Ten Years of Chocolate!
It’s hard to believe that we’ve now been making Chocolates at Lick the Spoon for ten years! In December 2006 Diana launched Lick the Spoon from our home kitchen in Chippenham. Never one to do things by halves our first child was just over a year old and Diana was six months pregnant with our second! Six thousand chocolate boxes and ten thousand inserts had been delivered and were stashed all over our house. We’ve always been optimists and also risk takers.
There’s far too much to write in one post but here are some of the highlights from the last ten years that you might have forgotten.
Fom the age of fourteen Diana had worked in professional kitchens. You have to have that passion for food to sustain the long hours and split shifts required as a Chef. Diana’s experience as a chef and an artist has woven a thread through everything we’ve done. We’re also pretty impetuous and particularly in our early days created products purely on a whim, a glass of wine or a chance conversation -anybody remember ‘Uncle Bert’s Walnut Bristols’?
Well anyway, in December 2006 we launched the first version of our website and I sold our first chocolates to work colleagues in my then engineering career. Friends and family duly bought from our website and we were off! Alas it was only friends and family who bought at that time as we hadn’t realised how long Google took to list websites. So undeterred we set about selling the old fashioned way and as well as at Markets and food fairs approached our local farm shop at Allington who became our first stockists and we’re proud to say still are in their now much larger farm shop and cafe.
Hopefully without sounding boastful, we had confidence that our chocolates were good. Diana had used all her experience as a Michelin chef to create new and classical flavour combinations. We believe we were the first to create the Chilli and fresh lime chocolate combination for example. But we needed a way to persuade people that they were good before buying and tasting them. So for the first time we entered the Taste of the West awards in 2007. Michael Caines MBE was the chief judge that year and we were over the moon when the two products we entered won gold awards. We were even more delighted to be invited to the awards ceremony. Michael Caines announced we were overall category winner, as it was then named ‘Best of Bakery and Confectionery’ hurrah!
We continued to build on this success over the next couple of years building a small network of specialists stockists. In 2008 we were named as finalist for the Waitrose Country Living awards for our new Wonders of the West collection. We hadn’t actually created the chocolates when we entered the competition and to make matters worse the samples request came when our home Kitchen had been demolished! So we turned our son’s box cupboard bedroom into a makeshift kitchen and Diana set about creating ten South-West themed chocolates!
We went to the awards ceremony at Burghley Horse trials in the pouring rain where then Waitrose MD Mark Price said that our chocolates were so good he’d like to stock them in a flagship store. The confectionery buyer then qualified this by saying that we’d need to contact them again when we had a production premises out of our home kitchen. We were somewhat dejected at the time but used our disappointment to spur on our search for production premises. A year later we contacted him again. Good as their word we have been listed in the John Lewis Oxford Street Food hall ever since!
2009 was a momentous year for us. Easter saw an appearance on the Alan Titchmarsh show leading to a front room bulging with Easter eggs and our website collapsing under the strain. We needed a premises! I had gone part time in my engineering job to look after the children for some of the week. With a few sleepless nights and two small children we remortgaged our house days before the financial crash, I gave up my job as an engineer and we set about building a chocolate factory and opening our first shop in Cirencester. After visiting countless cow sheds in fields and ridiculously over-priced retail premises we switched from our initial plan of a production and retail premises to a separate production premises and retail shop. We settled on a soon to be built industrial unit in nearby Corsham for our production unit and a new shop in the historic Roman town of Cirencester. The months leading up to the openings were spent scouring the country for equipment frequently in hire vans where the children would join me as ‘Van team’ accompanied by the A team theme tune! We managed to open both our factory and shop on time and on budget. Our shop built a reputation in it’s own right, famed for Diana’s beautiful chocolate window displays and sumptuous chocolate counter. We had our challenges, particularly when the road was dug up for three months to install new Gas works. We gained publicity for creating ‘Black Jack Rubble’ to remind people we were there and went on to win Cirencester Business of the year and Publicity Campaign of the year awards from the Chamber of Commerce.
In 2010 and 2011 we continued our relationship with the London Department stores and had chocolate sculptures in Selfridges Foodhall and in 2011 attended the Harvey Nichols Christmas in July launch with the first of our beautiful Christmas Chocolate baubles.
Our relationship with the Taste of the West awards continued and in 2013 we were named ‘Champion Chocolate’ throughout the South-West a record three years in a row with chief judges including Mitch Tonks, Tim Maddens of River Cottage, and Rick Stein.
We have always used the wonderful organic Jersey cream from Ivy House Farm on the Wiltshire Somerset border. Initially we ordered it from our local farm shop at Allington and when our premises in Corsham opened we joined their twice a week delivery run. In 2012 we visited and adopted Cocoa the Cow. To this day farmer Geoff often does the delivery run himself – you know when those days are as he is always chatting to his customers!
