INTERVIEW: Åkesson’s journey to success
As the son of a Swedish diplomat, Bertil Åkesson spent much of his childhood travelling the world. It was through his travels across Africa that he first fell in love with chocolate.
In 2015, Bertil was the winner of the Golden Bean award for his ‘Åkesson’s Madagascar 75%, Bejofo Estate’. We spoke to him to see how his business has developed since then and how he came into the world of Chocolate.
What attracted you to chocolate?
Just like pepper or coffee, this beautiful name, cocoa, is associated for many people with exotic adventures in remote countries. As a child, traveling the world was irresistibly attracting me and this is how these wonderful products first got my attention. My chance was given to me by my father, through whom I discovered early the world of plantations in Africa.
How did this happen?
My father first worked for the Embassy in Paris in 1945. Years later his journey took him further south to Cameroon, where he ran a trading company, until, eventually, he settled in Madagascar in the 1970’s after he had taken over mining companies and sisal plantations.
What was special about Madagascar?
So it is in Madagascar, at our family estates, that my journey through the fascinating world of cocoa, spices and other delicious natural wonders really started. There I learned over the years the secrets and subtleties of managing and developing plantations.
Ultimately, I focused on and specialised in fine cocoa and spices, whilst my consistent aim was to achieve the highest quality in a sustainable way.
How did you start your chocolate journey?
As a grower, supplying most of the top chocolate makers in the world, I was intrigued about how different the bars using my beans could be. So, in 2008, I decided to give my own interpretation of my cacao and started to make my own bars. Then I decided to use chocolate as a link between other product we grow on the Estates, like peppercorns, sugarcane, coffee, etc.
Where does your business operate?
Today, my plantations in Madagascar, in Brazil and Indonesia supply world famous chocolatiers and chefs. In close collaboration with these passionate artists, I experienced the fascinating artwork to conjure cocoa into chocolate or how pepper enhances recipes and, ultimately, I launched a small and exclusive line of chocolate and fine exotic foods.
How has your business changed you first launched?
There are now many chocolate makers, and many beans offered on the market, compared to the distribution possibilities. So growth depends on developing products other than chocolate. This gives us a base but we need to keep looking at other options to keep growing.
You won your award almost five years ago, what did it mean to you?
It does feel like a long time ago. I had just moved to London so winning the award was a great welcome gift!
Where do you see your business going in the future?
Hopefully once this COVID-19 period has passed, we shall continue to produce some of the best cacao and make our chocolate. We are pushing other tropical crops on the Estates and we will certainly develop other chocolates incorporating these new products.