Photography: Harrison Photography
In picture with a range of chocolate products from Chocolate Memories in Moneyreagh is (left), Claire Herron, Innovation Voucher Manager, Invest NI, with Fiona McGarry, Social Enterprise Coordinator of Autism Initiatives NI.
Chocolate Memories in Moneyreagh has been assisted by Invest Northern Ireland to win its first order for unique hand-crafted chocolates from outside Northern Ireland just three months after it began production.
The company, a social enterprise formed by Autism Initiatives NI to provide training and employment opportunities for people with autism, used an Invest NI Innovation Voucher to develop a range of attractively packaged chocolate bars and truffles. These have attracted business from a major charity organisation in Great Britain as well as local companies and a number of cafes and retail outlets.
Chocolate Memories has also identified opportunities to supply chocolates for weddings, corporate events and gifts. Chocolate Memories used the Innovation Voucher to link up with experts at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), at the Loughry Campus in Cookstown, in developing the recipe for the range of chocolates.
Eight people are currently engaged in the manufacture of the chocolates at the company’s premises in Glenview Industrial Estate, Moneyreagh, a development that’s also been backed by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Rural Development Programme as well as Lisburn City Council and Castlereagh Borough Council.
Invest NI’s support for Chocolate Memories was announced by Claire Herron, Invest NI’s Innovation Voucher Manager, who said: “The vouchers are ideal for smaller companies and social enterprises such as Chocolate Memories because they offer relatively easy access to funding which enables them to draw on the experience and facilities of a recognised knowledge provider like CAFRE.
“As the experience of Chocolate Memories shows, the vouchers encourage innovation that’s geared towards achieving business outside Northern Ireland. It’s a remarkable achievement for this start-up company to be selling its products in Great Britain a few months after it began making chocolate. This initial success shows just what can be achieved by using its contacts to tap into an established network.
“We are keen to work with the business particularly in developing sales of its chocolates outside Northern Ireland. Success in external and export markets will enable Autism Work Ventures to invest in the business and to provide greater training and employment opportunities.”
Fiona McGarry, Social Enterprise Co-ordinator of Autism Initiatives NI, said: “The Innovation Voucher was immensely important because it enabled us to turn a business idea into a functioning company with a range of products for sale here and outside Northern Ireland. The support we received from CAFRE was excellent and enabled us to access their equipment and advice in creating the recipe for the chocolates.
“Central to our business plan is the development of successful small business that will generate profits for re-investment in the operation at Moneyreagh. We’ve been hugely encouraged by the support we’ve already received from organisations like DARD, Invest NI and the Social Economy Network.”