The chocolate we use has changed over the years, always chosen for taste and ethical production, the changes have often been due to circumstances beyond our control. In the early years we used the beautiful Venezuelan chocolate from El Rey. Later we moved to the truly wonderful chocolate produced by the Grenedan Organic Chocolate company. We always loved the fruity notes of Madagscan chocolate and when in 2013 Chocolat Madagscar started to export to the UK we fell in love with their chocolate and became one of their first UK users.
We’ve had some truly exciting commissions over the last few years. A giant Faberge Egg for Harrods to celebrate their Faberge season. A Pop up shop in Bath led to an ongoing relationship producing Easter Eggs for West End shows including Jersey Boys, Cats, The Bodyguard and many more.
We had a slight diversion as TV quiz team The Corsham Chocolatiers in 2010. Chosen for our novelty value and natural charisma(!) we failed to beat the eggheads but we certainly had a great time and took the opportunity to present them with chocolate Easter Eggs!
In 2012 we were chosen by Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis as one of his Small Business Sunday winners. We presented Theo with an Easter egg for the oft mentioned but never seen Mrs P.
We couldn’t talk about the last ten years without mentioning Wedding cakes. Diana and team created some beautiful chocolate wedding cakes and also became renowned as a Croquembouche specialist. Diana and Nina featured on Celebrity Wedding planner with the stars of Australian television series Neighbours.
In 2014 the Telegraph named us as one the five Best Wedding cake makers in the country – hurrah!
2014 was also a year of business decisions. Whilst we had enjoyed running our shop for five years we had rather too many facets to our business and no free time. We could have become a pure cake maker but decided to concentrate on the wholesale side of our chocolate business, sold our Cirencester shop and took our final wedding cake commissions. At the same time we expanded our wholesale business to include distributors for the first time and made our fresh chocolates available to other chocolate shops for the first time. A growing partnership with the Westmorland group saw us launch a fresh chocolate counter at the newly opened and now multi-award winning Gloucester Services Southbound farm shop.
In 2015 we started to make our own chocolate in small batches. Though we very much believe in the Raisetrade model of production of chocolate in the country of origin the availability of small scale grinders allowed Diana to experiment with chocolate making. Our unique Bronde chocolate became a new favourite that we used in our bars, truffles, Easter eggs and also our Salted Caramel hot chocolate Spoons. The Bronde bar won a gold award at the Taste of the West awards 2016.
An appearance on BBC Radio Four woman’s hour by Diana and hosted by the soon to be Bishop of Gloucester Rachel Treweek led to a new friendship and soon to be chocolate inspiration in the form of a new chocolate named ‘The Bish’. Finally 2015 ended with our Salted Peanut bar being named Champion Chocolate at the Taste of the West awards – hurrah again!
And so to 2016, and what a year! A trip to Madagascar in May with a small group of chocolatiers organised by HB ingredients, Chocolat Madagascar and Raisetrade fulfilled a ten year dream of connecting directly with the cocoa farmers.
We established links with the Avoko Avokany Faravohitra children’s home which we now sponsor and met HM Ambassador for Madagascar Timothy Smart. Truly a life changing experience.
June saw the 25th anniversary of Taste of the West and we were invited to a celebratory gold award winners food fair in Exeter where Diana and Tina met patron HRH Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
In the same week I was invited to the Houses of Parliament by Chippenham MP Michelle Donnelan as a celebration of local food producers. I was delighted to meet the newly appointed Secretary of State for food Andrea Ledsom.
The summer holidays gave us the opportunity to again spend some time connecting with cocoa farmers, this time with our children at the Crayfish Bay organic Cocoa plantation in Greneda with owners, farmers and now friends and chocolate makers Kim and Lylette.
The biggest news of the year and perhaps the last ten years was to occur in October. We were once again finalists for Champion Chocolate at the Taste of the West awards and for the first time the awards ceremony was to be held in the glorious setting of Exeter Cathedral. We weren’t confident of winning as we knew that our fellow finalist was an outstanding chocolate maker.
However, It was to be our finest hour as we were named not only Champion Chocolate but Supreme Champion or Champion of Champions! In front of an audience of 800 people the chocolate created for the Bishop of Gloucester ‘The Bish’ was named Supreme Champion for it’s overall technical excellence. The first time a Wiltshire producer has won and the first time a chocolate has won. What a year, what a decade!
So what for 2017 and beyond?
Over the last decade we have changed our business views somewhat and connecting directly with cocoa farmers this year has clarified that view. As Nicolas from Chocolat Madgascar so succinctly said when we were confronted by tens of Malagasy children at our bus window – ‘
We cannot change everything, only our own small part
We don’t want to take over the world. If as a family run business we can make delicious chocolates, work closely with the farmers and growers in a connected way, support our own family and staff, support the Malagasy people, and most importantly delight you, our customers, well that’s pretty good I think. We already have exciting things in motion for 2017, but you’ll have to wait closer to the end of the year to hear more.