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It’s one of those cliché moments…a gathering of
building had been used for making a boutique brand of ice
people, someone brings out a plate of biscuits or
cream, but as happened to other niche ice cream products, the
advent of Häagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s into the UK market
proved too much for small producers to bear.
“Oh, these are lovely, did you make them yourself?”
Shy grin. Sarah and Rory took a five year lease on the 1600 square feet of
“Yes, I did, actually.”
space and set about building the business in earnest. But it wasn’t just
“Well, you should do this for a living, they’re really
any business. Both Rory and Sarah had a dream, of a business that
good. You’d make a fortune!”
could be founded on the truest ethical and environmental principles.
“You think so?”
“We realised that our own values could form our USP,” Rory says.
And nothing happens, because life for most people “We knew people in farmers’ markets would expect nothing but the
just doesn’t work like that.
best. Our organic cacao is grown in gaps in the rainforest canopy, not
from clear-cut areas. Each week, the amount of rubbish produced by
But Sarah Payne isn’t most people. Back in her house in Partridge
our business is equal to just one household bin. Everything else is
Green, Sussex, she thought about what her friends had said and
recycled, even the paper hand towels in the bathrooms. We get our
decided to give it a shot, initially selling her organic homemade
home electricity from a green power company and we are talking to
brownies on EBay.
the Knepp Castle estate abouth doing the same. All the packaging
we use is bio-degradable and compostable. There is not a scrap of
Her husband Rory was an IT programme manager at HSBC in London,
plastic here, all our bags are cellulose. The bags we give market
managing the rollout of multinational software updates and network
customers are cotton from India or made from recycled newspapers
upgrades, working with teams in India and Hong Kong.
by children in the Indian slums – they use the proceeds to help others
“I was profoundly sceptical of what she was doing,” he says with a
affords shelter. We are not claiming we are perfect, there is always
smile, “but people did indeed start buying!”
more we could do.”
So he built her a web site and orders started to come in more
Cocoa Loco’s product line extends way beyond brownies. They make
regularly. Sarah and Rory would be out at weekends selling the
all kinds of exotic items such as mango dipped in rich, dark
brownies at farmers’ markets and gradually it dawned on them both
chocolate, cookies, gift chocolates, even special blends to
that the business was beginning to change all the plans they had
customers’ orders. It is all handmade, so any process can be altered
made for their lives.
where desired. Each day ends with a major mail out operation, filling
boxes for the shops who stock their product and for web customers.
“I was HSBC’s, body and soul,” Rory remembers. “I was working 10-11
hour days, up at 5, commuting to Canary Wharf, getting home at 11,
They are still a tiny part of the organic chocolate market, 90% of
hardly ever seeing the children.”
which is taken by Green & Blacks, now part of the Cadbury empire.
Cocoa Loco and all the other boutique producers are all after
This was in 2006. Their youngest had just started going to school and
some of that 90%.
Sarah had thought about getting a job to bring in more cash. It
And they enjoy having a bit of fun while doing it. Rory offers me a bit of
became clear that the brownie business had the potential to be that
chocolate – a very tiny bit – and asks if I like my food spicy. A tiny
second income. And Rory was getting increasingly frustrated by the
nibble of chocolate later and my mouth is on fire.
demands put on his life.
“We make that with Naga Jolokia, officially the hottest pepper in the
“It was August 2006. The brownies were selling very well. Rick Stein even
world,” he says with a mischievous grin on his face. I manage a weak
ordered some after Sarah left some at his deli in Padstow! I took the
grin in return.
plunge and resigned from the bank.”
As for the future, Sarah and Rory are quite openly at odds.
So instead of providing a second income, the business - now called
“Rory would happily sell up eventually, buy a boat and sail round the
Cocoa Loco - had to be their financial mainstay. To take some of the
world,” Sarah says, “while I would want to start my own soup and ice
pressure off their kitchen, which doubled as a factory, Rory built a shed
cream business.”
out in the garden and fitted it out as a commercial kitchen and office.
And still the business grew.
One suspects this couple will always find a way forward together, no
matter what they may say. They are happy earning very little as they
“It started taking over our house,” Sarah remembers. “The dining room
build their business on a mixture of high standards, great taste and the
filled with packing materials, the drawing room with gift boxes. The kids
enjoyment that comes from a job really well done.
couldn’t see the TV for boxes!”
“Sure,” Rory says, “we’ve had to tighten our belts, but while we
Their hard work and high standards paid off. In 2006/2007 they were
may be poorer, we’re happier. I now have time to pick up
Sussex Food Producer of the Year and a finalist the following year.
the kids from school and kick a ball around in the park.
By Christmas 2007, they were working 24 hour days, sleeping in
It’s about a way of life and it’s about creating a
shifts to get all the orders out in time for the big day. Something had
to give, and in March 2008 they moved the business out of the
house, much to the relief of the children, to a purpose-built
catering facility on a farm at Knepp Castle near Horsham. The
Cocoa Loco
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