdoors, American football and baseball. Beach: “My passion for sports sometimes bordered on obsession, but I learned a lot about healthy competition, overcoming defeat and determination. These are lessons I took with me.”

After secondary school, Beach moved to Los Angeles where he would graduate from Loyola Marymount University. Beach credits his mother for pursuing a university education beyond Kansas.

Beach: “My mother Marian is a traveller at heart and she knew the value of meeting new people and getting a great education. She took it upon herself to organise an entire trip up the West Coast to meet potential universities. The move and what followed simply wouldn’t have happened without her.

“My mother really valued travel so when I was a kid we toured castles in England, travelled across Mexico in an old train, and journeyed around the tropical island of Puerto Rico. At university, I had the chance to explore the world over again on my own, so I took a study abroad trip to Mexico, visited Europe and then moved to Spain.”

“When I later learned about Peace Corps volunteer service, I immediately knew it was for me. It was a chance to live and work with people on the other side of the world! Before I knew it, I was on my way to Madagascar with zero grasp of the language, less understanding of the culture and limited experience at the task ahead; to teach English to large classrooms of grammar school students.

Brett’s home away from home in his Peace Corps village in Madagascar

Madagascar was a completely different universe, a magical island where nature had evolved in isolation for 60 million years and where the culture and language originated beyond my North American experience. The people were extremely kind and welcoming and the country was full of discoveries.” 

Beach would fall in love with life in Madagascar and followed his two-year stint as a volunteer with four more years in international development projects that took him from the highlands to the coastal Northwest, giving a view of the nation from various perspectives: highland village life, bustling capital, regional city centres and rural fishing communities.  

Ankarana national park in Northwest Madagascar

“I cannot emphasise how much the Malagasy people shaped me as a person. As a culture, they take a really unique approach to life. Patience, respect for elders, reverence for ancestors and indirect communication suddenly uprooted my American directness, change as a constant and a clear division between the living and the dead. The Malagasy people taught me to take a new look at assumptions I didn’t even know I had.”

Beach was so enamoured with Madagascar, its people and places that upon departing in 2006 he brought a bit of the country back to the US with him in the form of a food start-up. Following ten years of work on a specialty food company, Beach decided to move on to another venture that has the vision to of working around the African continent: MIA, short for Made In Africa.

Beach explains: “Africa and its people represent 12% of the world’s population but just 2% of global trade. As a case in point, they produce 70% of the world’s cocoa but make less than 1% of value-added chocolate. There is a huge gap that is created by many global injustices. Paying farmers a fair price is important and going further to manufacture products locally is the way for countries to change the imbalance of trade and help communities help themselves.

Chocolate making team in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Sarah (wife and best friend) and I co-founded MIA with a commitment to make all of our products in Africa because we believe that making delicious food on the continent is the best way to help people help themselves. We started MIA with chocolate made in Madagascar but our vision is to work with talented communities around Africa. With the help of industry partners and the enthusiasm of consumers, MIA is a great way to make the world a better place with products that feel as good as they taste.” 

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Read a Beach’s LinkedIn article that was presented at the 2019 London Chocolate Forum, Creating Unique Impact with a Cause-driven Business:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mia-case-study-creating-unique-impact-cause-driven-business-beach/