A foodcircle Product Journey: Wholesale Organic Shea Butter

Follow our organic shea butter along the supply chain to learn how it finds its way from West Africa’s grasslands into natural soaps across Europe. 

Shea butter is a plant-based oil with a range of applications in the cosmetics and food industries. Producers of personal care products utilise shea butter for its anti-inflammatory, healing, and emollient properties, and nutty fragrance. Meanwhile, in the food industry, shea butter is increasingly finding its way into confectionery foods and chocolates. Over the past decade, scientific studies have revealed that replacing up to 5% of the cocoa content in chocolate with shea butter provides producers with a cost-effective substitute while maintaining chocolate’s sensory qualities and acceptability standards among consumers. To meet the rising demand for chocolate around the world, an increasing number of producers are reaching for shea butter as a fractioned replacement ingredient, which is one of the contributing factors leading to a predicted 10% market growth globally by 2025

Join us as we take you from the heart of West Africa’s grasslands all the way to a Bulgarian soap manufacturer.

 

Cultivation & Harvest

Shea butter is derived from the shea fruit which grows on the Vitellaria paradoxa (shea tree). Shea trees are endemic to the grassy plains that unfold in the arid landscapes of the African savanna. Shea’s rich history and significance to the region is rooted in tradition. Today, locals commonly refer to shea butter as ‘women’s gold’—an homage to the employment and empowerment opportunities which it has brought women throughout the region for centuries. Traditionally, the collection of nuts in Africa was a task reserved for women. Today, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that around 3 million women in West Africa are employed in the sector, for many of whom it provides a principal source of livelihood.

Shea trees can live to be up to 400 years old. Young shea trees typically start bearing fruit once they have reached 15 - 20 years of age. Shea trees’ flowers bloom during the dry season, attracting a flurry of wild pollinators that enable them to bear fruit. The fertilised flowers transform into fruit which, in turn, ripen and fall to the ground during the rainy season. Once a shea tree has matured—which usually occurs once they have reached 40 - 50 years of age—it can produce 15 to 20 kg fruit annually. In total, approximately 1.5 to 2 kg of shea butter can be extracted from this yield

At foodcircle, we source our organic shea butter from Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, the landlocked West African country serves as one of the world’s key exporters of shea nuts and butters. Within Burkina Faso, shea derivatives rank third on the nation’s list of most exported products. Today, over 646,000 trained collectors in Burkina Faso are cultivating and harvesting shea nuts via five fair-trade certified farmer organisations, many of which have committed to Fair Trade practices, such as Ecocert’s Fair for Life standards. Every year in May, June, July and August, these women harvest the ripe shea fruits when they fall from the trees. They do so by collecting the fruits from the ground and carrying them home where they then remove the pulp and nuts from the fruits by hand. The women then boil, sun-dry and shell the nuts in a process that has been passed on for generations. They then deliver their processed kernels to the farmer organisations (sometimes also referred to as ‘collectives’) that they work for. Depending on the supplier, some farmers are guaranteed higher-than-the-market minimum prices and receive extra quality premiums.

 

Processing

In the next step, the farming organisations then transport the kernels to suitable processing plants. State-of-the-art processing plants can have the capacity to produce up to 2,500 tons of shea butter annually. 

At the processing plant, the kernels are pressed before undergoing strict quality controls following HACCP principles. The pressed shea butter is then transported and shipped to Europe. 

 

Refining

At this point, the shea butter is processed further and purified. Thanks to strict health and safety procedures, the absence of cross-contamination is guaranteed throughout. The final product is then palletised by the batch in 25-kg boxes and prepared to be shipped out to customers around the globe.

 

Wholesale to Retail

This is the point at which foodcircle enters the picture. On any given day, a customer in Europe will place an order for +1,000 kg wholesale organic shea butter from our online store. The prices listed on our website are always amongst the most competitive on the market as we foster long-term relationships with our suppliers and update the prices regularly. Once a customer has placed an order, it is registered in our back-end which releases a series of commands that initiate and implement the order management process. From there, our system handles the order and logistics directly with the respective supplier. We then provide our customer with the respective invoice(s) as well as all the necessary product information and certifications via our digital dashboard. Our Sales Team provides customers with personalised assistance based on their individual needs.

One example of a wholesale customer in our portfolio is Soap Factory—a Bulgaria-based brand producing body care, face care, and hair care products. The brand develops its natural formulas using plant-based oils and ingredients. Soap Factory currently sources organic shea butter from foodcircle as a key ingredient in its soap bars and shampoo bars. Having experienced the quality of our organic shea butter first-hand, Soap Factory’s product development team is now also working on incorporating it as an ingredient new products, such as lip balms.

We are excited to be able to help continue to facilitate the establishment of fair and sustainable supply chains in the years to come. If you have any questions about our products or supply chains, please feel free to reach out to our Sales Team (sales@foodcircle.com) any time so we can assist you.

Shop wholesale organic shea butter online at foodcircle.

Imagery  (1 & 5)  foodcircle.com | (2) Helena Lopes, (3) Annie Spratt, (4) Ousa Chea via unsplash.com | (6 & 7) soapfactory.com 

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