James Cadbury continues family heritage with Love Cocoa confectionery

Surviving the BBC’s Dragons’ Den and opting to pursue the tradition of his family’s famous chocolate making roots has been a great experience for James Cadbury. Neill Barston meets him at his London headquarters, as the business exhibits at this week’s International Food and Drink Event (IFE) in London

For many, hailing from one of the most renowned confectionery lineages in the world might imaginably entail a weighty burden of personal expectation. But it seems James Cadbury, whose great-great-great grandfather John laid the foundations for a globally renowned chocolate business, is at ease with the highly notable backdrop to his heritage.

While the wider family is no longer actively involved with the confectionery sector since its interests came under the ownership of Mondelēz International, the brand still resonates powerfully with consumers across the world. In an exclusive interview with Confectionery Production, Cadbury explains that his new venture, Love Cocoa, stems from a long-held desire to rediscover some of the magic of his family’s confectionery roots.

“I had been working as a city trader and it was quite a safe job, but I just wanted to do something I really cared about, and I’m passionate about chocolate,” says the 33-year-old businessman on his fateful decision three years ago. As Cadbury reveals from the compact office serving as Love Cocoa’s East London headquarters, there’s been a very steep learning curve during the firm’s development. From exploring a number of high-end chocolate bar recipes and seeking invaluable crowdfunding, through to tracking down a suitable British manufacturer, it’s proving a rewarding, if somewhat challenging adventure.

He is quick to praise the company’s UK manufacturing partners, Corby-based Treasure Chocolates, whom the entrepreneur says offered him a great deal of flexibility in sourcing his own recipes and packaging. This has saved significantly on company overheads in outsourcing production – though he concedes that ultimately, having his own factory remains his goal. He also notes the considerable contribution of his girlfriend Maria Rodriguez, chief operating officer of the business, who plays a key role in driving the company forward.

As Cadbury explains, the much-cherished original confectionery enterprise founded in 1824, was created with an enlightened social enterprise model of incorporating a workers’ village in Bournville near Birmingham. Like his forefathers, he says he is especially keen to stand out amid a competitive field through offering something fresh in terms of chocolate varieties and its packaging. “Growing up in Edgbaston, I was just five miles from Bournville where the chocolate factory was. I went to school in Birmingham and can remember going shopping as a kid and seeing Cadbury in the stores and thinking how crazy it was that there was all this almost personal branding for confectionery.

“With Love Cocoa, I wanted to create something different, yet reminiscent of the early Cadbury days. When they first started out they used the best products that were pure, as well as colourful packaging that was ahead of its time, so that’s what I wanted to aim for,” says the entrepreneur. He adds the company founders’ high regard for their community proved an inspiration in his own insistence on sustainably sourced cocoa from certified organic South American producers based in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. “Cadbury is still a huge part of the culture in Birmingham – I used to go there as a child to the factory, where they used to have parties, and I saw Dairy Milk bars being made there, which sparked my interest in the industry. “I am super proud of my ancestors’ innovation in developing what has been voted as the most loved British brand of all time,” says Cadbury, noting that the achievements came without any of the kind of technological gadgets available to entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

Searching for a distinct USP, he says that a model based on the popular home delivered Graze snacks had at the time, offered a potential route for the business. As he explains, direct-to-consumer sales proved an expensive model to work from, leading to a need for a retail operation for the business – which quickly gained traction when Fortnum and Mason agreed to stock his strikingly designed series of bars. His efforts came to the attentions of the production team behind the BBC’s Dragons’ Den team, who duly invited him to appear on the show. After enduring a grilling from the programme’s high profile business gurus in an episode screened last Christmas, he succeeded in winning their financial backing. However, in a dramatic twist, he later turned down the offer of investment in his business, believing it had not been valued highly enough. “I was massively out of my comfort zone for Dragons’ Den – I’ve never liked presenting in front of people.

“The last time I’d done it was at university and I was dreadful. “But I managed to practice my pitch with a friend and I think it was actually a great experience, and not quite the grilling that it might have looked on TV. “I am glad I did it – in order to develop, you have to go outside of your boundaries, and I now feel a lot more confident in speaking to people. I think it’s important to talk to people about our brand and its heritage,” adds Cadbury.

He says that in addition to sustainably sourcing cocoa, the company selects British inclusions for its chocolate, including using a farm in Hampshire for herbs. As the entrepreneur describes, the business is going from strength to strength, from a turnover of £250,000 for the last financial year, which he says is now on track to grow significantly for 2019 to a figure of £750,000. He says that in addition to his venture’s TV exposure, careful product development has played a critical role in crafting the company’s premium chocolate bars. The flavour range includes dark chocolate and sea salt, caramel milk chocolate, a sparkling Rosé variety, through to a new birthday cake white offering. In addition, there are several truffle products, including a fine raspberry champagne flavour, which has been among its strongest selling items.

As a measure of the firm’s success, it is now being stocked in John Lewis, Selfridges and Harrods department stores among others. While Cadbury concedes there may be challenges on the horizon with the prospect of Brexit, and ingredients price rises to contend with, the company is trading well. “Since Dragons’ Den, we’ve had new distributors, web sales have gone up, and we’ve had offers of investment. “We’re now exporting, which accounts for 25 per cent of our business, with Japan being a big market for us, followed by Germany and America. We’re looking to continue that growth – and I believe there’s a huge market out there – the UK actually exports more than Switzerland,” adds the entrepreneur, who says he’s having the best of times carrying forward his family’s famed confectionery traditions.

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