In the basement of an Ottawa church, Cocoa Camino’s three young founders packaged cocoa into the nights of 1999. Determined to reach greater audiences with fair-trade, they worked after their day jobs and delivered hot chocolate on bikes or by Canada Post.
Fair-trade coffee and tea had been gaining popularity and the founders had been looking for a way to continue the trend, according to CEO Jennifer Williams. Organic hot chocolate became their way to try to engage more Canadians and get kids involved.
The idea worked. , which owns Cocoa Camino, sold $44,000 worth of its hot chocolate in the first year.
Two of the prime ingredients, cocoa and sugar, came from independent cooperatives in Costa Rica. Fair-trade regulations ensure guaranteed minimum prices and premiums for the farmers involved.
In 2004, after the company's owners sold the business the new management decided to find a way to reach more people.
“As much as hot chocolate was a great Canadian product, and it’s cold in Canada, it’s only cold for so many months of the year,” Ms. Williams says. “So we quickly realized that maintaining a business based on hot chocolate wasn’t going to sustain our entity and so that’s why we diversified into other products.”
With the introduction of organic chocolate bars, the cooperative grew more than 400 per cent, Ms. Williams says. Hot chocolate now makes up only 12 per cent of sales. Eventually, Cocoa Camino dropped the first part of its name and became known as as it began selling juice, coffee and baking goods.
“Over the years we’ve had different evolutions in the hot chocolate,” says Ms. Williams.
The original hot chocolate to and fat-free version have been replaced by milk chocolate, dark chocolate, drinking chocolate and chilli and spice varieties.
Sugar from Cuba or Paraguay, cocoa from the Dominican Republic or Peru, Canadian sea salt, Canadian gums, Canadian organic milk powder, chocolate from Peru and spices from Indonesia are regularly used ingredients now.
Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT