August 22, 2018 What I'm Working on at Meet Berlage: Marika, Telling a New Chocolate Story

“There’s a world out there of chocolate; I feel it’s my responsibility to tell people about it.”

Marika is serious about chocolate: so much so that her entire career revolves around it.

How does one develop a career in chocolate? After studying law and human rights in Utrecht, Marika spent two years working with international NGOs in Cameroon and traveling through the country — it was there that her fascination with cocoa began.

“It’s a beautiful country,” she said. “Very fertile, has everything — all the minerals, resources. It’s also a country that grows a lot of cocoa. Everywhere you’d walk, you’d have these beautiful trees... beautiful pods like footballs, and these yellows, reds and greens, all sorts of colors.”

Her venture into the chocolate industry began with consulting for gender-related projects in the area: “The deeper I got into it, the more I got involved in cocoa, and working with farmers that work with cocoa.”

She was inspired to see firsthand how vital women were to cocoa farming. “Women in Africa are really the drivers, the motors of society. They’re working so hard, they have so many responsibilities, and they’re working on the farms a lot — when you think of a farmer, you often think of a man, but most farmers are actually women. 
Although most women work on the farms, they do not have the same voice as men do. For example, it’s more difficult for them to get farmer loans."

Her curiosity grew: “I’m naturally very easily intrigued by things. I’d never seen [cocoa] before, I’d never really thought of it before, but chocolate is something that I love, so why is there this big disconnect between what I know about it and the product that I love so much?”

So, she started to learn how the business and biology of chocolate worked: why farmers sell to certain corporations, why they use pesticides or fertilizers, how to prune a cocoa tree, how it grows, and so on.

“All these questions I was asking the farmers there, helping them sometimes on the farm as well, which they thought was very funny. The more I got involved, the more it grew on me.”

Launching a new career

Five years ago, she decided to continue her newfound passion back in the Netherlands. “When I was thinking where to move, it was clear that it had to be Amsterdam. I knew I wanted to do more in cocoa and chocolate, and I knew Amsterdam, for that, is the perfect place to be.”

Why? Because it’s the world’s biggest port for importing cocoa. It also exports a lot of cocoa beans and processes them. How does it work? A container first arrives in Rotterdam, and then a smaller boat brings the shipment to Amsterdam: “There are six big warehouses here — massive buildings with tons, mountains of cocoa.”

Her current focus? As a consultant, she performs market research on trends in the cocoa industry and creates business assessments. She also works on a government program to get better chocolate to the Dutch market and she loves to perform cocoa quality analyses: "This way, farmers know the worth of their quality cocoa better, and I help them to get to market," she said.
She also writes and presents about the supply chain: “Now, between the farmer and consumer, there’s about 8 different steps, with 8 different companies that need to be paid — for one chocolate bar, only around 2-6% of the retail price is going to the farmer. He or she’s the one who supplies the cocoa and does all the hard work, so that’s something that I want to change."

She also organizes the annual Chocoa Festival — an international, 5-day event bringing together global stakeholders in the industry right here to the Beurs van Berlage. They're expecting 150 exhibitors and around 9,000 visitors in 2019, ranging from the 20-24th February (with consumer events on the 23rd and 24th). The event’s goal? To increase the market share for better cocoa. “Better, to me, means better quality and more sustainable, as in more profit for the farmer and more transparent.”
In her extra time, she gives in-depth chocolate masterclasses and conducts group chocolate tastings to enlighten people about tasting quality chocolate. “I like telling about this whole world behind your chocolate bar — all the steps behind it and why it’s so important to look at where it’s coming from, who’s the maker, and to ask questions.”

“We need to change our perspective on how we see chocolate. We see it as a candy bar, but it’s really a luxury product — it used to be like that; wine and coffee are like that; so why not chocolate? It should be evaluated in a different kind of way.”

While she has a shared office space in the building, she often prefers to sit in the Meet Berlage’s Artists’ Foyer because of the lively and energizing vibe. “It’s a meeting place as well, not just for work, but also for meeting others,” she said. “I think if you’re so caught up in work, you don’t know what the person next to you is doing — and maybe you can actually work together, have an interesting conversation. I’m all about connecting.”

“The building is really growing on me. It’s a jacket. As soon as I get in, I feel at home. And [Berlage] is a brilliant architect. Because I love the building, I also got to know the maker of the building, and that’s really opened up a new world.”

Even more special to her? In the Beurs’ early days as a trading hub, cocoa was one of the biggest commodities traded inside the building. She recently wrote an article about the future of Amsterdam as the biggest port for cocoa, and how it all came about: read it here

Want to join the 2019 Chocoa Festival? The consumer events will be on 23-24rd of February, 2019 at the Beurs van Berlage. Tickets will be available in mid September 2018.