As Olympic fever takes over London, Thursday Food will feature foodie dispatches from the European city on which the world's eyes are now trained for the summer games. We made acquaintance with Marvia Borrell, a Rock-born entrepreneur-turned-budding chocolatier and share her story.
A serial entrepreneur and mother of two children, Marvia Borrell hails from the Second City — Montego Bay. Well-travelled, with a background in hotel management and marketing and communication management, Borrell worked in Germany as an A & R manager for a successful music company before making the United Kingdom home.
Making the move across the pond, she established her first company, Business Travel Management and Event Management Agency, in 1994. More than a decade later, seeking out novel business opportunities, Borrell realised that although Jamaica was noted for its Blue Mountain Coffee, Bob Marley, reggae music and Usain Bolt, "unfortunately there was not a chocolate brand to represent and showcase the quality of the Jamaican cocoa beans to the international market." She teamed with Belgian entrepreneur, Claude Lemmens, who had garnered a wealth of experience as a public relations and communications director working for Pirelli tyres, a museum and managing prestigious venues. It also helped that his homeland is known worldwide for its premium chocolate, and his inside knowledge proved immensely beneficial.
"We had this crazy idea of connecting the oversight of a lack of a Jamaican cocoa brand, despite the country being one of the eighth finest cocoa producers in the world," Borrell explained to Thursday Food. "While the demand for the Jamaican cocoa beans is high and used to upgrade the taste of other brands, Claude and I believed it would be a missed opportunity not to create a chocolate brand that is uniquely Jamaican, especially with the country celebrating its 50th anniversary of Independence and the world spotlight on the Jamaican Olympic Team."
The enterprising duo of Borrell and Lemmens created Black River Chocolate, which Borrell said is actually finished in Belgium. The brand's name, she noted, is inspired by nostalgia as her paternal grandfather hailed from the Black River. "Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet him as he died before I was born," she rued.
So, why is a Jamaican-inspired and branded chocolate being made in Belgium? Borrell rationalised: "This is in pursuance of excellence with the help of the people who know chocolate best — the Belgians. A top Belgian chocolatier collaborated with us to design the selection of fine Black River chocolates. The results could not have been better complemented," she continued.
"When Black River was asked to supply the InterContinental Hotel in Geneva, where some of the world's top diplomats were meeting last November, they were amazed by the fantastic quality of the chocolate produced by Jamaican cocoa beans," she said. The hotel's chef Sandro Gamba gave Black River a ringing endorsement and recommended it to his colleagues.
The product is currently only available for purchase online but plans are under way to expand the points of sale. "We are in discussion with a number of well-known luxury shops, food retailers, delicatessens and food manufacturers. Additionally, we have received enquiries from retailers in other countries such as Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. As for the availability of Black River chocolate in London during the Summer Olympics, Worrell is excited. "I'm eager at the prospect of the Jamaican team taking a lot of gold medals home and we are working on a packaging that will reflect it," she informed.
Quizzed whether Black River chocolate bars will be on Jamaican shelves soon, Worrell said, "We are actively looking at different distribution channels, such as airport and duty-free shops, gift shops, luxury hotels, restaurants and gourmet shops."
"In the very near future we will be visiting Jamaica and we would like to engage with the new ministers of agriculture and trade & commerce. This is very important as we see Black River as an authentic Jamaican product and is marketed and produced to reinforce this image."