Breaking the mould
Susannah Millen meets Flo Broughton for a tour of the Choc on Choc factory in Rode near Bath, Somerset in the UK.
When I visited the home of Choc on Choc in the pretty English village of Rode near Bath in Somerset, company founder and self taught chocolatier Flo Broughton showed me around the small but incredibly efficient operation. Her passion and enthusiasm for the brand are contagious.
“I started the company with my inventor father, Kerr Dunlop, over 10 years ago,” she explains. “We launched the business shortly after I graduated, growing the company from just my father and I, to a team of 30 people,” she adds.
Produced using Belgian chocolate sourced from Barry Callebaut, what makes Choc on Choc stand out is that its extensive portfolio of confectionery products are produced using such incredibly detailed bespoke moulds that many of them don’t look like chocolate at all. For example, so realistic are the chocolate strawberries in the range that it is not unusual for those who taste them to be convinced that they actually taste of strawberry. In fact, none of the chocolate is flavoured; it is the design, texture and colour that give these chocolates their unique appeal.
With over 200 designs in its repertoire, the potential to bring certain Choc on Choc products in and out of the range and to create new designs, which can be seasonal, promotional and personalised, is endless.
The design led business, whose trained staff hand pour each and every chocolate creation, specialises in reacting to consumer trends. For the UK General Election that took place earlier this year, for example, the company created the Political Collection, a limited edition pack of three chocolate bars bearing the faces of politicians Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Prime Minister was pictured with his bar, prompting a deluge of orders. For Christmas 2014, Choc on Choc produced a chocolate penguin after the viral success of high end department store John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin television advertisement. Again, this led to a huge increase in sales.
“We are a very innovative brand and are proud of our heritage and our creative, patented approach to chocolate design,” says Broughton. “We can be very nimble and can quickly adapt to current trends or the news agenda. For example, we recently launched a limited edition Day of The Dead Skull chocolate bar in advance of the Day of The Dead Mexican holiday and the launch of the James Bond movie Spectre that has a Day of The Dead opening scene,” she adds.
Attention to detail
Each and every mould into which the chocolate is poured is a work of art that has been created by Broughton’s father and business partner, inventor Kerr Dunlop, and this is where the brand’s strength and point of difference lies.
The ability to create bespoke moulds has led to commissions to produce wedding favours for the most recent British royal wedding, that of Prince William and Kate Middleton, as well as other chocolate works of art, including a pictorial replica of Milford Castle. The brand is even stocked by Royal appointment of HRH The Prince of Wales at the Highgrove Shop, as well as in many boutique shops and high end high street retailers in the UK and abroad.
The incredibly detailed silicon moulds used to create the Choc on Choc range are sculpted from plaster, over which the silicon is poured. The milk and white chocolate, which is processed using small scale manufacturing equipment from Key Link, is then cast by hand using a patented layering process.
“We developed an original, and now patented, method of layering chocolate on top of chocolate, creating beautiful and completely unique designs,” Broughton explains. “The layering chocolate method was the inspiration behind the brand name, Choc on Choc,” she adds.
The white chocolate is coloured to replicate items including the authentic looking strawberries, which are sold in a miniature punnet, mushrooms, and even an engraved cheese board, complete with a chunk of Stilton, a slice of Brie, a mini Camembert, a hunk of Emmental and even a little bunch of grapes all cast in chocolate. The cheese board is presented in an authentic looking hamper box on a bed of straw like shredded paper. Also recently introduced into the range is a stunning afternoon tea traditional British biscuit selection, which ‘almost’ looks too good to eat.
Point of difference
The heart of the business is the workshop or ‘shed’ as it is known, where Dunlop weaves his magic. The room is an Aladdin’s cave where moulds dating back over the past 12 years are stacked to the ceiling, with his latest creations discarded at various stages of completion on a work bench, as you might expect from an artist at work.
“My dad is an accomplished inventor. In the 1980s he designed the popular hedgehog boot wiper,” says Broughton. “We design the chocolates together and dad makes the chocolate moulds in his shed,” she adds.
Choc on Choc has been based in Rode village since the brand was launched at the Birmingham Autumn Fair in 2003. However, the thriving company has since moved to bigger premises in order to accommodate a team of more than 30 casual staff who currently produce more than 63,000 chocolates a week.
According to Broughton there is also plenty of potential to produce more products during factory down time. Since launching, the business has experienced double digit growth. “We now have a team of over 30 people who are all busy throughout the year, producing our delicious chocolates. Last year, we made 50 tonnes!” she says. With a focus on the gifting market, Choc on Choc attends shows including London’s Top Drawer and Home & Gift in Harrogate, UK.
Over the past 10 years Choc on Choc has become a firm fixture in a number of high end UK based high street retailers including John Lewis, Selfridges and Waitrose, but since investing in its own online shop, e-commerce sales have soared. Its unique creations are now stocked in over 200 retailers in the UK and abroad in Japan, the US, Australia and across Europe.
Having previously won design and business related awards, this year Choc on Choc scooped the Good Housekeeping Food Award for Best Small Chocolate Producer. It has also recently launched a range of coat button shaped chocolates to appeal to the mass market. The next novelty range in the pipeline will recreate retro British ice creams, such as the Fab lolly and Mr Whippy, in chocolate.
“Constant innovation is important for us. We still have some of our very first designs on offer but we recognise that people want to give gifts that are a little bit different,” Broughton concludes.
At the time of my visit to Rode, the latest series of the hit BBC television series The Great British Bake Off was drawing to a close, and topically, it transpired that the star of the show Mary Berry visited the factory last year to learn about making handmade chocolates. With that, Choc on Choc is well and truly on the map.