West African cocoa firm targets state for expansion
Edmund Poku was leading a demanding life as a Wall Street investment banker in 2007, working brutal hours, when one of his college mentors suggested he step back and take a bold new direction.
“After submitting my thesis while studying for my MBA, one supervisor found my research work good enough to start a cocoa processing company and insisted I moved back home and get to work,” Poku, a native of Ghana, said in a 2019 interview.
Poku listened; the result was Niche Cocoa, started in 2011 in Temu, Ghana.
At the time, Ghana was processing only 15% of its cocoa bean production and exporting the rest, so Poku saw opportunity. Today, Niche has grown to become the largest fully integrated cocoa processor in Ghana, manufacturing cocoa products and chocolates.
As the firm’s success grew, it began scouting for a site for its first American plant. Establishing a U.S. facility made sense for Niche because of its market size and potential, both to develop semi-finished products and to sell more products up the value chain, such as chocolates.
In 2022, Niche chose a site in Franklin, a Milwaukee suburb, and leased a 44,000-square-foot production facility in the Franklin Business Park.
A historic investment
Niche’s decision represented the largest food and beverage investment by an African-based company in U.S. history and the largest Ghanian foreign direct investment ever in Wisconsin.
“Taking into account proximity to customers, logistics, high-quality human capital, and a business-friendly environment, Wisconsin was a great choice,” Poku said.
The plant will eventually employ more than two dozen people, with hopes of further growth beyond that.
The facility will pulverize cocoa cake to make cocoa powder to be distributed nationally. It will also manufacture finished chocolate with cocoa butter and cocoa liquid imported from the West African nation.
WEDC was there to aid in bringing Niche to Wisconsin, aligning the company’s needs with the state’s strengths.
“We know how to build factories, so we could do that anywhere,” Poku said. “But the partnership between what we know how to do and what Wisconsin can offer Niche to succeed in our next chapter is what brought us to the state.”
Tapping Wisconsin’s potential
Niche’s choice of Wisconsin also revolved around the strength of the state’s food and beverage industry, which traditionally has been one of the state’s major economic drivers.
Poku said the state’s leadership in the dairy industry was another factor in Niche’s siting decision.
“With cocoa powder, as well as chocolates, the dairy industry is very important,” he said.
Niche is partnering with the Omanhene Cocoa Bean Co., a Milwaukee-based firm that pioneered production of world-class, single-origin bean-to-bar chocolate manufactured in Ghana.
“Together, Omanhene and Niche demonstrate the promise of a new globalism, where international trade creates jobs and value instead of exploiting vulnerabilities,” said Steve Wallace, Omanhene’s founder.