Having a Chat with CREOATE Co-founder, Ashley HornMontezuma’s was built on a love of proper chocolate and heaps of enthusiasm to bring some fun and innovation to the British market. It all started when founders Helen and Simon left their jobs to go travelling to South America. They were blown away by the quality of the chocolate they discovered, and knew they just had to bring a taste of it back to Britain. Learning the secrets behind the flavour, and finding the finest cocoa from only certified sources, they taught themselves how to create the most delicious chocolate by hand. They opened their first Chocolate Shop in Brighton and 20 years later have now grown to 8 stores across the UK.
How do you ensure the cocoa and ingredients you use are sustainably sourced?
We work with a number of suppliers to source the best-tasting chocolate but everything we buy must also meet stringent ethical standards and certifications, including Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Soil Association, and Cocoa Horizons. We are committed to the long-term sustainability of cocoa plantations and the wider industry. It’s vital that farmers earn enough money to survive and thrive, learn how to improve the yield of their cocoa trees, and that their children get the education and medical care they deserve. We buy our cocoa with this philosophy in mind — it’s all certified and comes from sustainable sources.
Is Montezuma’s chocolate Fairtrade and organic?
Our priority is to buy the best tasting responsibly sourced cocoa to make our chocolate and this is why we don’t narrow ourselves to an individual cocoa growing region or certification such as Fairtrade. As long as every chocolate purchase we make plays a part in improving the industry and the lives of farmers. This is all encompassed in a strategy we refer to as ‘Business Done Properly’.
In terms of our organic chocolate, we have plenty of products including buttons, bars and truffles that use only organic cocoa and ingredients. All of our organic products are certified by the Soil Association, who audit our processes and procedures annually. Not all of our products are organic and this mainly comes down to getting the right flavour balance for each individual product. However, with a range as wide as ours we hope that everyone can find a product that meets all of their needs.
Tell us a bit about the different types of chocolate you make (milk, white, dark, vegan etc.)
We want everyone to be able to enjoy our extraordinary chocolate, which is why we have products to suit every occasion, budget, and lifestyle. Our range is 100% gluten-free and over half is vegan. Our ranges include bars, buttons, truffles and so much more!
We love shaking up the chocolate market. As the first company to bring chilli chocolate to the high street, we are best known for our bold combinations like our ‘Happy Hippy’ with orange and geranium. We know our chocolate is of such good quality that we aren’t afraid to give it to customers straight up with our 100% cocoa ‘Absolute Black’. Be warned, it’s not for the faint hearted — but it is our best seller! If you prefer your chocolate on the sweeter side then we have plenty of options in milk and white chocolate, too.
How is Montezuma’s ethically and sustainably sourced chocolate packaged?
As from early 2020, every piece of packaging on every chocolate that we sell is either recyclable, biodegradable or compostable. That includes everything from our bar wrappers to their ink and stickers.
It’s been a mammoth task and we’re super proud of what we’ve achieved. In fact, we believe we’re the first chocolate company in the UK to be able to make this claim on our entire range and across all packing materials.
All our packaging is now only sourced from the UK and Europe, despite cheaper sources being available from countries further away. This supports our drive to become carbon neutral.
We are also now working with our suppliers to encourage them to review their packaging principles and swap their non-recyclable packaging to fully recyclable materials.
Could you explain your ‘zero to landfill’ status, and how you ensure your factories are not only eco-friendly, but safe and pleasant places to work for employees?
Being a zero to landfill business is not easy but it’s something we’re passionate about making sure we live up to. Just one of the ways we make use of all products that come out of the chocolate making process is by diverting the high fat water bi-product away from drains and instead to local farms for use in animal feed. The rubbish produced in our stores is also returned to the factory for hand sorting and recycling.
With regard to our employees, we started 22 years ago as a very small business and our culture has always been based around strong family values and a desire to be fun-loving. As we have grown, we have retained those family values and the sense of fun but also continually enhanced our food quality standards and our health and safety standards.
What does Montezuma’s do for its team and local communities?
Creating a happy workplace is very important here at Montezuma’s. Anyone who has ever visited our HQ will have seen that we try to achieve this in the most creative ways possible. For example, our annual (and highly competitive) summer badminton tournament is a great way to bring everyone from our factory and head office together for a bit of fun in the sun. Not only do we have a fabulous People and Culture team forever working on ways to make life at Montezuma’s as happy as possible, but we also have a Diversity and Equality team, Social committee and group of Mental Health First Aiders who all collectively create a safe and supported workplace.
Chocolate is at the heart of everything we do but being part of the local community is also a top priority. We have worked with ‘Children on the Edge’ for 10 years and share the vision to make a difference in a real, genuine, and entrepreneurial way, using the most sustainable solutions. They support over 15,000 of the world's most marginalised children through the provision of education and the creation of protective environments. With the help of Pennies to collect micro donations instore and online we raised over £28,000 which was then added to with our company promise to double donations up to £20,000 a year, making the final total a huge £48,830,80!
What kind of problems does the cocoa farming industry face, and what are other chocolate brands doing wrong? How does Montezuma’s plan to affect wider change?
One of the biggest issues within the entire cocoa farming industry is the incidence of forced labour and slavery, although it is more prevalent in some regions and countries than others. We are a small manufacturer within the global industry and therefore have limited influence but we always focus on doing the right thing. We always pay a premium for our cocoa which provides us with traceability through the supply chain and also provides a living wage for the farmer and their family.
Would you say that consumers now are aware of the extent of the problems within the industry? Are customer habits and opinions shifting?
The use of palm oil and its impact on our planet is a problem that our industry has been facing for a long time. Luckily, our consumers are starting to get more knowledgeable on this topic and as a brand that has been committed to never ever using palm oil in any of our products our long term and new customers alike are as equally in support of this. Hopefully more brands will continue to follow suit so we can all help make products that lead to happy people as well as a happy planet!
It’s easy to feel disheartened by the state of things when thinking about the climate crisis, so it’s encouraging to see brands like Montezuma’s putting these initiatives so high up their agenda. What advice would you give to customers looking to shop more sustainably? Is there anything we should be looking out for when choosing brands, particularly within food and beverage?
It seems very cliché to say but it really is true that small changes do make big differences! The impact really does start to stack up the more we try and think about ways to change our day-to-day behaviour. Choosing brands with recyclable packaging is definitely one big step in the right direction, but we also encourage any businesses to think about getting involved in the refill movement and checking out our bulk products.
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