Did you ever imagine that chocolate could actually be better for you? Well, I didn’t until I heard about Lucocoa – a chocolate that is free from refined sugars and additives. Lucocoa was founded by an amazing London based duo: Amarachi Uzowuru and Andy Clarke. Since launching their company in 2014 they have developed 6 different types of chocolate bars which are sold by numerous stockist in London such as Wholefoods Market, The Ace Hotel, Raw Press, Origin coffee, Cocoa Bijoux and The Chocolate Museum, but you can also buy their full range online. I love that their cocoa beans are ethically sourced from Africa, Central and South America; and I’m even more impressed that their chocolate bars are sweetened with a fruit called Lucuma and coconut sugar – that’s it!
Last year Lucocoa Chocolate won two awards: 2 Great Taste Awards in 2016 and a Bronze Academy of Chocolate award. If that wasn’t impressive enough, both Ama and Andy work full time yet successfully run their business! I had the pleasure of having coffee with them and learning about how they set up Lucocoa. They were such genuine, down to earth people, and I was impressed by their amazing work ethic.
Keep scrolling down to read more about how Ama and Andy founded their awesome company and check them out on social media: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Also, visit their website (http://www.lucocoachocolate.com) and buy their dark, milk and blonde (white) chocolate bars.
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MSA: So, I know that both of you work full time and I was interested to know what you actually do?
Ama: I’m a project manager at UNICEF. My main project is a Soccer Aid. We raised 6.8 million this year which is the most we’ve ever done!
Andy: I moved to London after I finished University. I’m a boxing and football commentator mainly for Sky sports, but I also work for other people.
MSA: That’s very interesting and so very different from running a chocolate company. What inspired you to create Lucocoa?
Ama: I was a runner. I used to run half marathons and 10K’s just for the sake of it. I ran the San Francisco women’s marathon and hated it! It just didn’t fit with me and had a detrimental effect, so I stopped running and Andy suggested that I try boxing. So I went to a boxing gym and I found it quite interesting to see how nutrition was viewed in the boxing world in comparison to the running world. Then I wanted to start a range of food and Andy suggested we focus on one product. So we started looking at chocolate, how it was made, and wondered why it had to have white sugar in it. We questioned chocolate so much and the more we found out, the more we got interested in it and then we started making it. Then Andy said, “If we’re going to do it then we need to do it properly.” And before you knew it we were finding different farms that had the best flavoured beans that we were going to be paying more than fair trade for. We decided we weren’t going to make chocolate with refined white sugar and then it all kind of came together.
MSA: The phrase ‘bean to bar’ has been used to describe Lucocoa Chocolate, but what does it actually mean?
Andy: It means that you import the cocoa beans and then you process them from there. What most people do is buy chocolate from other people, melt it down, shape it, add things to it or flavour it; so they don’t make the chocolate themselves they just work with it. They are chocolatiers but we are described as chocolate makers because we make the chocolate ourselves. So when you hear words like ‘handmade’ or ‘artisan’ is doesn’t always mean they make their own chocolate.
Ama: The majority of chocolate in stores has not been made ‘bean to bar’. It’s strange that there’s only 30 of us in the UK that actually make chocolate from cocoa beans.
MSA: I never realised that chocolatiers didn’t make their own chocolate, so thanks for clarifying that. Talk me through the steps you took from your initial concept of making chocolate to launching your products?
Ama: So the business [Lucocoa] was registered in December 2014 but we didn’t sell our first bar until March 2015 at a chocolate show. We started buying a kilo of beans here and there. We taught ourselves how to make chocolate which is why it took us a long time. It was a lot of trial and error, wondering if we could do it or not, and trying to work out the ratios of coconut sugar to lucuma. There were so many different hurdles that we had to get through, especially because we were working from the ground up and trying to work out how to make chocolate from scratch.
Andy: I gave some of our chocolate bars to local food businesses in Belsize Park and they hated it. But we never changed it [our recipe] because we thought they were wrong.
MSA: Starting a company can involve building a lot of capital, so how did you come up with the funding for Lucocoa?
Ama: Initially we funded it ourselves; we worked out how much it would cost then we saved and put the money in. The last funding we’ve had was in 2015, and since then the business has been running itself which we are quite proud of. We’ve been quite disciplined in that we don’t put any more money into the business and we have to save if we need things.
MSA: Your beans are sourced from the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Belize and Madagascar – how did you go about finding suppliers?
Andy: Through internet research, and I found a really helpful guy who gave us information on importing and shipping. I found that people are really helpful because they want to grow their businesses. The internet makes everything so much easier. But we do want to go and visit our farms one day.
MSA: So I heard that you converted a room in your flat into a chocolate factory! That is so cool, tell me about that?
Ama: Yes, we thought this was a more cost effective way to run our business. We converted the room and got health and safety and food safety from the council to give it the green light. Running a craft business in London can be pretty expensive!
Andy: We are trying to move house at the moment because we need more space; we’re kind of bursting out of that room. We also need more space for us that’s not dominated by the business. So we’re hopeful that it will happen in the next few months.
MSA: How do you manage to keep up with your full time jobs, run your business and keep up with your chocolate orders? I’m interested to know what a typical week is like for you?
Ama: Business wise, we’re quite consistent. Being a project manager makes life a lot easier because you’re always trying to anticipate deadlines, risks, and without even realising it I analyse situations and find solutions. We have our hours for doing Lucocoa stuff, we mainly cram it in in the evenings between 7pm and 1 am; and then on the weekends we will be packing, wrapping, and tempering. Ideally we would like to have a day when we do roasting, a day for winnowing, a day for tempering but until we can work full time on it we just have to work in the evenings.
