Cocoa by L is a luxury chocolatier specialising in raw artisan chocolate founded by self-proclaimed chocoholic, Layla Greening. In her previous life Layla has worked in a number of different industries including finance, social work, human rights and holistic therapy.
Her last job as a holistic therapist has had a direct influence on the business, which plays an active role on the spiritual side of cocoa. Layla believes that chocolate can be sensual as well as spiritual, and her chocolate has a special place in cocoa rituals.
It is believed that cacao was first used as a health elixir and ceremonial medicine as far back as 1900 BC by the ancestors of Central America, the Olmec people, before becoming a ritualistic medicine used by the Aztec and Mayan cultures. The Mayans held yearly festivals to honour the god of cocoa, Ek Chuah, by conducting several ceremonies and sacrificial rituals.
Today, modern cocoa rituals involve the consumption of unprocessed and unroasted cocoa in a ceremonial context so that all its mood enhancing neurochemicals become active and assist with feelings of wellbeing.
The ceremony takes place in a relaxing environment that supports meditation and reflection into the self. The aim is to explore and sit with the stories of the heart and to identify areas that are causing the individual restriction, limitation and pain. These sentiments are worked through via a heroic dose of raw cocoa (usually around 1-2 oz of cacao, mixed with water into a drink), followed by deep meditation and contemplation.
Cocoa is a powerful antioxidant, and in order to preserve this quality the beans Layla uses are not processed above 42 C in order to retain most the of the nutrients that are usually lost during roasting. Layla’s raw, organic chocolate comes in a variety of flavours including: salted caramel, chai, bittersweet orange, coconut dream, dark ganache with Himalayan rock salt, hazelnut roche, mint crisp and espresso. Her products can be purchased online in boxes of four, six or eight.
Can you tell us about your career journey to date and what attracted you to the chocolate realm in the first place?
I have always been a lover of chocolate. I am one of those people that need chocolate on a daily basis. However, I am also relatively health conscious and I was dismayed at the unhealthy ingredients in commercial brands. I searched and searched for healthier versions but the ones I came across just tasted so bland. There has to be a way to have a healthy chocolate without compromising on the taste!
How did you come up with the idea for Cocoa by L?
With this in mind I decided to experiment in my kitchen with various healthy ingredients. I liked the taste of what I came up with – it was my coconut flavour. I decided to test it out at a yoga event in Hyde Park where I just handed out chunks. I received a great response and subsequently ended up renting a small space in the basement of a bagel shop in Camden where I experimented with other ideas and ways to start my business.
How did you know there was a market for your product and how did you get the word out there?
The raw food concept is growing rapidly and veganism has grown significantly in the last five years alone. People are now more conscious about what they are eating, how it is made, where it comes from etc. Social media was the main way I started to spread the word with friends and friends of friends buying my products. I then sold at markets especially around the Christmas period.
Raw foods and “indulgent health foods” are a high-growth sector in the food & beverage space right now. Who are your biggest competitors at the moment?
Chocolate companies such as Booja Booja and Sweet Virtues are big competitors as they are established. The biggest challenge is setting yourself apart from the rest. Cocoa by L is very active in the spiritual side of cacao. We supply the cacao drinks and host cocoa ceremonies, which have become very popular in London. This helps to spread the word about the company.
Where do you source your cocoa beans from and where does the roasting take place? Are you in touch with the farmers who harvest the beans?
The cacao beans are sourced from a small farm in Ecuador. They are the highest-grade Arriba beans. As I am currently a small time producer I cannot go direct to the farm, so I go through a UK supplier who also sends the beans off for analysis for me.
Where do you source the rest of your ingredients from such as cocoa nibs? nuts? Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil etc.? Is the ethical sourcing of these additional ingredients equally as important as the cocoa?
The ethical sourcing of ingredients is at the forefront of the company. All ingredients have to be 100% raw, fairtrade and organic. I use a health food company in the UK for this.
Where are the chocolates manufactured and what is the process?
I manufacture all of the products myself. I was originally based in a basement of a bagel shop in Camden. However, economically this was not viable so I now do all of the manufacturing at home in my own kitchen. The process begins with cleaning the nibs, grinding and then conching for at least 48 hours. In the meantime, depending on the requirements I make the fillings, ganache of cakes.
There has recently been a major scandal in the craft chocolate world: Mast Brothers exposed. Are you familiar with the story? If so, what are your thoughts?
I am very familiar with the Mast Brothers story. It was something that I questioned whilst in their shop when the bars I bought looked mass manufactured rather than artisan. I am a very big supporter on being completely honest about your methods of production and supply, particularly if your prices are in the premium range. There have been several large chocolate companies that have been exposed for their questionable ethical practices in acquiring cacao. However, nothing appears to be done about it. The consumers are not particularly all that concerned with ethical practices. A recent survey I conducted with 500 consumers showed that the top three important factors in purchasing chocolate is, in order, price, packaging and taste. Ethics showed up last on the list in 90% of them. This is a real shame however, I do believe that slowly this mindset is beginning to change now that artisan, rustic and healthy food is becoming very popular.
Where can people purchase your products?
At present, people can purchase my products via the Internet. I am not currently up to speed with my branding and packaging so the products are unable to be in retail stores.
What has been your greatest achievement with Cocoa by L to date?
My first market was a sell out. It was all the encouragement I needed to be safe in knowledge that my products were something that people wanted! This gave me great pleasure and gave me the drive to keep going.
What has been the most challenging business endeavour you have faced?
The most challenging business issue that I have faced so far was the very first one. I made the first biggest mistake that any entrepreneur could make. I took some terrible advice from a ‘business’ advisor and did not ask for enough funding from the start-up loans company. I needed four times the amount I asked for. Unfortunately, I realised my mistake a day after the funds hit my bank account and the start-up loans company would not allow me to give it back and request the higher amount. This meant that I only had enough money for my basic equipment and nothing else. This was a very challenging time and it has subsequently made the journey much slower.
What does 2016 hold for Cocoa by L?
2016 has already been full of surprises. I exhibited at the food and drink expo in Birmingham, which was an eye opener. I learned a lot about the retail business and also gained a lot of interest. This summer will be filled with trading at festivals and living in a tent most of the time. This begins next week at Hay Festival where I will be supplying around 400 raw free-form chocolate pots of heaven a day to customers. I am currently seeking to potentially buy some premises where I can produce and trade from.
What would you like the last meal of your life to be?
This would have to be a very spicy Vietnamese soup, followed by lots of tapas dishes and finally some chocolate where each square will be from a different bean from around the world. I might sneak in one of my fabulous cakes, mousse or ice cream too.
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