In Conversation with Coco Chocolatier
Coco Chocolatier marry the finest ingredients with individual and artistic packaging. Its an amazing combination of elements. Your salt is harvested on Isle of Skye, whilst the cacao is imported from its origin in Colombia, to be made into chocolate in Edinburgh and wrapped in packaging by designers from all over the UK.
How did you come up with your business plan? What came first the chocolate or the design?
When I took over the business I thought it had a lot of potential, and I was interested in its creative flair. I wanted to enhance that and to come up with something that would make the product stand out even more.
The decision to ethically source and collaborate with artists happened roughly at the same time. As a chocolate brand, I wanted us to make sure we were doing everything we could to be proud of the product, and that meant researching the best way to source chocolate in a way that was both ethical and sustainable. Featuring artwork on the wrappers came from my interest in art and design - which has always been there, even though I have no formal artistic training. I love the idea that people can find out about an artist because they read their name on our chocolates. I think the artwork makes our chocolate look unique, and the products create a platform for artists who are often known in very niche circles. It's a win-win.
How do you decide which designers to work with?
We work with designers we like. We don't really care how popular they are, where they're from, or what their artistic background is. It's that initial reaction to the work that matters. If we think their art will suit our products, we just go for it. Sometimes we come across a new designer on Instagram or read about a new artist in the news, and if we think they are a good fit for COCO we approach them and ask if they'd like to collaborate. Other times artists approach us directly, asking us to work together. It's very flattering to be contacted by artists because at the beginning it was always us having to 'make the first move' - and because we weren't very well known at the time, we always expected artists to say 'no'. Things have changed quite a lot since then and that's exactly what we had hoped for.
How do you choose your raw materials?
When it comes to sourcing materials for our packaging we try to source locally and support other independent businesses as much as possible.
The same goes for our ingredients - except for the chocolate that comes from Colombia. An example is the Isle of Skye Sea Salt, which is made in an eco-friendly salt site on the Isle of Skye. It's great to know that ingredients are of the highest quality, but also that they are being produced in a way that is both ethical and environmentally friendly. This is not always 100% possible of course, but we do our best to stick to our core values in everything we do.
You are very careful about the welfare of the cacao farmers, you adhere to no child and no forced labour policies and you choose to have cacao processed in Columbia at additional cost, to improve local wealth. How do you police the quality and ensure you source responsibly and sustainably when working with a developing country
It took us a while to decide how to source our chocolate and through months of research and meetings we found a solution that we are very happy with. We work closely with our Colombian partners to ensure the chocolate is of the highest quality, and that it's being produced ethically. Our partners are very open and helpful, and we have developed a relationship of trust over the years. We also go out to Colombia every time we can, to visit the plantations and catch up with everyone. Sadly we weren't able to travel to South America this year, but we are looking forward to being able to fly out there again in the near future!
Your product range has grown since we started working with you in 2018. twentytwentyone now offers a wide range of chocolates and have started selling your ceramic mugs to accompany the drinking chocolate. Was this always an intention, and what are future plans?
We love experimenting with new products. Our product development Manager Debbie is extremely creative, and we are looking into more lifestyle products. I think it's great to come up with new ideas and develop new products, it keeps the work interesting and allows our customers to pick from a wider range.
How has this year been for you?
Considering the current Covid-19 situation, which has put a strain on all independent businesses, I feel like we've been quite lucky. We have a very loyal customer base, and this year we still managed to carry on a number of projects and collaborations that we are really proud of. We have worked with a number of great artists and collaborated with other Scottish brands, like Talisker Whisky. All things considered, 2020 has been a good year for us and we are excited to see what 2021 brings.
What are your hopes for next year?
The first hope, which I am sure many of us share, is that the global landscape will start to heal from this year's setbacks.
We are also moving to a new site. This is a large project and we are excited to share more details soon!
Thank you Calum for taking the time to talk with us.