This is a brand we LOVE! Wilf Marriott caught up with us and shared the rollercoaster of Islands Chocolate. Launching just in June 2018, it is the only seed-to-bar chocolate that you can buy from the beautiful Island of St Vincent, Caribbean. Unlike most chocolate companies Islands doesn’t buy in chocolate from other companies or buy cocoa off cooperatives. They do it all themselves so are able to have a direct impact on the local economy by supplying local jobs to those in St Vincent (250 people to be exact!). Through Islands they are able to help improve the infrastructure, help support farmers, and educate youngsters on cacao farming. Islands are totally transparent and Wilf tells us that there isn’t one part of the process that they aren’t constantly developing and nurturing! Trust me, it tastes as good as it sounds!
Age at time of interview:
I live in South London
Islands Chocolate Managing Director
If you went to university was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do?
Yes, I went to Oxford Brookes University with the sole objective of becoming a professional cricketer, yep you’ve guessed it, it didn’t work out. I had played for Hampshire since I was 8 years old and I represented England at school but, as cliché as it sounds, I fell out of love with the game and decided there was more to life than chasing around a leather ball.
What is Islands Chocolates and when did you launch?
Islands Chocolate launched in June 2018. It is the only seed-to-bar chocolate that you can buy from the beautiful Island of St Vincent, Caribbean. Very early days but we have the foundations in place to create a brand of chocolate that is totally transparent and sustainable throughout the whole supply chain.
How did the idea for Islands Chocolates come about?
Since 2014 our family has had cocoa farms in St Vincent, so we are still relatively new in comparison to other cocoa estates. Originally we were just producing amazing, fine flavoured cacao and selling it onto chocolatiers and traders but we also thought that we should give chocolate making a go. With the boom in the bean to bar market and the rise of similar products such as craft coffee, we thought that this would be the perfect timing.
Islands Chocolate has a unique story and one in which we hope can make the customer feel like a privileged insider. We control every part of the process from planting the seed right the way through to hand-crafting every single bar of Islands Chocolate. Being ‘bean-to-bar’ is not enough for us, we have gone right back to planting the seed so that we have complete control of a very complicated and tough process.
Due to us being incredibly fortunate in having cocoa farms in St Vincent, we wanted to create a brand that not only gave the public delicious chocolate to enjoy, but also one which aims to educate its customers in the process and shows them how chocolate making and cacao farming is an art and not one that should be taken for granted.
Tell us about how and why sustainability is such an integral part of the Island Chocolates brand?
Islands Chocolate and St Vincent Cocoa Company, have created their own FairCocoa Sustainability Program. Luckily we do not have the same problems that are prevalent in Africa however, with youth unemployment in St Vincent quite high and many local schools not having adequate facilities, we have in place a program that will hopefully have a positive impact to many lives.
Wherever we have a processing facility or large plot of cacao land, we aim to help the local school or orphanage in the nearby area. We meet up on a regular basis with the school teachers and come to an agreement with what help we can offer.
In terms of farmers, we give our farmers free plants, advice and help with maintenance if need be. We also provide them with an off-take contract which gives them added security as we promise to buy their beans off them.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for Island Chocolates?
Well if I am honest, every single step of the process has had its challenges. First of all, we found it difficult coming up with a name – one that is relevant to your brand and not widely used. Then comes the flavour development, logistics, nutritional value analysis, barcodes etc etc. Bearing in mind that this is my first time doing it all, there was a lot of Googling and YouTubing!
One moment that sticks in my mind, was my eagerness to get the chocolate here to the UK. I insisted that they didn’t need to be wrapped and Id wrap them myself once they arrived. Fast forward to today and I still haven’t managed to wrap all the bars! Luckily I had a few mates who were very kind in helping me out in exchange for free beers and supper at the pub to thank them for their hard work. There are challenges every step of the way but that is equally why I enjoy what I do, there is never a day that is ever the same.
How did you go about getting the taste right for Islands Chocolates and what was the process involved in that?
Well, I had to eat a lot of chocolate! (I know poor me). Luckily we had one flavour, our 72%, that sold brilliantly in St Vincent so we could use aspects of this recipe and develop it. We wanted to focus on dark chocolate, mainly because we prefer dark chocolate as a team, but secondly, we wanted to promote the flavour of our cacao beans.
We had many tasting sessions tweaking the cocoa percentage and adjusting the added cocoa butter, but thankfully it didn’t take us too long to finalise our range. Our team of chocolatiers out in St Vincent are fast learners – it helps that they are using high quality beans.
