Wellington Chocolate Factory founder Gabe Davidson talks dried up factory tours due to Covid-19 and ethical business practices.
What does your business do?
Wellington Chocolate Factory started in 2013, and we create what we believe to be New Zealand's finest small batch organic chocolate. We're all about letting the cocoa beans be the star of the show, only adding ingredients which enhances the flavour of those beans. We are based in the centre of town in a Melbourne-style laneway called Eva Street, in an old shoe factory that we turned into chocolate factory.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I really wanted to introduce New Zealanders to a new revolution in chocolate and take them on flavour adventures where they can - like coffee and wine - get to know that cocoa is no different and that depending on the variety, it can all in part have different flavours. I also wanted to do business in the right way where all of the stakeholders are treated fairly in the process - from the cocoa farmers and their families to the environment and our staff.
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What's your background, have you had other businesses in the past?
I've had a few businesses in the past. I started off as a barista in Wellington and then moved to Melbourne where I started little hole-in-the-wall espresso bars and that turned into a few coffee shops and a coffee roastery which imported organic coffee beans and we delivered on bicycle. I've always had an interest in ethical business so that's where I started. I also have a drinking chocolate business in Melbourne which is still going today after 15 years. Back in the day when we were the graffiti-laneway rascals of the coffee scene in Melbourne there wasn't any good drinking chocolate on the market so that's where my interest in chocolate started.
How has Covid-19 affected Wellington Chocolate Factory?
Although we had to close our front of house to tours and the cafe size of things, we could still produce chocolate in our factory, and a lot of our local customers bought online so that sort of evened out lost revenue. It has been challenging and it has meant a significant drop overall, but thanks to the wage subsidy we were able to trade through the crisis.
What's the future looking like for the factory tours?
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A lot of our tours we run in collaboration with tour companies that rely on cruise ships so we would get about 20 people in at a cost of about $15 each, but given there aren't any cruise ships at the moment, that style of tour hasn't been happening. However, we do private tours and Saturday tours, which depending on how many people the prices vary.
What are the long term plans for the business?
We want to become a national and international brand introducing New Zealanders and the world to our type of chocolate, and in doing so have a significant and positive impact on cocoa farmers through to creating a healthier alternative to mainstream brands.
We may look at an external facility once we run out of capacity at Eva Street, we have had talks about satellite stores but really I think we can continue to be centralised in Wellington. We have a couple of overseas distributors, very small, but we're not looking to grow that until we have a solid base in New Zealand.
What are your plans for growth in the next 12 months?
Chocolate, in the world, there's a lot of exploitation, a lot of child slave labour, so we're really keen to support and grow the industry in an ethical way. Our focus in the next year is to bring on some more product lines, we need to tidy up our home base in store in Wellington - it's been six or seven years, so we'd like to do a refresh there, and then look at expanding out to more retailers throughout the country.
What advice do you give other people who want to start their own business?
Look for a niche, and spend a good amount of time on your branding and logo. Strive to be the best at what you do and charge appropriately, rather than playing the game of being the cheapest in the market. As a founder, think carefully about your own strengths and weaknesses - it is unlikely that were a good at everything; don't beat yourself up about your shortfalls, and look for people who can support you with complimentary skill sets.