How did you get into the chocolate business?
I was made redundant at the end of 2008. It amazed me how quickly doors closed and phone calls went unreturned from people I had previously wined and dined in my national sales manager role. After much reflection and healing, I decided I would launch my own business. Chocolate was a product I loved, and I started looking at ways to make a business out of something I could be truly passionate about.
We started with a single retail store - The Sweetest Little Chocolate Shop - selling various New Zealand-made brands of chocolate. It soon became apparent to me that there was a major niche in the fine chocolate industry, as I believed many of the products we were selling were well behind international trends. The decision was made to launch our own manufacturing brand, Kako Chocolate, and we built a commercial kitchen, fully customised toward chocolate production. I also went overseas for training with master chocolatiers.
The school is about sharing my passion, and helping train the next generation of chocolatiers. It is also about educating the market, so we can wean people away from the sickly sweet 'confectionery' chocolate they grew up with. It is all about eating a better quality chocolate - eat better, eat less.
What do you love about what you do?
I think the best thing about being a chocolatier is I now have a creative outlet. After learning the techniques and disciplines of the art, I found all this creativity started bubbling out. And as that creativity started flowing, something changed inside me. I think the best way to describe it is simply that I rediscovered who I really was.
Easter is just around the corner. How do you manage those kinds of peak times as a small business?
Easter is one of our busiest periods, as we add a number of extra lines to our already busy production schedule. Our factory is full of Easter eggs and bunnies right now! We have four major peaks in our business: Valentine's Day, Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day. Over the past year, our team has doubled in size, and we cope with the extra demand through careful planning, and bringing on part time help over these periods to assist with packing and shipping. We also get to work a few extra hours.
What have been the challenges of getting your small business established in this space?
Kako Chocolate has now turned two. The biggest challenge in our business has always been cashflow; one of the hardest lessons to learn was the difference between cashflow and profit. We are doubling our sales year on year, so we also experience growing pains - having to bring on new staff, scaling up our production, establishing better logistics, and so on.
What's your vision for the future of the business?
Our vision is to eventually export into the Asian market, and establish Kako Chocolate as a premium brand alongside some of the other top brands in the world. Scaling up to be export ready is quite a big challenge for us but, like the journey so far, it should be a fun ride.
My vision for the industry is for New Zealand to become recognised as producing the best artisan chocolate in the world. Right now, Belgium is famous for chocolate, but like New Zealand, they don't grow cocoa trees either. New Zealand has some significant advantages, due to an abundance of top quality, natural ingredients that we are able to use to enhance our products.
Through our chocolate school, we are able to share our passion, and help teach the next generation of chocolatiers the latest trends in chocolate. This in turn will lead to more producers, and if we work together, we can position New Zealand as a world class supplier of fine chocolate. This will be a challenge, as in typical Kiwi fashion, I feel many in our industry are threatened by the concept of collaboration, and don't necessarily see the opportunity to grow our market by working together. There is no industry body for fine chocolate here in New Zealand - something I hope to change one day. The more awareness we can bring to our industry, the better it will be for all.
Coming up in Small Business: I'll be taking a look at small manufacturing companies. What does it take to be successful as a little guy in this sector? If you've got a story to tell, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.