30 June 2023
Dreaming Up a Chocolate Factory in the Business & IP Centre | User Stories
When Amarachi Clarke started her chocolate-making business, Lucocoa, she found information and support at the British Library.
I used to be a keen runner, but when I got injured doing the San Francisco Women's Marathon, I went from being able to run 26 miles to not being able to run at all. I wanted to incorporate really good chocolate into my healing process. I started exploring, but the more I read, the more it didn't quite align with what I was seeing on the shelf. The books were saying that chocolate's like wine and coffee, where different regions create different flavours. I thought, why does all this dark chocolate taste so bitter?
I taught myself how to make chocolate
I’ve got an international development background. I started looking at the chocolate supply chain; it's very murky. No one in the UK really makes chocolate, and the big companies are still using child and slave labour. In 2001, they all signed up to something called the Harkin Engel Protocol, which was supposed to eradicate it. I used to be the Vice President (Welfare) of the National Union of Students, so I know campaigning can do incredible things, but sometimes it can take so long. Those big companies have got enough marketing budget to fob you off.
I thought, let's go down a business route. That's when I taught myself how to make chocolate. In 2015, I converted the second bedroom in our two-bedroom flat into a chocolate factory. We launched at a chocolate show and sold out. Then I took a market stall in Brick Lane for two years, trying to refine our recipes. In February 2020, we moved to our own factory in Bermondsey. It probably wasn't the best time to move, but we're still there three years later. We are London's first bean-to-bar chocolate maker. When we started, there weren’t many in the country, and then we became the first in London, which is wild.
The BIPC is almost too good to be true
The British Library’s Business & IP Centre is pretty special. They have all this research that we wouldn’t be able to buy by ourselves. Every time industry reports come out, I go down to the Library to go through what they’re saying the trends are, and see how that compares to what we’re doing. In the early days of Lucocoa, the Library was advertising their Innovating for Growth programme (which has now been succeeded by Get Ready for Business Growth) but you had to have a revenue of over £100,000 to take part. We qualified the year after we moved factories. I had one-to-one meetings with experts and it made me really think deeply about our purpose and strategy.
If you’ve got a small business, or are thinking of starting one, the Library’s BIPC will help you understand what you’re trying to do. You can research your market at the click of a button. We never used it for intellectual property, but I know that if I was starting again, I would. I made mistakes on one or two of the trade marks I was filing, and I'm pretty sure that if I’d gone in and asked a couple of questions, somebody would have told me. The BIPC is one of those things that's almost too good to be true – but honestly, just believe it.
People mistake us for Willy Wonka
It takes three days to make a bar of chocolate. We receive tasting notes for each sack of beans, like citrus or roasted nuts, and then I try to find those notes as we roast and grind. We say, okay, for me personally, what do I like tasting? You can't do what all the big companies do, which is shove them in the oven and just burn them – that’s how you get bitter chocolate. It's like eating burnt toast. It's not supposed to taste like that.
We roast our beans at a lower temperature to extract the flavor. We crush them and remove the shells, then put the nibs – the insides of the cocoa beans – into big stone grinders. We add coconut sugar, lucuma and cocoa butter, if it's dark chocolate, and milk, if it's milk chocolate. On the third day, we cool some of the chocolate down and temper some to make it into bars. People mistake us for Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, when really it's a lot of heavy lifting and measuring things quite precisely. You need to concentrate.
I even made brownies on This Morning
Our name is Lucocoa: 'lu' for lucuma, 'co' for coconut sugar and 'coa' for the cocoa beans and butter. I wanted to hold us to account, and make sure we would continue to work with these core ingredients. We’re passionate about three things: cleaning up the supply chain and paying people what they’re worth, making chocolate taste how it's supposed to taste, and not using white refined sugar. We use coconut sugar instead, and a fruit from Peru called lucuma, which is a superfood. Our customers love the taste of our chocolate and the fact that we're doing something good.
A lot has happened since we've grown – I even made brownies on This Morning. We do school visits now. In February, we hosted 80 Year Two students over three days, which was absolute carnage, but their little faces were so excited. We do quite a lot of bespoke work – a client recently asked us to make a bust of Sir Christopher Wren out of chocolate for the 300th anniversary of his death. We’ve worked with Google, and Puma, and Spotify. We’ve been asked to do quite a lot of stuff.
As told to Lucy Peters