The founder of Amelia Rope chocolate shares her startup mistakes and successes

How did it start? 

By mistake really. From the age of 13, I was compelled to make some cash. The first 'business' I had was bagging up my pony's manure and selling it at the end of the drive. I went on to cook for family friends and when I passed my driving test I borrowed my ma's car and waitressed at parties with a friend.

I then wrote to an editor asking if he could help me to get into food journalism. I took along some handmade truffles and he said I was the next Juliette Binoche and I found myself on The Market Kitchen showing how to coat and dip truffles.

I didn't have a business at this stage but people on the show asked what my company name was and so I called it, on the spot, Bespoke Truffles. I founded Amelia Rope Chocolate in September 2007 and made bespoke truffles and unique crystallised flora dipped in chocolate and decorated with gold or silver leaf.

How difficult was it growing your brand on your own?

Being in charge I opted to make sure that any major store I supplied I had the time and energy to put into tastings and to support it as much as I could. I didn't want to spread myself thinly but that has prevented me from getting my brand out there. Having said this, I have strong regular sales and I can begin to push hard with exporting.  

There are always upsides and downsides with situations - the upside has been that, up to a point, I have been able to do what I like, how I like with nobody to answer to. The downside is that I haven’t had anyone to share any responsibility with, work as a team/partnership and learn from.

How do you start a chocolate company? 

Chocolate demands to be handled in a controlled environment with the humidity and temperature controlled.  If you want to run it in a small way and supply markets, local stores and friends and family then operating it from your home is usually fine.

I went on to fit out a room in Borough to be a chocolate kitchen at huge expense.  In retrospect, this was the 'wrong' way to set up but you often need the 'wrong' way to show you the 'right' way.

If you are aiming to supply larger stores, export etc. you will need to either have the financial funds to set up an industrial production unit (which can be a substantial outlay with staffing, equipment before you generate the volume of sales) or outsource to a chocolate production company.  

There is a lot to know about setting up a food business and huge responsibility.

How hard was it breaking into the chocolate industry with so much competition around?

I was lucky and dropped the only two chocolate bars off I was making at Selfridges and they immediately picked up on the bars and my brand. So the initial tapping into the market was not too challenging and totally surprised me.   

What advice would you give to somebody thinking about starting their own chocolate business?

It is a saturated market and has been for many years. You need to find a gap in the market if you can and of course, have a USP for your brand. Make sure you source your chocolate from chocolate houses/plantations who are supporting and promoting the ethical and sustainable practice.

You should also be aware of cocoa prices and sugar prices going up at times dramatically, take on board there are a lot of food laws for production as well as health and safety.

What was the hardest barrier to overcome when growing?

For me, lack of resources (financial & manpower) and any security.  At one stage I moved 15 times in 15 months for the sake of chocolate. 

What has been your major breakthrough?

Finally giving in and making chocolate bars - a product which was marketable, scalable and had a good shelf life for retailers!

What do you enjoy about running your own business? 

Seeing something grow, the huge learning curve, the challenges, the achievements and the incredible people I meet along the way.

To find out more about Amelia Rope, check here website out here! You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter


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