How Islands has raised the bar on chocolate quality...
In 2020 we went in search of a speciality chocolate brand that would perfectly complement our Blak Nektar webshop offering. It didn't take long to select and list Islands Chocolate - a sustainable brand that grows its own cocoa and brings it to market in an irresistibly creative way.
We asked Managing Director, Wilf Marriot, how Islands Chocolate came about, and the reasons for its success.
1. On Building a Brand...
How did the brand first begin and who was behind the beginning of Islands Chocolate?
It first began after having worked for the St Vincent cocoa company for a while selling the cocoa beans to other chocolatiers. I saw that there was a gap in the market - for a chocolate company that actually grows its own cacao and is entirely sustainable and markets its chocolate in a fun, contemporary way.
What first inspired you to launch the brand?
Love for the Island of St Vincent and wanting to get recognition overseas for all of the hard work we are all doing to create a fully sustainable cocoa company whilst also producing some of the best chocolate on the market.
What was the first product you launched and how did you go about selling it?
The first product we produced was our 72% chocolate bar. It won a 3* Great Taste Award. We went about selling it by walking into cafes, Shops, Delis and pitching it to the managers which is harder than it sounds!
Who is the target market for your chocolate?
Conscious consumers and those who appreciate good quality chocolate, with irresistibly intense and rich fruity flavours.
How did you grow your brand and social media following?
We supply our chocolate to many Michelin star chefs and restaurants which has helped hugely in growing our brand. We are also sure to regularly update and engage with our customers and potential customers across all social platforms, in a number of ways. Getting as many people as possible to try and sample our current and new products is key. We love to see people cooking with our chocolate, and sharing it with their friends, family and followers.
How did you establish yourself as a reputable brand in the industry?
From the get-go, we reached out to top chefs to try our chocolate, and straight away they were blown away by the flavour our chocolate had. It worked well with a huge array of recipes, bringing them to life with an extra bang. What would be the standard chocolate mousse, could be transformed into a delicious dessert with fruity flavours straight from the paradisal Islands of the Caribbean.
How many people are now behind the workings of Islands Chocolate?
4 in the UK, and over 150 in St Vincent working for the cocoa company.
2. On Raising the Bar...
How have you managed to create a chocolate with such a notably superior taste?
Much like wine, the quality and taste of chocolate are affected by five main factors:
- Terroir & Climate. Near the equator with a tropical climate, St Vincent’s deep valleys have rich fertile volcanic soil, perfect for growing cocoa.
- Cocoa Variety. We are fortunate to have stands of traditional cocoa going way back, encompassing all ten genetic groupings. With our in-house agronomist we have identified and grafted these to produce one of the world’s most exclusive and diverse gene banks.
- Bean Processing. Unlike industrial chocolate makers, we are able to pick, de-pod, ferment, dry and sort beans ourselves, therefore ensuring our beans are the best they can be and free from mould and other defects.
- Chocolate-making process. Being able to roast and conch for shorter periods in small batches means we preserve far more of the true taste of cacao and the natural polyphenols (antioxidants) that are inherent in the fruit.
- Additives and masking. We use no artificial additives in our chocolate. Neither do we need to homogenise it to mask inherent favour defects – on the contrary, we are striving to bring out the favours naturally found in our cocoa. Unlike others, we are in a unique position of controlling our entire production and supply chain.
What does quality mean to you?
Going that extra mile. Leaving no stone unturned and never to just say, “oh I’m sure it’ll be fine”. That’s not good enough. Quality to Islands means obsession. Obsession with flavour, sustainability and the welfare of our team both here in London and in St Vincent.
What does the manufacturing process of Islands Chocolate look like?
Let’s just say it’s seriously complicated with 10+ processes that are extremely vital to the flavour of the chocolate - if one of them is not up to scratch, then the whole supply chain suffers. A process that has taken almost 10 years to get to this point and still we have SO much to learn.
How do you ensure the brand is ethical, sustainable and traceable?
By being the farmers, we are at the source. We know every process inside out, we know each farmer, we directly pay each worker, we have planted over ½ million trees, we support local schools. We go far and beyond what is expected of us.
Reflecting on Success..
What was your proudest moment with the company?
Walking down the street and seeing a randomer eating our 75% Midnight Mover chocolate bar, so proud.
If you could give anyone looking to start their own business a piece of advice, what would it be?
Enjoy the journey, there are going to be times when shit hits the fan and it’s all going wrong. But as long as you take it on the chin and realise that’s part of running a company, your positivity will run into everything you do and as a result, you’ll be unstoppable.
Why do you make chocolate?
We make chocolate because it is the most widely loved food ingredient out there. You don’t hear of many people that dislike chocolate. It brings joy to people’s lives and I want to be a part of that. I want to create chocolate that has flavour which is off the scale, that is used and loved by top class chefs in restaurants and hotels, as well as our customers, globally. What do you love most about your chocolate?
It’s beautifully balanced, smooth and each product has an interesting flavour profile. The fact it is seed-to-bar and entirely traceable takes all the guilt of eating it away, well most of the guilt anyway – if I don’t eat the whole bar. What has been the biggest challenge to bringing your product to the market and how have you overcome that/what are you doing to try to overcome that?
Pricing. We are competing with big multinational conglomerates who have questionable supply chains and are producing eye-opening quantities of chocolate each day. We are different. We meticulously manage the whole process from choosing which variety of cocoa to plant, to unique roasting programs. We cannot compete with the big boys, but what we can win on are our ethics and flavour. If you had to use your chocolate in one recipe, what would it be?
Our chocolate works really well with both sweet and savoury food. Bringing it back to basics, the light a vibrant taste that our chocolate brings to some classic chocolate and fudge brownies is out of this world. That being said, we also made a vegan chilli which was so tasty and unique – the flavours were amazing. The recipe is on our blog page on our website.
Many thanks to Will and the team at Islands for sharing their story - and for creating their wonderful chocolate.
(On completing this article I am compelled to go purchase a large quantity immediately - Ed)
To purchase Islands Chocolate bars and chefs buttons, hop on over to the Blak Nektar website.
For further information on Islands Chocolate click below.
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