We were delighted yesterday to host our friends from Chocolat Madagascar – Nicolas Randrianarimalala, export manager of Chocolat Madagscar and Neil Kelsall founder of Raisetrade.
In 2016 Nicolas and Neil hosted us in Madagscar taking us on a wonderful journey from the Cocoa plantation in the North-West Sambirano valley through to the Robert factory in the capital of Antananarivo. Along the journey we visited the lush rainforest and experienced a seven hour road trip. It truly was an experience of a lifetime and friendships were formed that surpass that of business transactions. It would be true to say it changed our view of the World and made us realise how fragile and interconnected our planet is.
You can imagine how excited we were to learn that Nicolas was to visit the UK for the first time in a chocolate role. Nicolas’s last visit was as a young 21 year old on a church exchange program working in the Rhonda valley. The fact that Madagascar exports chocolate at all is something of a miracle, largely down to the determination of Nicolas, Neil and the family owned business. For example – it took six months for Nicolas to obtain a visa to visit the UK on business purposes including multiple references and an application via South Africa. And we thought our entry into Madagscar was difficult!
First off was a visit to the Lick the Spoon head quarters in Corsham. Lots of hugs and kisses followed and along with myself (Matthew) and Diana, Neil and Nicolas were reunited with our lovely chocolatier Tina – part of our Madagascan adventure, and introduced to Pauline who is now a much loved member of our chocolate family.
We talked through how we use the wonder Madagascan chocolate and showed some of our Christmas chocolate oranges in progress with a tour of our premises and a catch up on business.
We then hopped in the car for a short trip to nearby Allington Farm Shop. Allington was our first stockist back in 2006 when starting our business from home in Chippenham. We introduced our Malagasy friends to farm shop Manager Mitch, and founder Jenny Reynolds who opened the farm shop twenty five years ago.
It was a lovely moment as were able to complete the 9000km journey from ‘tree to checkout’ and a chance for Nicholas to experience an independent farm shop. Without independent farm shops like Allington taking chances on new producers few small food businesses would be able to get started.
With tourist hats firmly on we took Neil and Nicolas to nearby historic Bath. We had lunch at the Circus followed by a walk from Royal Crescent to Bath Abbey and the site of Bath Christmas market – another important retail outlet where we talk to thousands of visitors about the wonderful Malagasy chocolate and Raisetrade model each year. The Roman Baths were a must and the character actors in period costume were truly wonderful. Nicholas became ever more bemused as the Gauls tried to decipher what this ‘Chalk-let’ that Nicolas traded in was and whether it was some kind of new building material!
In the evening we hosted Neil and Nicholas with friends in Chippenham at our home-built Pizza oven named ‘mora – mora’ after the Malagasy phrase encouraging you to slow down and take life easy. Nicolas proved a dab hand at teaching the children how to make fire.
During our visit to Madagascar we had been welcomed by a traditional Malagasy song and dance from the children at the Avokany Avoko Faravohitra home we sponsor. Our own children repaid the hospitality by playing a four-hundred year old English folk tune to Nicolas which was recorded to play back to the Malagasy children.
At the end of the evening Diana produced a Chocolate nemesis dessert she had made with Chocolat Madagascar’s wonderful chocolate.
It was a magical day renewing international friendships.