Pure Chocolate Company Cops Three Awards @ 13th Staging of Chocolate Awards
Foodie News...Foodie News...Foodie News...Foodie News...Thursday, October 14, 2021
Pure Chocolate Company, a Jamaican manufacturer of tree-to-bar chocolate, owned and managed by 42-year-old Wouter Tjeertes from Holland and his wife 34-year-old Rennae Johnson from Jamaica, won three awards at the 13th Academy of Chocolate Awards held recently in London, England.
The Trelawny-based company earned a gold award in the tree-to-bar flavoured category for its 70% Pure Dark Chocolate with Jerk Seasoning, the only bar to pick up a gold in this section, and a bronze award in the same category for its 70% Pure Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon. In the tree-to-bar seasoned category, the Jamaican chocolate makers won bronze for their 68% Pure Dark Chocolate with Slow Roasted Cocoa Nibs.
“The 70% dark chocolate with jerk seasoning was almost excluded from entering the competition by us,” Tjeertes revealed. “Our local market had not yet embraced this out-of-the-box combination and we were not sure if it would perform well overseas. Needless to say, we are happy that we chose to include it in the submissions at the last moment!” said Tjeertes.
“It took me about eight recipe development rounds to find the right balance between the bitter of the chocolate and the salty spiciness of the jerk seasoning,” he explained. “First off, it was way too hot, then too light, but eventually we created a bar that illustrates the flavours of the herbs and spices in jerk seasoning combined with a hint of smoked sea salt and our premium quality cocoa.”
Elaborating on the other prize-winning bars Tjeertes said, “The bar with the slow roasted cocoa nibs is a bar that you can simply snack on, have with some wine or add to your charcuterie board.”
“The 70% dark chocolate with cinnamon is created with the warm flavour of locally sourced cinnamon carefully balanced with rich notes of dark chocolate,” he added.
The prestigious Academy of Chocolate is respected internationally for its mission to educate people about fine chocolate and what constitutes 'proper' chocolate based on the variety of cocoa beans, geographical locations where they are grown, recipes of the chocolates, amount of cocoa solids in the bars, and the methods used in the manufacturing process related to fermentation and drying.
The Academy of Chocolate Awards has grown in status since its inception, and in 2019 it registered 1,600 submissions by participants from over 45 countries. Judges comprise chocolatiers, food writers, producers, bloggers, journalists and experts representing different areas of the chocolate industry.
The couple is grateful to have gained recognition at such an important industry event and Johnson explained that the three awards came in the most difficult period of their business brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic when they never expected to receive such a positive reward for their efforts.
“With the onset of COVID in 2020 we had to scale down our operation,” Johnson disclosed. “We reduced our regular staff from six people to three people who were basically on call because at the beginning of the health crisis people weren't spending much.”
The enterprising husband and wife team responded to the economic challenges by redoubling their marketing efforts.
“We knew it would be hard to generate sales so we switched our focus to greater brand recognition,” Johnson revealed. “We immediately set about upgrading our website and online storefront.”
They increased the company's presence on social media platforms, particularly Instagram, so that the brand would not be forgotten during this period, in the hope that when customers were ready to spend again the company would not have to start its marketing from scratch.
It was also a time for legwork and the enterprising duo went door-to-door making sales calls at various stores and outlets while juggling parental responsibilities to two children who were doing online classes at home.
“Fontana, CPJ, Butcher Block and other businesses embraced us,” Tjeertes said. “And for that we will always be very grateful.”
There was a sense of urgency to the promotional activities at the time because Pure Chocolate Company had just expanded its product line before the pandemic to include flavoured bars such as cinnamon, coconut, coffee and lemongrass.
As far as the entrepreneurs were concerned there could be no turning back and these new bars would have to survive despite the unfortunate timing of their arrival. It was a decision that was validated with the new cinnamon-flavoured bar winning bronze at the awards.
Tjeertes and Johnson also turned the decline in business at the start of the global health crisis into an opportunity for personal development, participating in several online courses on marketing, intellectual property protection, and export in order to prepare for their next business moves.
Johnson entered the Scotiabank Vision Achiever programme in 2021 and finished as a top performer.
“This is a programme designed to turbo-charge an entrepeneur's knowledge of business management through 14 weeks of training sessions led by Action Coach,” she explained. “Action Coach is an international business coaching firm.”
As the economy began adjusting to the ongoing global crisis in late 2020 and early 2021, business started picking up for Pure Chocolate Company.
“We started receiving orders again once the hotels began opening back up,” Tjeertes said. “We were able to resume meaningful production to the point where at present we have produced 10,000 bars since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.”
The business partners have an optimistic outlook regarding the future. They have seen a renaissance in health-conscious consumers, particularly younger people, as a result of the pandemic and they believe this bodes well for the sales of healthy dark chocolate.
The recognition generated by the recent honours from the Academy of Chocolate is also spurring their export plans into action.
“We are readying ourselves to market the products overseas and we are changing our packaging to make sure we are export-compliant,” Tjeertes informed. “We are [also] building out a factory in order to increase production.”
“We received three awards this year,” the chocolatier added with enthusiasm. “Imagine what we could do if we had a factory!”
— Alexis Monteith