From bars to chocolates - chocolatier aims to grow market for fine chocolate

Award winning chocolatier Co Couture is being assisted by Invest Northern Ireland to expand its range of fine chocolate truffles and bars for export, particularly to the US.

The gourmet chocolatier, formed by trained chef Deirdre McCanny in March and based in north Belfast, has developed three chocolate bars - rum and raisin, dark chocolate and milk chocolate with honeycomb – to add to its successful range of truffles.

This follows Co Couture’s first venture into the challenging chocolate bar market which saw its biscuit and cranberry dark chocolate bar gain a two gold star rating in the recent Great Taste Awards. The chocolatier’s unique Bushmills whiskey truffles also gained a coveted three gold stars from the judges.

Invest NI is assisting the company with funding and business advice to develop its products and marketing outside Northern Ireland.

Announcing the assistance, Maynard Mawhinney, Invest NI’s Food Director said: “Our support, which includes guidance from an experienced mentor, will enable this early stage business to extend its product portfolio and to exploit opportunities that have been identified, particularly in markets such as the US, GB and the Republic of Ireland.

“Co Couture is a good example of the type of export focused small business that we are very keen to encourage. We are immensely encouraged by the growth in businesses developing innovative gourmet products for international markets. This is a small but niche sector that has been emerging over recent years in Northern Ireland.

“We are actively promoting the development of such companies by means of our comprehensive range of support programmes in areas such as marketing, new product development and design. Co Couture’s commitment to source as many ingredients as possible from local suppliers will also benefit the economy.”

Deirdre McCanny, whose business background also includes successful spells in sales and marketing, started Co Couture in March to realise a dream of running her own business and to develop a market opportunity for gourmet chocolates she had identified while working in New York.

She said: “There was a fine chocolate shop near where I was working on Wall Street which did tremendous business. This encouraged me to carry out some initial market research which indicated a developing trend towards gourmet chocolates.

“I had been looking at business opportunities and decided that it made sense to use the experience I had as a chef and in sales to set up a market- focused fine chocolate business. Invest NI has been immensely supportive, especially in terms of advice on how to get the business up and running.

“My marketing experience keeps me firmly grounded on developing products that chocolate lovers will buy. And while I appreciate the importance of attractive packaging I’ve decided to focus my resources on creating very high quality chocolates. My packaging is simple but, I believe, very effective. What’s inside the packaging is what counts.

“Through using only the highest quality raw materials I focus on creating really delicious fine chocolate. The Bushmills whiskey truffle, for instance, is made with the distillery’s famed Black Bush liquor whiskey and was launched to mark the 400 year anniversary of the company.

Co Couture now produces handmade chocolates in small batches using only the finest raw ingredients from respected chocolate suppliers in Italy and France and recipes that she has created.

Success quickly followed the launch of Co Couture’s products, which has included securing an order with the Irish National Lottery’s campaign to promote the launch of its new Millionaire Lottery game. Co Couture was also commissioned to supply the VIP chocolates for the prestigious Silver Clef Awards in London last month at which rock band Oasis picked up a lifetime achievement award.