How America’s Dairyland attracted a Ghana company’s $30 million investment

It’s common for Wisconsin officials to talk about transcending the cheese and brat stereotype when announcing new companies moving to the state, but being America’s Dairyland was one of the reasons a cocoa company from Ghana chose to invest $30 million here.

All of the milk producers in the state create an opportunity for future growth for Niche Cocoa Industry Ltd., founder Edmund Poku said Tuesday while announcing the company’s new plant in Franklin. That $30 million investment will enable production of chocolate and cocoa powder from cocoa shipped from Niche’s operations in Ghana. That could mean a production line for chocolate milk, he said.

“If we are going to add milk and cocoa powder and produce instant chocolate drinks, we can serve a lot of people, especially school children,” Poku said. “Once you produce the powder, there are a lot of milk factories already. It’s just a matter of getting a company like Krones, which are here, to do a filling line.”

Niche Cocoa Industry founder Edmund Poku at Tuesday's announcement of the company's plan to open a first U.S. production plant in Franklin.

Krones Inc., with a facility in Franklin, makes bottling and other production equipment for milk.

Niche Cocoa is already moving equipment into its first U.S. production plant located in Franklin’s Business Park. That plant is to start operations in early 2023, and would have about 24 to 36 employees in its first year.

Chocolate milk is one of the future products that could be made there.

Niche’s business in the U.S. has evolved from bringing raw cocoa beans to the U.S. from Ghana to be processed by other multi-national companies. It then started processing the cocoa beans in Ghana into “cakes” that can be broken down into cocoa powder, and cocoa butter and cocoa liquor.

One of its local partners, and another big reason Niche came to Wisconsin, was a relationship supplying powder to Steven Wallace for his Milwaukee-based The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co. business.

“Now we are moving the value chain to the United States and adding value creation here,” Poku said.

The plant in Franklin would receive about 1,200 shipping containers a year of cocoa “cakes” from Niche’s operations in Ghana. Manufacturing lines now being installed in Franklin would break those down and further refine the cocoa into powders and other products that can be sold to other food and beverage companies.

An interior view of Niche Cocoa's facility at the Franklin Business Park, which shows some equipment already installed

Poku said he eventually would like to create a Niche brand of chocolate products, cocoa powder or drinks to sell in the U.S.

“All that you need is one good, big company that says we want to do a private label with you,” Poku said. “That can be a big game-changer.”

Part of the branding for that would be Niche’s careful tracking of the farms in Ghana where it buys its cocoa beans.

“We have mapped all of the areas in Ghana where we don’t have child labor, where they don’t have deforestation, so those are the good areas where we buy our cocoa beans,” Poku said. “We really want to make sure we are producing ethical products.”

Sean Ryan, Milwaukee Business Journal

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