We talk chocolate with Amelia Rope
Amelia Rope adores fine chocolate. The discovery of the cocoa tree, Theobroma Cacao (‘Food for the Gods’) and its fruit, the cocoa bean, has to be one of the most wonderful results of the magic of alchemy. This intoxication and fascination with chocolate brought her to launch her own business : Amelia Rope Chocolate Ltd.
How did your adventure into the world of being a chocolatier begin?
By mistake. I was overweight and so wouldn’t have chosen chocolate as my vehicle but it was given to me and I have driven it ever since. I always thought I would be running my own business from a very early age. Its a long story but in a nutshell – my 20’s and 30’s were spent in admin jobs which in retrospect gave me the lessons of discipline, ability to multitask and be efficient with communication. A turning point was seeing a life coach when I was a Practice Manager who helped me find self-belief. I was hoping to get into food journalism and wrote to an Editor of a Food magazine. They tasted my chocolate truffles and exclaimed, ‘You are the next Juliette Binoche’, and propelled me onto The Market Kitchen to coat and dip truffles with Tana Ramsay. That was all I needed to encourage me. From there I had my vision of my unique chocolate dipped rose petals, pansies, violas and mint leaves which I decorated with gold leaf. Dropping these off at press brought orders in, leaving my job and setting up shop. The key turning point though was my commission for chocolate bars – an effective product to market with shelf life, durability and at that time little competition in the premium line market.
“I have always been propelled by something inside me I was born with to scarily just go for it and take risks.”
We’d love to know more about your product range
My products are all about taste, quality and purity. I play and create and am not dictated to by convention. Flavours are from organic aromatherapy oils (food grade) as I used to be an aromatherapist, or quality inclusions (hazelnuts from Italy, coconut flakes from Sri Lanka et al). The chocolate I use is fine quality and single origin and you will often find Maldon Sea Salt in my recipes. I adore salt and grew up close to Maldon so I’m totally biased to thinking it is the best! I have chocolate bars, boxed chocolate cubes and I’ve just launched my exciting new Colombian Range. I visited Colombia twice last year (the first was to meet cocoa producers and the second was for a commission for The Telegraph to write about cocoa and Colombia). It is an incredible country and its people are truly fantastic with HUGE hearts. The range is made entirely in Colombia from tree to final product. They are single origin dark chocolate coated coffee beans and cocoa nibs. The chocolate comes from an area called Tumaco which is near the border of Ecuador and where a lot of cocaine used to be grown. They are made in the capital, Bogota.
Were you nervous about setting up your own business and did you have any support doing this?
I have always been propelled by something inside me I was born with to scarily just go for it and take risks. My parents and brother are very different – I am not sure how I ended up getting it all but I seem to have done. I found myself setting up my own business and no I wasn’t nervous as such. I was excited, exhilarated and felt freedom like never before. People came into my life at different stages of my business who supported me.
Were things all plain sailing for you?
I don’t know anyone who has ever experienced plain sailing with growing a business. Half the satisfaction comes from challenges which you have to face and deal with and get through. It brings weight to yourself with confidence and conviction. You are on track or perhaps you may have to alter your track slightly and this helps you grow in so many ways. There are too many challenges to list but none have beaten me yet!
Has there been a key turning point for your business?
Yes several. They are November 2009 with a commission from the Late Parick Reeves for 1,000 chocolate bars which I had only six weeks to get made, design a recipe for, package and hand foil and hand sign each bar. They went out with 1,000 sofas he sold and I was paid with 1,000 bars to get selling. September 2010 when I launched in Selfridges. July 2014 when HSBC, my bank, agreed to a bank loan.
People must say you have the best job ever to you all the time. Would you agree?
No! Its long hours, stressful at times, challenging and demanding almost on a daily basis and consumers have a limited easy spending price point with chocolate. Saying that, I adore running my own business, seeing it grow and develop and start finding it has legs. I constantly test it to see if it has strength in really going places and each time it pings back at me showing it is bedding in. Any food company has a tough time as margins are slim, the consumer wants a Bentley but prepared most of the time to pay for an Aygo (I have one so feel I can say that!).
Where does the inspiration for your chocolates come from, and do you have a personal favourite?
Recipes will just come to me; usually it’s because my palate is craving them and so drives me to get playing around in my kitchen.
Ooh no I couldn’t have a personal favourite but I am loyal to Dark Raspberry, Dark Coffee Bean, Pale Hazelnut & Sea Salt, Pale Rose (when I need to be surrounded by floral aromas) and White Edition 03. I devour them all though.
“Any food company has a tough time as margins are slim and the consumer wants a Bentley but is prepared most of the time to pay for an Aygo (I have one so feel I can say that!).”
What makes your products stand out from the mainstream chocolate bars available in every corner shop?
I would say the packaging initially if the consumer is not aware of my brand.
How important is the design of the packaging of your products to you?
I absolutely love design and if I wasn’t in a chocolate business I would love to have a brand/design/recipe development company. It is important that my product is not all about packaging and the taste and quality is delivered in the product. I am planning to launch a new packaging design in 2015 so watch this space!
Are there still things you want to achieve with the business?
Yes, to expand globally in a focussed way; targeting an area rather than be scattered as I am now.
Do you look up to anyone in the world of chocolate?
I admire Angus Thirwell, Founder of Hotel Chocolat. The direction of the brands like Cath Kidston & LK Bennett have inspired me. As for role models, the key person who I will never forget in my business is the late Patrick Reeves (cofounder of Deliverance and then sofa.com), my chocolate diamond geezer who I yearn for five minutes of his time from up above to discuss ideas with.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a chocolatier?
It is a saturated market, margins are slim, consumer demands are high but if you really want to do it you must GO FOR IT.
What do you enjoy doing when you have a day off?
September – Christmas Day is flat out and by the end I can barely operate. The rest of the year…….see friends, visit galleries, see a movie, go exploring……..
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Ooh yes. Some I can tell you and some I won’t! Swaledale & Woolsery Goats cheese, buying books I never have time to read, drinking fizz with chips and mayo every now and again, collecting too many scarves and the rest are my secret!
Have you made any New Years resolutions?
I don’t think I have ever made a resolution so not sure I will start now. I always strive to do my best and if I was to die tomorrow I hope I would have given some legacy to someone somewhere.