Aroha Chocolate® was founded by husband & wife team Jo Logan & Mike Duke (aka Wobblie – “most people know me as that”) and they have been selling their handcrafted chocolate delights at local markets for the last three years.
Now, as well as selling at their regular stall at Saturday’s Nelson Market they have expanded to supplying a few hand-selected outlets to stock their products so I thought I should talk to the people behind this growing business, a business based on creating and selling happiness, after all who doesn’t like the occasional treat of pure deliciousness.
So how did a sign writer turned audio technician and a retail and supply chain coordinator end up making chocolates, Jo says while making chocolate gifts for friends and family for special occasions she realised it was something she loved doing and wanted to do on a more professional basis.
“I used to make truffles as Christmas gifts, imagine the chaos of working in pre-Christmas retail and then spending evenings unwinding to the smell of chocolate – it was my favourite part of Christmas.”
Moving from a hobby to a small, part-time business was something they had thought about casually, “I would say to Wobblie I would quite like to do this and work from home, then the global financial crisis hit and both the businesses we worked for were affected. Wobblie was made redundant and I worked nine-day fortnights for a while.”
“One of my managers said why don’t you find something else to do to earn some extra money, that gave me the motivation and gentle push I needed to grow the hobby into something just a little larger.”
Her learning started by reading as many books about chocolate as she could get her hands on, covering everything from working with chocolate to learning about where to get really good quality chocolate to use in her products.
Jo says “I knew I had to learn about chocolate so I bought some blocks of couverture chocolate and tried to teach myself how to temper it, it sounds easy but I soon found it isn’t as easy as it appears, especially in a tiny home kitchen in the middle of February with no aircon, the difficulty of growing from a hobby to a small business became very real very quickly.”
While she was doing this research Jo heard about an online Chocolatier course she could do, “it was a fantastic, interactive course run by a Canadian company, there were theory components and practical assignments that included working with flavours and techniques.
“Then there was a practical course in Vancouver, Canada where I spent five days in a chocolatiers kitchen on Bowen Island, it was an inspiring few days.”
She came back to New Zealand as an Ecole Chocolat Certified Chocolatier and with friends they still keep in touch with, “we also did a lot of market research, everywhere we travelled we tried lots of chocolates – some good some bad.”
“When we moved into our current house I just said to Wobblie ‘I could work here’, it is a lovely environment and it had space to set up a small commercial kitchen so we converted one of the two garages in the basement into the perfect chocolatier kitchen, lined to meet food standards and fitted with air conditioning.”
“When we are working in the chocolate kitchen after we get home from our day jobs we are in our happy place, it is where we relax and just work with this amazing yet challenging ingredient.”
Within a couple of weeks of coming back to Nelson from Canada they entered the market. Rocky Road was the first slice of deliciousness they made to sell and it is still their main product, along with chocolate shards and truffles. “While traditional rocky road is a hard block of chocolate with marshmallows and other ingredients ours is a smooth and creamy milk chocolate ganache with marshmallows, Pics roasted peanuts and dark chocolate trimmings on a tempered dark chocolate base.”
“We enjoy being at the markets talking to customers and getting their feedback . One of the things main things we do is listen to what people are saying and requesting, we had customers who were requesting plain chocolate and that is when we developed our shard range which has recently grown to include flavoured shards.”
So while Jo works her magic Wobblie says “I am just the assistant” but Jo is quick to say he does all of the design work, including developing their website, “we try and do everything in-house” and he also helps in the kitchen with Jo.
Wobblie, makes sure the business is running properly and that they have everything they need to make and package the product.
Aroha Chocolates are created using only the finest Belgian chocolate, they understand they’re the only South Island company that uses solely Callebaut chocolate and when they can buy in larger quantities they would love to add Callebaut’s organic range, “ours is a premium range and we make sure we use premium ingredients”.
While this hard working couple have been slowly growing their business, recently adding a few hand-selected retail outlets to places we can buy these treats, they know they will have some decisions to make some time in the future, “do we grow or stay the same, we love the work-life balance we have now” says Jo.
“Where do we want the business to go, I don’t know because it will change everything, I know it has potential but growing comes with downsides, at the moment chocolate is a stress release, when we have tough day and come home to the kitchen I am in my happy place, if we get too big I know I would lose some of that so we are in no hurry to make those decisions.”
It may be tempting to grow the business but Jo and Wobblie simply love what they do, they love their day jobs and relax by making chocolate treats in the evenings.
The last word goes to Wobblie “we are confident this business can grow but we still have a huge amount to learn, moving from a hobby business to a full-time business in the very competitive chocolate market won’t be easy and comes with plenty of risk, we are pretty conservative people so we don’t think we will be changing anytime soon, the only changes will be a few more products we have been trialling.”
Aroha means love and that is exactly what Jo and Wobblie do, Aroha Chocolate produces hand crafted, fine chocolates right here in Nelson for you to buy at the Nelson Market, via their website and from a few selected retailers.