Each month we take the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful women and ask them questions on life, fashion, their careers and what inspires them. A moment to listen and learn, over an aperitif, and an occasional boujee fry...
This month we met with the inspiring woman behind the delicious Bennetto Chocolate, Lucy...and it was sweet!
We ate: Eggs Benedict
We drank: Coffee
I first met Lucy Bennetto almost eight years ago when she was presenting her start up business at a Coffee & Jam session run by the Ministry of Awesome. She had just launched her business and was already so inspiring. We became firm friends and it has been an absolute privilege to watch her run and grow the business. She is a true creative and has endless amounts of passion, belief and generosity...oh and she suffers for her art...
"I actually get migraines after eating chocolate. But because I develop all the products’, I save the tasting for the trials...I know now that I can have 20grams before I get a migraine...So one day I’m going to crack the code for people who get migraines from chocolate!"
AA: Tell us of the origin story of Bennetto Natural Foods Company.
It really began at my kitchen bench top, back in 2010. Every day I pretty much was just playing around with chocolate, experimenting and creating. Chocolate was starting to be appreciated as something other than ‘junk food’, its properties were becoming recognised as extremely nutritious and high in antioxidants, it was a new direction and I really wanted to be part of it.
It allowed me to be creative – it’s a hobby that has gone a bit mad. I experimented with what you can put in it and more importantly, what you don’t need in it – strip it back – no milk/preservatives, just the good bits. I became hooked on cocoa! Fascinated by the origin and the history of it. I wanted to know everything about where the cocoa was coming from, who produced it and how that process was affecting them, the farmers, I knew that this side of the chocolate story would become a really important part of my business.
AA: How and where did you learn the most about working with chocolate?
Making mistakes. Loads of mistakes.
Floors full of chocolate.
Learning was hands on by doing. Asking and asking and constantly learning about chocolate.
When I started, I was making 2kg batches myself form my apartment in Dubai while on a teaching contract, which quickly grew to 100kg batches. When I returned home, Trade Aid opened a chocolate factory in Christchurch and so I worked there part-time, which gave me so much insight and understanding of the manufacturing and scale up process. I am very grateful to Trade Aid for that opportunity.
I now have a contract with a manufacturer in Switzerland and with my gained knowledge of manufacturing means I can oversee the whole process.
AA: Following on from this – we appreciate that chocolate is only part of the story so tell us also how and where did you learn the most about developing a business?
It’s been a suite of hard knocks. The business aspect of it has been my challenge. I have had lot of support from NZ Trade and Enterprise and ChristchurchNZ. I have also attended a lot of trade shows and so my networking has been really strong. I am constantly learning from others, other manufacturers, competitors etc. However, there isn’t a template for it, they (other businesses) can tell you what it is like for them but you have to find the right fit for you and the application of it might be a variant of what others have done.
My teaching background - secondary school teacher in English and Drama – has given me a plethora of transferrable skills…the creative elements as well as multi-tasking, always being out of my comfort zone and having to learn from it…being overwhelmed is a pretty normal state for teachers – ha!
AA: What was the tipping point when you knew that things were taking off. How did you plan and tackle that next stage?
Haven’t got there yet!! Haha! Let me think, I need to digest that question. It’s always been a challenge, so it really is little steps, little steps. This year, so far, we have secured Woolworths Australia which will launch in April and we will be compulsory in all large and medium New World North Island stores from April too. So, I guess a tipping point is getting those key accounts.
I don’t feel like I have made it yet. Its only really when I look back that I can see I have made some good inroads. I just keep an eye on my big picture – I want to create a brand for everyone, not just NZ, the Middle East, Europe etc. Make the products in reach to the conscious consumer wherever they are in the world. Bring joy to living consciously, wherever you are! Scale up to this is possible. Pricing is important too, we don’t want it to be an elite brand, we want it to be accessible. Manufacturing was a part of the big picture and not continuing to do batches by hand, to make sure that buying Fairtrade and organic was cheaper, accessible, and popular so we can keep the brand premium and affordable.
AA: As your business evolves how has that changed your role within it? Do you consider yourself as Chocolatier first or business manager first?
I see myself as a ‘chocolate maker’, not a chocolatier, I’m a creator first.
And I am an advocate for sustainable products. It is important for me to understand the chocolate making process, the origin, the manufacturing.
AA: What's the gender balance like in the chocolate industry?
It is typically quite a male driven industry however I have not really come up against it as an issue, there is balance overall. When I was in Peru we visited the family owned cooperatives and the majority of them were female managed farms. These farms had once produced ‘coca’ (cocaine) until about twenty years ago when the UN supported the transition from coca farming in to ‘cocoa’ farms.
The farmers are given great opportunities under the Fairtrade banner, with the forming of coops and education and health benefits for them and their family.
AA: You have a clear determination to communicate the importance of fair trade in the chocolate industry – share with us some of your learnings and understandings about this issue.
We all have choices, and I chose Fairtrade because it is the most robust. It allows farmers to have their voice and say where their money is spent and protects the workers the most. Fairtrade and organic go hand in hand because if you are doing what is in the best interest of the land and the farmers, it is organic. 2.5% of my sales every quarter goes towards running Fairtrade and to the farmers.
We are also currently working with a new origin in the Pacific. Our aim is to buy cocoa that is farmed organically but not certified. It is our hope that we can assist them with the certification process by buying the cocoa and labelling it as ‘in conversion to organic’. This way they have a guaranteed buyer and assistance through to the organic certifying process and eventually benefit directly from the organic pricing premium.
If you say you are doing something, whether that be ‘Fairtrade’ or ‘Organic’ or ‘Sustainable’, you need to formalise that, to back you and your business up.
AA: I remember the first time I saw a Bennetto chocolate as the packaging was beguiling and unlike anything else I had seen on the shelves before. Tell us about your consideration of the relationship between packaging and chocolate.
The idea of the beautiful packaging is about bringing the ‘coolness’ or ‘joy’ to being sustainable. When I started you never really got gorgeous packaging with a sustainable product. Being sustainable is a beautiful thing and chocolate is beautiful. The little birds on each bar will always represent the origin of the cocoa. We work with three origins – Peru, Madagascar, and Ecuador. It’s not in your face messaging, it’s just a subtle acknowledgement of where the chocolate has come from. We are also starting to put the names of the birds on the sides too, so look out for that! The packaging definitely has a positive impact on sales, I wanted to make it feel like a little gift, even for yourself.
AA: Has your sense of fashion and style developed as your business has developed?
It’s got worse cause I can’t afford clothes or afford to style myself!! HAHA!
However, I always consider what I am wearing for various situations, trade shows, pitch meetings etc and I always consider sustainability in my choices.
AA: Tell us the story of your favourite piece of clothing.
My favourite piece of clothing, hmmmm. I think, ok, this sounds weird, my favourite piece of clothing was given to me by a Nigerian family. It was such a nice gift. A two-piece fitted shirt and skirt, traditionally hand dyed and made. It was before I made chocolate so I can’t fit in to it any longer!!
Follow the journey at @bennettonaturalfoods
For more information and to find your local stockist visit: www.bennetto.co.nz