The accidental chocolate-makers made good
The accidental chocolate-makers made good
From Bwlch y Ffridd to Britain’s biggest retailers, how chocolate start-up Coco Pzazz became one of Wales’ boldest, brightest and most responsible brands.
In 2013, Coco Pzazz founder Lori Whinn didn’t know much about making chocolate. She did, however, have a big appetite for turning an innovative idea into a burgeoning business.
Having left the corporate world to rescue horses in Wales, Lori soon found herself mentoring growing Welsh businesses. And it wasn’t long before she was itching to run her own.
But why chocolate? Quite simply, Lori saw an alternative to the homogenous mainstream brands on supermarket shelves. She wanted to sell honest, indulgent and genuinely inventive chocolate that people could feel good about eating – on all levels. Chocolate with a social conscience. Chocolate with pizazz.
Now Coco Pzazz’s intensely flavoured bars and buttons are on sale across Wales, from farm shops and delis to the Co-op and the National Trust. The company has also landed contracts with top-end department stores in the UK plus artisanal food distributors in Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and Canada.
INTREPID CHOCOLATEERS: With its winning blend of ingenuity, ethics and business savvy (and with a little support from Robert Owen), Caersws-based Coco Pzazz has grown into unique and prosperous company with a purposeful vision.
So, how did they do it? Hard work, creativity and “a few lucky breaks”, offers Lori.
But perhaps above all, the ability to turn big challenges into even bigger opportunities.
An untimely dilemma
By their own admission, the Coco Pzazz team are “accidental chocolate makers”. While they had all the ingredients needed to get a start-up business off the ground, they’d entrusted the actual chocolate making to a small local producer. But on winning their first significant order – from none other than John Lewis – they faced an untimely dilemma. Their production partner just wasn’t able to keep up.
“We very quickly learnt how to make chocolate,” recalls Lori. “Our toughest challenge was capacity. When we started selling to Co-op Wales, we were still using a bowl and spoon and working around the clock in a tiny chocolate factory at my home in Bwlch y Ffridd, near Newtown, to get the orders out.”
Fortunately, with a well-timed £15,000 business loan from Robert Owen Community Banking, Lori was able to invest in more of the specialist equipment they needed to markedly improve capacity and efficiency. Then a further loan of £20,000 helped to fund the company’s ability to create distinct, customised packaging – an important element when competing in a crowded market.
I liked that Robert Owen is about local money supporting local businesses, with the loan interest going back into further projects.
With adequate scale, Coco Pzazz was in a position to fulfil the steadily growing orders.
“The support came at the right time and got the wheels turning. When you’re a small business and starting out, it gives you confidence to know that someone’s taking you seriously,” says Lori.
It was also important to Lori to partner with an investor whose ethos reflected her own. “I liked that Robert Owen is about local money supporting local businesses, with the loan interest going back into further projects.”
While food businesses are known to struggle with profitability, Lori and her team have made prudent choices. They’ve saved money by automating certain parts of their operation. And with more capacity, they’ve been able to make chocolate for other brands and buy ingredients more competitively – while still fairly.
Good ingredients are indeed vital to Coco Pzazz’s eclectic range. The company sources sustainably produced cocoa from a few different countries for variety. A lot of it comes from West Africa and is grown under the Cocoa Horizons programme, an organisation supporting local growers and empowering women and young people in their communities.
The flavour extracts that give the chocolate its added ‘pzazz’, meanwhile, are from a women’s enterprise in India. Here vulnerable women gain a support network and a roof over their heads – as well as a job and new skills.
“We could buy cheaper products, but you do get what you pay for,” says Lori. “And if we knew we were buying ingredients that exploited growers or the environment, it would just leave a bad taste in our mouths.”
It’s an approach, as part of a sound business model, that’s paid off. Over the past few years, Lori has increased her average order value and tripled her turnover.
Doing what’s right
It’s not just about good business; it’s also about doing what’s right. With its Tread Lightly programme, Coco Pzazz goes more than a step further toward putting people and the environment at the heart of the business.
It’s committed to carbon-neutral deliveries, uses 100% renewable energy and has a zero-to-landfill policy. Packaging is, of course, a challenge. But compostable plant-based film and FSC certified cardboard are providing a more eco-friendly alternative to plastics.
CHOCOLATE THAT GIVES BACK: Communities in Wales and in cocoa-growing countries in Africa benefit from Coco Pzazz’s ethical chocolate-making enterprise.
There’s more. Coco Pzazz also makes monthly donations to Size of Wales, a uniquely Welsh charity that aims to sustain an area of tropical forest twice the size of the country. In addition, the company supports Village by Village, a charity working with communities in Ghana (one of the key cocoa growers), through sales of special bars.
Taking a lead from Robert Owen, Coco Pzazz has even begun offering micro-loans directly to chocolate growers in South America and West Africa. The money goes on projects such as introducing organic fertilisers and helping farmers to improve their cocoa-tree yield through replanting.
We feel very strongly that if you can give something back, then you should.
Lori has been keen to make an impact closer to home too. From running chocolate-making classes for the Young Farmers’ Club to giving talks on responsible chocolate-buying for school-children, she has been tireless in her efforts to invest in her community just as it has invested in her through Robert Owen.
“We feel very strongly that if you can give something back, then you should,” says Lori.
So what’s next for Coco Pzazz? Standing still certainly isn’t an option, with new flavours and fresh ideas for doing good clearly in regular supply.
Lori says she’d like to see her turnover hit the million mark. But that’s not all.
“My dream is to open a chocolate shop, cafe and chocolate-making school under one roof,” she adds.
Judging by Lori’s success so far, it’s a dream that doesn’t seem too far out of reach.