How I Started a Plant-Based Chocolate Hummus Company

Hello! Who are you and what food business did you start?

Chokks is a plant based company, founded by Rachel – who comes from 30 years in the hospitality industry in Australia, and internationally (UK – 20 years, Vietnam – 2.5 years and Indonesia – 1 year).

Chokks was founded after Rachel adopted some rabbits (Sid, Megan and Smudge) who hated her cooking any meat or dairy products, so Rachel decided to take her knowledge of the food industry and start a company which produces Chocolate, Sweet Dessert Hummus and coming soon Chokks Breakfast Drink which are all: Plant based, Gluten free, Vegan Friendly, High in protein and fibre, with no preservatives and no refined sugars (all products are sweetened with Pure maple syrup).

Hummus and artisan chocolate gift basket.

What are your ballpark monthly or annual revenue numbers?

Chokks only launched in July 2019, so ballpark figures are only a couple of thousand a month at present.

But, we are going to be selling at the world famous Salamanca Market in Hobart from February through an innovation scheme run by Hobart City Council in Tasmania, Australia who not only give me the opportunity to get in to the market (it is very hard to get into!), but also helps with some free Business advice from a company here, which has been invaluable, and we are working on getting our products into many more stores over the coming months.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After traveling the world for many years, earning good money in the hospitality industry, but spending it all on travel meant I arrived back in Australia with hardly any funds. So, with a couple of thousand Australian Dollars, I decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and start my own company here. 

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My hospitality career was mostly in running pubs/bars and restaurants, so although I have experience with food, this is a completely new area doing food production and trying to get my product out there.

The original idea came from the fact that I LOVE sweet products, but everyone is always telling you how unhealthy they are, how bad for you they are….and I thought…why not come up with products that are ‘free from’ all the bad things…but NOT free from the taste of good products.

Take us through the process of developing, testing, and producing your hummus and chocolate.

A sample of the products at Chokks online store.

When I first started, I had never made Chocolate before in my life. I had to look up how to temper it (this is what makes the chocolate not melt immediately when you touch it!) and as I was making products without the usual additives (refined sugars etc) it did take months of trial and error to get it right.

Once I had the chocolate right (which I now do in three flavours – Original, Pepperberry (Pepperberry is from Tasmania, Australia – Pepperberries are more versatile than conventional peppercorns, they can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. They also have three times the antioxidents of blueberries!) and Lemon Myrtle (one of Australias most popular – fresh flavours of lemon and limes!) 

I then had to get my Sweet Dessert Hummus right…this took much testing, get my other half to taste it daily until I got the recipe right.

All in all, it took about six months for me to get the recipes right and be happy with the taste and what was in the products.

Describe the process of launching your luxury chocolate company.

I have created the website, Facebook page and Instagram page, decided on packaging and labelling all myself. This was hard, and needs constant ‘tweaking’. I even do my own food photography (which is not the best, just keeping my costs down!)

 Only last week I had the opportunity to speak to a guy here who has done work with some of the biggest brands here in Australia, and I was very lucky that he gave me nearly two hours of his time whilst he explained the rules of branding, and this has made me come away with new ideas, and I intend to change things around a bit on the branding side of the business, which will include a label change and changing up the website and social media pages.

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The first month was the hardest. We all like to think everyone will love our products as much as we do, and that the minute we launch – we will immediately be busy. Well, for me it didn’t happen that way. I didn’t get one order in the first few weeks, which can be soul destroying, but I think it is in those moments that it is most important to stay positive and keep working hard at it.

The Ideal Corporate Gift
Chokkles Sweet Dessert Hummus

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers in your chocolate business?

I am still working daily on gaining and retaining customers. The trick is to make sure the product is moreish enough, and something that should be a ‘staple’ in everyones fridge/cupboard.

Have I found the magic solution to this yet, no, I think I am still learning every day.

I have tried both Facebook and Google advertising, but I have found that my website reaches more people by keeping my Google My Business page up to date. I try to write posts monthly, and this seems to get me on/near page one of google.

I also give away a lot of samples to stores, people who are local ‘influencers’ as I am not just building a food production company – I am trying to build a brand.

I pick the stores I want to approach – as I don’t want the product to go into just anywhere – I want it to be in the right space for my target markets.

Google my Business is a forum you can not only put all your products onto – so they show up in Google when someone looks up the relevant keywords…but you can also post about anything and everything.

I sometimes post about my products, and sometimes promote about other things such as the health benefits. The posts do not have to be long, and take about 5 minutes to upload.

Then – your google page looks like this:

Chokks Luxury Chocolates

And here is an example of a post I have done over the last week:

Google My Business Post

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I was very careful when I started out to make sure that our products were going to be profitable. I checked the costings many times before finally deciding on pricing (I find this to be the boring part of the business, but it has to be done!).

For direct sales to the public – I have set my Gross margin at 70-80%. For wholesale – I sell at 45%. As a ‘one man band’ at this stage – I don’t have high wages to pay, or any other huge costs and every bit of profit I make goes straight back into the business.

I have written myself a 4 year business plan – and I am working hard to make it happen. I am on track for my first trading year, and might even exceed my goals.

I absolutely believe in writing business plans…it keeps you focused on what needs to be done and your goals. Even though I am a ‘one man band’ right now – I re-read my business plan every couple of weeks, and make ‘tweaks’ to it (as it is a working document) to keep me on the right path. It helps immensely with making sure you take your business in the right direction from the start.

I make sure I cover the following as a minimum in any business plan:

  1. The Vision
  2. The Target market
  3. Marketing plan
  4. Financials
  5. SWOT plan – Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats and Opportunities
  6. Competitors – SWOT on them as well.

Chokks will be ‘ever changing and ever improving’ but I believe the future is bright.

Through starting a plant-based food business, what is something you’ve learned?

I have been lucky in that plant based products are a huge trend here in Australia right now, however, it wasn’t all just luck – following the trends and looking at what the big companies are doing in the future (they have big teams of people paid to look into this – google enough and you can take advantage of this information!) helps a great deal.

The hard learning curve has been dealing with retailers. Some want to ‘screw’ the price right down, do that they can make a better margin. I didn’t realize they would be so hard to work with.

What are the cooking utensils couldn’t live without?

My favorite pieces of kit are my scales and thermometers! Boring I know, but without those two things my recipes would not stay true to the product and would not be consistent.

What have been the most inspirational books or television shows?

I will happily spend my down time looking up articles on food trends, looking to see what the competition is doing, and if I am feeling really down – I watch episodes of Shark Tank (or Dragons Den UK), I find this not only motivates me – but you can pick up some valuable advice from them if you listen hard enough!

Advice for other food entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The biggest thing about starting out with your new business is be prepared for highs and lows (and not much in between!).

It is important to stay motivated at all times…be happy to take advice and be happy to listen to others. When I first started out, I did a couple of local markets – provided tasters, so that I could get feedback and tweak my products as needed.

Where can we go to learn more?

About Support Staff

Brett Lindenberg is the founder of Food Truck Empire and Food Empire Pro. Brett's mission is help to entrepreneurs start and grow profitable food businesses. Since 2014, Brett has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs on the Food Empire Pro podcast and written hundreds of blog posts on all aspects of food business. Brett has been quoted in media outlets like Entrepreneur Magazine, CNBC, and The Washington Post.