Kakawa Artisan was born in the midst of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, the brainchild of a sweet-toothed businessman looking to make his dream a reality. We chat with founder John Jeffery about his journey to becoming a full-time business owner and chocolatier.
Hi John! Please introduce yourself!
I’m a CEO, Chocolatier, businessman and founder of Kakawa by day - socialist, nature lover, and foodie by night. I’m passionate about creating something new, something more than just ordinary - most of all, making it taste great and having fun with it! I feel a recipe is only a theme, a tune that anyone can play, but add some inspiration each time with a different variation.
I pride myself on having accomplished (and smashed!) many of the goals I have set myself, continuously setting the bar higher for myself, and always striving to achieve more. I leave no stone unturned and have worked hard to get where I am today.
Tell us more about Kakawa, how did the business come about?
Since I was a child, all I dreamt about was having my very own business in the food sector. More recently, I’ve dreamt of surpassing major brands both in being a leading brand in the chocolate world, but most importantly, in taste.
After being in the food industry for quite some time —19 years to be exact— one evening, something just clicked. While on furlough I realised that this was my time, my chance, and immediately I needed to address my dreams, after maintaining others' for so long. It was then that I decided to make a go of it. I made a start with a very small number of slabs in 3 different flavours, and very quickly word spread about this ‘new chocolate’ being ‘the best I’ve ever tasted'.
As the interest in my chocolate and my story continued to grow, so did the ideas and the range of products. It was then that I realised, without a doubt, that I could in fact not only make my dreams come true, but surpass all expectations in the process!
Now, fast forward to 2022. After a good few years of hard work and patience, we now offer in excess of 200 handmade chocolate products within our collections, a selection of which we were fortunate enough to showcase in one of the high street’s top tier retailers in the lead up to Christmas 2021. This has driven me to continue to grow, and achieve my ultimate goal of being one of the industry leaders within the UK independent chocolate market.
I also want to show, particularly to children and young entrepreneurs, that your dreams are worth chasing. You can start your very own business from your kitchen table, with nothing more than a pen and paper - and in my case, chocolate!
What would you say are the biggest challenges when it comes to running a small business specialising in food & beverage?
Being able to stand out with a product that is AAA in a very crowded marketplace, whilst competing on price, quality, and taste.
What is your process for coming up with new flavours and products? How do you determine which flavour combinations will work best?
Honestly, when it comes to food, the best tried and tested method is exactly that. Try, try and try again. Of course, 90% of my ideas are spur of the moment. I’ll literally be creating our delicious chocolates and a thought will pop into my head ‘hmmm, what about XYZ’, and before you know it, one —or 3— has been made, and rigorous taste testing takes place —who wouldn’t love a buddy that owns a chocolate business— and if it’s an all-round winner then it takes pride of place on the website and off it goes.
Your chocolate bars in particular look mouth-wateringly good, and in no small part due to their elaborate decoration. When it comes to deciding your flavour combinations, do you plan how you’ll decorate them, or is this more of a spontaneous process?
Like any form of art, decorating begins as a spontaneous process and develops into that ‘perfect masterpiece’ that is worthy of sitting on the shelf.
What has been your biggest learning from starting the business from scratch, and expanding your range?
The biggest lesson for me has been that not everything works, and that’s ok! You have to get things wrong, to be able to get things right. To this day I’m still creating and curating —sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t— but when it works, oh baby does it work!
What benefits and challenges has selling wholesale presented you with?
Obviously, the biggest benefit is the brand exposure, being able to present your product to a wider ‘brick and mortar’ audience is just the best feeling.
The biggest challenge, along with tighter margins, has got to be how much more I criticise myself. Not only am I representing myself and the brand, but I’m representing the business that is selling the product.
What’s the best thing about your job?
For me it’s got to be the fact that I know with every bite, I am bringing a moment of happiness to someone's day.
We have to ask…is it ever possible to get sick of chocolate when you work with it every day?
Well, after working with it for such a long time now, I can’t actually smell it anymore! So, I guess I become so entangled in the creating and making that the art of the chocolate takes over. Seriously though, who would ever get sick of chocolate?
What plans do you have for Kakawa over the coming months/years etc?
Oooooh, well that would be telling a BIG BIG secret, but what I will say is, we have no plans of slowing down.
What advice do you have for people working in an industry and wanting to take the leap and start their own business? It can be quite daunting, how do you make that shift and make it a reality? What would you have told yourself back then?
If you have an idea, or a particular niche that you want to make into a business venture, go for it. Don’t ever be afraid of trying, because 9 out of 10 of those that fear failure let it stop them. You will get things wrong. Things will be hard, but after time, practice, and patience, it will happen and you will reap the rewards. Don’t ever let anyone decide the future for you, because you only get one life, and you’ll spend the rest of it thinking ‘what if’.