PRODUCER of artisanal chocolate treats, start-up company Chocollor Chocolate Ltd, which is operated by Carl and Donna-Kaye Sharpe in Red Hills, St Andrew, which recently received one of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) Accelerator Programme awards, is now pushing its expansion programme.
The company sells a product which the Sharpes say is different from the “sugary”, preservative-laden, imported brands commonly available. Chocollor is made with Jamaican fine chocolate and has seen sales growing even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Registered in 2020, the principals of the start-up are listed as Carl Sharpe, Donna-Kaye Sharpe and Llori Sharpe.
As graduates of the second cohort of the JBDC Accelerator Programme, Chocollor Chocolate's principals were selected as the B.O.S.S Man & B.O.S.S Lady Awardees for the year 2021. Carl Sharpe said, “The selection criteria included business growth in revenue, customer reach, legacy potential, product innovation, the use of local inputs, local market potential, and export.”
It all began, the Sharpes said, with the love for chocolate and the desire to create a value-added product from Jamaican raw materials. In 2012, after an illness, Sharpe became determined to realise his desire to share with all the delicious chocolate treats created from his own recipes. Chocollor was named after his daughter Llori, a high-performing athlete who is now Jamaica's top female road cyclist.
The couple used cacao beans from farmers in Clarendon and St Mary to produce milk, white, and 60 per cent and 70 per cent dark chocolate bars. “We also purchase beans from the Ministry of Agriculture's Export Division,” Sharpe said.
The couple targeted lovers of Jamaican, fine-flavoured chocolate with a range of products. Carl Sharpe outlines, “This demographic includes individuals who desire a change from the mass-produced sugary and preservative-loaded chocolate. Moreover, our market includes those who love supporting the Jamaican brand and the nation's local artisans.
Chocollor began as a hobby, making chocolate at home and giving the finished products to friends and family. However, from the positive feedback the hobby grew into something much greater.
As with many businesses, several challenges arose, including acquisition of highly specialized equipment and the associated costs.
He added, “Furthermore, getting our products into the trade has its fair share of challenges. To combat this issue we at times offer our products on consignment to get retailers to try them. Of course, this requires a very delicate balance.”
Currently, total investments in Chochollor are in excess of $8 million. Carl Sharpe said, “We haven't recouped the funds invested as additional equipment is being purchased in an effort to expand, scale up production, and ultimately improve our efficiency. We are self-funded and all the proceeds are presently being reinvested in the company. We are in the process of acquiring additional equipment to boost our capacity.”
But, the future is promising. Today, Chocollor is sold to local supermarkets and to the food service and hospitality sectors. Primary products are chocolate bars distributed also to pharmacies, convenience stores, and coffee shops/cafes islandwide.
Carl Sharpe said, “We pride ourselves on producing premium artisan chocolate from Jamaica's finest cocoa beans. Our products do not contain artificial flavours or colours, or preservatives.”
Chocollor Chocolate's current line of products includes a “rich and flavourful 70% Dark Chocolate (best-seller), delectable 60% Dark Chocolate, creamy Milk Chocolate, velvety smooth White Chocolate, bold Sorrel-flavoured White Chocolate, and our most recent addition, our tantalising Choco-Crunch Chocolate Bar (Milk Chocolate with Grape Nut).”
In addition to chocolate bars, the company also offers customisable variety packs (4,6, and 12 pcs) which include smaller, bite-sized chocolates that “we call 'Chocobites', which are perfect for gifts,” the entrepreneurs state.
Aside from chocolate bars and Chocobites, the company also provides individuals/entities within the food service and hospitality sectors with chocolate blocks/slabs for baking and/or confectionary purposes.
The business currently has three part-time employees. Carl Sharpe says the aim is to recruit full-time personnel in the coming year, in line with Chocollor's growth trajectory.
He said, “Regarding our approach to client satisfaction, we not only actively listen to them to ensure we meet their needs and wants, but we welcome and appreciate their feedback to uncover possible solutions to enhance our services. Our clients/customers are extremely important to us and we truly appreciate their support thus far and as such, ensuring that they are satisfied is highly prioritised.”
Chocollor Chocolate was not their first business venture as he said they both had prior experiences in consulting and construction, which contributed to better decision-making in Chocollor's operations.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic the couple's only customers were gift shops in airport departure lounges.
Carl Sharpe said they were forced to diversify distribution with the onset of COVID-19. “Because of the closure of both international airports, this forced us to create new opportunities in the retail space. As such, we sought to and successfully expanded our reach to supermarkets, pharmacies, gas/service stations, the hospitality industry, and direct sales. This drive has resulted in increased revenue and customer engagement.”
What started as a hobby has become a recognised winner. The Sharpes are also considering exports. Currently the company fulfills orders which come through its Instagram page.