CLONAKILTY Chocolate is probably the only company in Ireland producing bean-to-bar eggs and bunnies this Easter. It is also almost certainly the only one making bean-to-bar Fairtrade chocolate with goat’s milk.
The company was founded by Canadian woman Allison Roberts, who saw in the beginnings of economic recovery in Ireland an opportunity to bring bean-to-bar, the latest trend in chocolate-making, to Clonakilty. The process involves grinding the cocoa beans to produce the chocolate, rather than importing it.
At the end of last year, she converted half of her house into a food grade production unit and just this month has launched a new range of bean-to-bar chocolate bars which she sells online and to 18 shops.
“I am targeting sales to 40 shops by July and 60 by the end of the year,” she says; adding that her long-term goal is to open a chocolate factory in the centre of Clonakilty.
Ms Roberts settled in Clonakilty with her English husband after they fell in love with West Cork on their honeymoon. Having previously made chocolates part-time, while also working in web design, she decided to set up a chocolate business.
Starting in 2008, when the recession was biting deeply, she adapted a room in her house for chocolate-making and began selling at farmers’ markets and, subsequently, to shops around West Cork.
In 2009, Ms Roberts, who is passionate about both chocolate and sustainability, began to use Fairtrade chocolate. In 2014, she researched bean-to-bar production methods, noting that bean-to-bar had become popular in the US and that the cost of grinding cocoa beans on a small scale had come down. She saw it as a means to improve her chocolate and grow her business.
“Grinding my own cocoa gives me freedom to experiment. It means I can make milk chocolate with goat’s milk and sweeten it with coconut sugar,” she says.
Researching chocolate sales in Ireland, she decided that all she needed to do was get a “very tiny share” of the €680m market, to make her business work.
Putting together a business plan, she approached Bord Bia and her local enterprise board for assistance. Ms Roberts also used a crowdfunding campaign to raise €15,000. “We got this funding through pre-orders and by the summer had 225 orders involving 5,000 chocolate bars.”
Spending in the region of €40,000 in total, which included some grant aid from the enterprise board, she set up a 20m² facility at her house and purchased equipment from the US and India.
“Now we can make 30kg of chocolate at a time, which is used for 600 chocolate bars,’’ she says. Employing three part-time staff, the company has launched six flavours, including chili, salty, and one made with goat’s milk, which is the biggest seller.
The chocolate bars sell for €3.50 each and the company also generates revenue through chocolate workshops, which started on Mother’s Day and include one for children at Easter.
Since last year the company has been selling to shops in Dublin and Cork and Ms Roberts is making plans to win new customers. Attending a trade fair in Dublin last year, she got some leads and has a waiting list of eight shops.
Selling to local shops and small, independent grocers, Clonakilty Chocolate is now planning to target off- licences.
A background in web design has helped her in developing the business and Ms Roberts has made good use of social networks to promote her chocolate.
Now that she has part-time staff and a distributor, she plans to devote more time to sales.
Her next step will be to take samples to retailers around the country.
But not until after Easter, the company’s second-busiest time of the year after Christmas.
Ms Roberts and her staff are working on orders received during the crowd-funding campaign, and are also busy making eggs and bunnies.
The trend for bean-to-bar chocolate has been extended to Fairtrade novelties this Easter, writes Trish Dromey
Grinding my own cocoa gives me the freedom to experiment
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