Amarachi Clarke, Lucocoa Chocolate

Amarachi Clarke, Lucocoa Chocolate

James Sandrini 25th July 2018

What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.

This week, we talked with Amarachi Clarke, Founder of Lucocoa Chocolate, about bean to bar chocolate, the great confectionary misconceptions and what it takes to change consumer habits.

Q

It seems that, week-to-week, there’s a news story about how good or bad chocolate is for us; which is it?

I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it? Why can’t it just be simple?

The truth of the matter is that chocolate is complex and when we read these simplistic headlines about chocolate being ‘good’ they’re usually referring to the mass chocolate industry which tends to over roast beans to even out the flavour profile.

But the problem is that once the beans have been over roasted, the nutrients in the beans that are being used to make the bar, whether it’s milk chocolate or dark chocolate, have been destroyed. So, all you’re really talking about is the sugar content. Dark chocolate contains less sugar, whilst milk and white chocolate have more sugar.

Q

What is our greatest misconception about chocolate?

There are three…If I can have three!

Number one, that all chocolate is created equal. It isn’t. Just as I noted before.
Two, the chocolate narrative goes something like this: ‘Dark chocolate is bitter, milk chocolate has too much sugar and white chocolate isn’t chocolate at all’ which is just not accurate.

And three, the misconception that chocolate isn’t really worth all that much; that it isn’t as nuanced or as complex in terms of taste and flavour as wine, coffee or cheese, three products that seem to be held in much higher regard.

The reality is that chocolate is just as valuable as them all, people just need educating on the subject. When chocolate is made properly the different origins and regions the beans come from give the chocolate bars a different flavour.

So, for example, we import beans from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The two countries share the same land mass but if you taste our bars they will taste worlds apart.
The 70% Dominican Republic tastes very chocolatey with slight berry notes but without being bitter, whilst our 60% Haitian bar tastes like a figgy Bakewell tart!

"The misconception that chocolate isn't really worth all that much; that it isn't as nuanced or as complex in terms of taste and flavour as wine, coffee or cheese, three products that seem to be held in much higher regard "
Q

We’ve started to hear about ‘bean to bar,’ akin to ‘farm to table.’ Is this a new development in chocolate?

Not at all! It’s been around for centuries.

It’s the only way to actually make chocolate so, without it, there would be no chocolate at all! But very little of the chocolate on sale in the UK is made bean to bar by the company that goes on to sell it.

A fairly recent development is the rise of the smaller, batch bean to bar industry, which we’re obviously a part of and is now really flourishing.

Q

How did this come about and where is the marketplace right now?

Until relatively recently only the big companies had access to machinery fit for the purpose of making chocolate but, over time, some pretty clever people adapted equipment from different industries and put them to good use to enable us to produce chocolate on a much smaller scale. Hence a surge of makers in the USA and a growing number in the UK.

The fine chocolate market in the UK is still very small in comparison but trends are showing that 90% of people eat chocolate confectionery in the UK, with just under half of that 90% eating it more than once a week and  a significant number of them now really interested in lower sugar and alternative sugar variants.

Small batch bean to bar chocolate makers tend to have a high cocoa content in their chocolate as standard and we’re no exception. What makes Lucocoa different from other brands is that we don’t use any white sugar or artificial sweeteners. Instead, we use coconut sugar and lucuma (a fruit from Peru) to sweeten our bars.

Amarachi Clarke Lucocoa Chocolate
Q

How did you get into chocolate?

I’d say that I’m pretty unusual for the industry in a number of ways, given that my background’s in computer science and project management, and I now find myself a self-taught chocolate maker!

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to coming into chocolate from a totally different angle to almost everyone I’ve met in the trade. I had no background in food so I’m completely self-taught and I’ve had to have the courage of my own convictions when it’s come to making decisions on pretty much everything.

So, I’ve come into it with fresh eyes which makes it easier to challenge the status quo and do your own thing rather than just follow the herd.

Q

The history of food is riddled with vested interests which largely dictate consumer habits – bacon for breakfast, dairy as a vital food group, for example – Has this been the case with chocolate?

To some extent, I would say yes, mainly because of the misconceptions we discussed before, which have led people to view chocolate as a ‘guilty pleasure’, something that is as inaccurate as it is frustrating.

Over the centuries we’ve diluted the health benefits of chocolate right down by over-complicating the ingredients, to the point where something that used to be the food of the gods is now generally no more than chocolate flavoured sugar.

Q

And how do we break this cycle? You mention education – what really makes people sit up and say ‘I want to try something new’?

Well education on what craft chocolate is, is definitely the key.

At Lucocoa we do a lot of sampling sessions, giving people the chance to try our chocolate at fairs and festivals as well as in stores. It gives us an opportunity to mix education with tastings, so they can hear why it’s different, taste the difference, and make that connection themselves.

Q

What’s next for Lucocoa?

Well, Andy – my husband – and I have just got married so we spent a lot of the first half of the year attempting to run the business and increasing our stockists, all while heavily planning for our two weddings – A Nigerian one and a church one. We give ourselves a pat on the back for managing the two!

Right now we’re just putting together the next step in our strategy. And we’re excited about where we can be in in the near and distant future.

Thanks to Amarachi Clarke.

Find a Lucocoa Chocolate stockist here – trust us, you want to – and keep up with what Ama is listening too, where to be seen eating Lucocoa and some of the tastiest education you can imagine, follow Lucocoa on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.