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Crafting the magic of sweet success

Koko Black’s journey began in the early 2000s, driven by a desire to fill a gap in Australia’s chocolate scene with premium, distinctly Australian offerings. Food & Beverage Industry News reports.

Nestled in the heart of Australia’s culinary scene lies the rich history of Koko Black, a chocolatier that has captivated taste buds and hearts alike.

From its humble beginnings at local stalls to its triumphant response to the challenges of COVID-19, Koko Black’s journey is a testament to resilience, innovation, and a deep understanding of its consumers.

The story begins with the founder, Shane Hills, who embarked on a mission to translate the indulgent flavours of European chocolate into an Australian context.

Koko Black founder Simon Crowe started the business with a single store in Melbourne. Image: Koko Black

With meticulous attention to detail, Hills curated a range of products that resonated with the local palate, blending traditional techniques with a unique Aussie twist.

In those early days, Koko Black was not just a chocolate brand; it was a destination for in-store delights, where patrons indulged in decadent cakes and innovative chocolate cocktails, all crafted in a boutique-style setting.

Yet, as Koko Black grew, so did its vision. Listening keenly to the desires of their loyal customers, the brand embraced an Australian ethos of thinking outside the box, refusing to be confined by the rules of traditional chocolate-making.

Drawing inspiration from the country’s rich culinary landscape, Koko Black began infusing their creations with native ingredients, introducing bold and unexpected flavours that delighted the senses.

“Our approach was clear,” reflects a Nicolas Georges, Growth & Innovation, Koko Black.

Image: Nicolas Georges has overseen growth and innovation at Koko Black. Image: Koko Black

“We wanted to showcase the best of Australian ingredients while maintaining the artisanal charm that defines our brand.”

Indeed, this commitment to innovation paid off, with signature offerings like Tasmanian Leatherwood Honeycomb becoming instant favourites, tantalising taste buds with their unique local flair.

However, it was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that truly tested Koko Black’s mettle. Overnight, their bustling in-store business came to a grinding halt, leaving the team with no choice but to pivot swiftly in the face
of adversity.

With resilience and ingenuity, they embraced an omnichannel approach, expanding into online and direct-to-consumer avenues, and even exploring new territories through exportation.

“It was a challenging time, but it also presented an opportunity for growth and reflection,” said Georges.

“We realised that our strength lay not just in our products but in the emotional connections they fostered, particularly as gifts.”

As the world emerged from the shadows of the pandemic, Koko Black found itself not only surviving but thriving. Armed with a newfound clarity of purpose, they emerged stronger than ever, with a renewed focus on gift-giving and celebrating their Australian identity.

In the ever-changing landscape of the chocolate industry, Koko Black stands as a beacon of innovation and resilience, a testament to the power of adaptability and the enduring allure of fine chocolate.

Koko Black fuses together traditional European style chocolate and a unique Australian blend. Image: Koko Black

As they continue to delight chocolate lovers around the world, one thing remains certain: the sweet success of Koko Black is a story worth savouring.

Georges said the strong lean towards collaboration has continued to pay dividends for the business and brand as a whole. 

“We have doubled down on collaborations. For example, every July we celebrate World Chocolate Day,” he said.

“We find a great contemporary Australian pastry chef, or someone in the food space, and we create a one-day product. 

“That also helps us network with other chocolate experts. We co-create that one off experience to show how much we love to experiment with our product.” 

This approach also provides interesting and profitable new channels for Koko Black.

“That whole collaboration space has really worked hard for us over the years,” he said. 

“We’ve been fortunate to work with brands in the more commercial domain and together we can curate something interesting and unique, which is always a massive opportunity for Koko Black.

“In that space, you also have to ensure your product does not disappoint, and being a premium chocolate we knew e would get a boost from that.”

Another challenging aspect of successful growth in the space has been around retaining that premium, expertly crafted, product while scaling up. 

Georges said while there were challenges involved, they were ones Koko Black embraced and continues to overcome. 

“For example, we have a lot of chocolatiers and chefs in the business and as we’ve grown their work has grown to include production, not just creation,” he said.

“As we grow, one of the key balance points is to figure out what part should you be able to automate or scale up while retaining the unique nature of your product without impacting what a consumer wants or a creator has achieved. 

“Versus changing parts that make no difference between manual and automation.” 

Georges said it is always an ongoing ‘trial and error’ approach. 

“And because of the product and brand being top end, if it doesn’t feel right or stack up to our standard then we don’t do it.” 

Georges said Koko Black’s approach to sourcing ingredients was the same, and all about retaining the premium nature of the product and brand.

Among the unique ingredients used by the company are lemon myrtle, whipstick wattle, and Davidson plums. 

When it comes to hiring new team members, Koko Black’s emphasis on high quality also applies. 

“You need skill, training, and tenure,” said Georges. 

“What we’ve done is looked at hiring and training and retaining staff to be able to have work all year round,”
he said. 

“We adapt our business to fit with the seasonal cycles we see in the market.

“That ensures they always have work and that the company is always producing and creating.”

Another factor that is always changing as a result of continued growth and diversification of product channels centres on the right selection of manufacturing solutions. 

“It has forced us to look at equipment and solutions to help us manage our product in the best way we can,” said Georges.

“We never want to compromise on sustainable ingredients and being 100 per cent natural.” 

Koko Black’s journey from a local chocolatier to a global brand is a testament to its ability to adapt and innovate in the face of adversity.

Through a commitment to quality, innovation, and embracing a uniquely Australian identity, Koko Black has continued to flourish and aims to build on its reputation as a top choice for premium chocolate.

The Koko Black team of experts take pride in developing new and interesting flavours for the market. Image: Koko Black
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