MSA: So do you guys get a day off at all?
Ama: We had one last Saturday.
Andy: Sometimes it gets taken out of our hands when we’re waiting for something to be delivered (e.g. Lucuma) that we can’t do without; so we just couldn’t do any work which meant a couple of days off.
MSA: So obviously you live together and you work together. Do you guys ever get tired of each other?
Ama: Yeah, of course we do! (Laughs)
Andy: Well, we have some fairly frank exchanges of views at times.
Ama: But it’s always about the business, it’s never personal. Because we live and work in the same space we spend a lot more time with each other than most people think.
Andy: One thing people did say to us was that starting a business as a couple was a bad idea. I understand what they were saying, but for us it’s definitely proved to be a real strength because the first year didn’t turn out as we thought it would. I thought Ama would be the chef and I’d be more on the sales side of things, but it’s turned out to be the other way around. Because during the day I don’t work (on weekdays I work in the evenings) and Ama’s job can be very demanding at times, so for us to make any chocolate, I had to do it because there was no other way around it.
MSA: You’ve won two awards: Great Taste Award in 2016 (for the Belize chocolate bar) and your 70% Dominican Republic chocolate bar won the Bronze prize from the International Academy of Chocolate Awards. Wow!! Tell me how that came about and what it means to you?
Ama: It’s great. The interesting thing is that there’s a niche chocolate world that defines its own parameters about chocolate, and we’ve stepped into that world with coconut sugar and lucuma. For the Great Taste Award we came out with two bars, and for the International Academy of Chocolate Awards we got the bronze. We always knew that our products were good but sometimes you need that rubber stamp.
MSA: It’s great that you believed in your product and preserved. By the way, I really like the packaging of your chocolate – it’s modern, clean, fun and it’s so cute! How did you come up with it?
Ama: It was very simple. One of my friends from Coventry, Ana, did graphic and packaging design. She’d worked at Marks and Spencer’s for 4 years as their packaging designer. She offered to help me with the packaging when I told her about my ideas for Lucocoa. She asked me to send her things we were interested in like boxing posters, colour schemes, and lots of different bits and bobs. The colours came from the fact that I used to wear a lot of nail polish, and then we tried to match the colours to the countries the beans came from. We wanted packaging that was simple, easy, quick, and that wasn’t expensive.
MSA: What are the highlights of this journey and the low points?
Andy: High point: Wholefoods was the thing that put the wind in our sails and got the ball rolling. Low point: Making the chocolate bars in the beginning was so hard. I could maybe make 15 to 16 bars a day but now Ama can make 150 a day or 500 bars in a week.
MSA: Wow, that’s impressive! So I’m looking 5 years into the future and wondering what your vision for Lucocoa is?
Andy: We still want Lucocoa to be ours. We would love to have 2 to 3 shops – our own premises. I really like the Hotel Chocolat shops because they’re not too big but there’s lots of stuff in them, and they are really well done.
Ama: Ideally, our shops would be very crafty looking, with an exposed kitchen where people can see the whole process of chocolate making. I want us to be really transparent about chocolate making. We want people to see that chocolate should be made from the bean and that beans from different regions have different flavours. Then I’d rent the front of our shop out to a salad bar because I can’t make salad (laughs).
MSA: I think that’s a brilliant idea, so dream big! You guys are an inspiration to a lot of people. What advice would you give to someone out there who has a dream similar to yours?
Ama: Just do it! People take a lot of time before they bring their product to the market, but you need to constantly test and refine your product. We just started with some prototypes, went to the markets to see how they were perceived, and then continued to build from here. You will have a direction for your business but the public will define your product. So we went to the markets and sold our products, then people said, “You’ve got dark and white chocolate but where’s your milk chocolate? So our milk chocolate was crowd sourced from Brick Lane Market after months and months of trial and error, and it’s now become part of our range. My advice would be just test, test, and test the waters. The problem is that we live in a society that where if it doesn’t happen tomorrow then it hasn’t happened.
Andy: It has to be something that you love and you need to believe in it totally. We are an interesting combination because I’ve always believed in the idea but I’m not a massive chocolate enthusiast, however, I do want to win. Whereas Ama has the real passion and enthusiasm for it so that’s why she’s great at talking to stockists. I’m better with the advice and knowing when we’re getting a bad deal. I read a lot about sport psychology and there are three things that are talked about which are: what, why and want. So what are you doing, why are you doing it and do you to want to do it? The ‘want’ is the most important part because if you want to do something, even if you might not know what you are doing you will eventually figure it out. But if you don’t really want to do it then it will never work.
MSA: A big thank you to you guys for giving up your time to meet with me. I loved your story from the first time I heard about your company and I believe that other people are going to love what you have to say.
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Wow! Every time I read through this interview I come away inspired and motivated to keep chasing after my dreams. Making chocolate was something that Ama and Andy did not envision, but it came about by Ama developing an interest in nutrition and taking steps to learn more about it. Could it be that all you have to do is follow your natural interests and see where they lead you? Who knows, you might just discover a new business opportunity far beyond your wildest dreams. Please dream big, take steps and don’t be afraid of the low moments in life – they come just before the high points. I believe that greater things are in store for Lucocoa and also for you!
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