How big is your team?
Well, at the moment it is just me running Islands Chocolate in the UK but I am looking to expand. My father is chairman of St Vincent Cocoa Company with Andrew Hadley running managing director in St Vincent. It is a family business so it is all interlinked and we help each other along the way.
How do you juggle your time between London and St Vincent and how often do you go out?
I go out to St Vincent every couple of months. It is very important, in this early stage that we keep progressing in our chocolate making and this is only possible if I come out and visit and give them feedback on our chocolate from sources here in Europe. I am also the Cocoa Marketing and Sales Manager of St Vincent Cocoa Company so it is important to see the team on a regular basis.
Have you got a mentor?
My father is my mentor which is great-I have learnt so much from him already.
Who do you seek out for support and advice (if not a mentor)?
Well, family and friends. I am constantly bouncing ideas of them as it is only me in the office! They must be sick of it, but they get a lot of free chocolate!
How are you marketing Island?
Well we are very active over our social media platforms. We have just launched our new promotional video which gives our customers an insight into our story and makes them feel like an insider. But, we don’t have an initial plan as such, the main focus was getting our supply chain to be as smooth as possible and getting as many people to try our chocolate, because once they do, they don’t turn back!
How do you think Island Chocolates differs from the competition out there?
We are totally unique. I know everyone says this but hear me out. Unlike most chocolate companies that buy in chocolate from other companies or buy cocoa off cooperatives, we do it all ourselves so we are able to have a direct impact on the local economy by supplying local jobs (we employ 250 people in St Vincent), we are able to help improve infrastructure, help support farmers, and educate the youngsters on cacao farming. We are totally transparent throughout the whole process and we give you insights into our company that not many can show. There isn’t one part of the process that we don’t constantly develop and nurture so you can be confident that all of our energy and passion has gone into each and every bar.
Anything you would tell yourself then, that you know now?
Everything takes twice as long and is twice as expensive. Also, do not rely on anyone to do anything because their goals are completely different to yours. Set a deadline and be concise in what you mean otherwise you’ll end up feeling pretty foolish when the delivery you ordered doesn’t arrive in time, when in fact ‘they’ were still waiting for you to confirm the date (yep this happened). Initially I was too nice. “Let me know when you have this complete” has quickly changed to, “I need this by the 20th December”.
What’s a typical day for you working on Island Chocolates?
It’s go-go-go from start to finish. Whether it be managing orders, out selling, producing content for social media, updating the website, getting ready for tradeshows, selling cocoa to overseas buyers, product development, packaging design…the list goes on. It’s hectic but I love it.
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
Well, I am definitely a morning person. I nail it in the morning but once it hits 5pm my brain turns to mush.
Any fuck ups along the way?
So many, you’d have no idea. I had our first order to America a few months back, I was so excited. So I packed up the 500 bars and sent them on their way. I was so keen to get them out that 490 bars were completely ruined because the courier chucked them around and they all broke during shipment. Not a good phone call.
I shipped some cocoa here to the UK to distribute and the container turned out to be a reefer i.e. a refrigerated container so all the beans arrived wet and mouldy and had to be put in the skip.
I could go on and on but probably best to not make me sound totally useless. One thing is for sure, I would never change any of these mistakes. You don’t learn anything if you aren’t making mistakes, you just need to make sure that you take action and don’t do it again.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Island Chocolates?
I think it was when I was sampling some chocolate in Sourced Market and a gentleman came up to me to tell me that Island Chocolates was the best chocolate he had ever tasted and that it was his go-to brand every time. It really made me proud.
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
Make sure you have a good USP. Don’t rush into the market, get everything sorted in terms of recipes and packaging first before you make the plunge. Make sure you get all of the social media handles associated to your name. Make sure you trademark your name. Find your place in the market and make it your own whether that be your price, your story or your packaging (if you have all the above then that’s a bonus!). Last thing, make the effort to go meet the buyer, it is much harder to turn someone down over email than if you have met them.
What do you think is next for Islands Chocolates in the next year?
Well we have lots of exciting things in the pipeline. We have drinking chocolate, smaller bars and other limited edition products coming on stream so make sure you keep a lookout!
What’s the dream?
The dream, is for Islands Chocolate to be a household name.
Finish the end of these sentences…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are Islands, Football and Doombar
What startups U30 should we be looking out for? Kuka Coffee, Keep Hush, Doggart & Squash and ChicP Hummus.
The Twenty Mile Club is….inspiring and run by such a great team 🙂
Find Islands Chocolate on these handles below.