Newtownabbey-based artisan chocolatier, Koka has received Export Start support from Invest Northern Ireland to expand sales of hand crafted chocolate truffles in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Koka was set up last year by successful TV ‘soap’ writer Paula Clamp in the kitchen of her home and recently gained a Great Taste Award from the influential Guild of Fine Food in London for her unique Wildflower Honey and Chilli Truffle.
Paula, a mother of three young children, has been part of the team of scriptwriters on RTE’s popular ‘Fair City’ series – she’s also published two best selling novels – but has had a dream of becoming an artisan chocolatier. It’s a dream she has now realised. Today, her richly flavoured and stylishly boxed hand-made truffles are on the shelves of top London retailers Harvey Nicholls and Selfridges.
“I eat chocolate when I am writing scripts and novels,” she says, ‘because it helps get the creative juices going. Over the years I’ve tried different types especially those with high cocoa and low sugar content. This interest led me to think seriously about making my own,” she says.
Before approaching Invest NI for advice and assistance, she carried out extensive research over a period of two years. This included a trip to a cocoa plantation in Venezuela, reckoned to be the source of the world’s very best cocoa.
The research convinced her that there was a market for her idea of high quality, hand crafted chocolate truffles. She began work on the flavours and the sourcing of high quality local ingredients such as Northern Irish honey, butter, cream and Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey.
Invest NI helped her with expert training that was provided by, amongst others, the Slattery Chocolate School in England. She also used the Design Development Programme to link up with the Conran Design Group in London to develop a distinctive branding and high quality packaging that reflected the luxurious flavour of the truffles. She was able to transform her garage into a mini chocolate factory.
"It took me some time to perfect my recipes in order to ensure the chocolates have the longest shelf life possible, without using preservatives. I use the best possible ingredients in my chocolates and don't add artificial flavourings or colourings," she says. "I think it is really important that I source local produce as it gives my chocolates a unique flavour that, I believe, cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” she adds.
Maurice Patterson, Invest NI’s Eastern Regional Office Manager, says: “We are assisting Koka because of the innovative nature of the products being developed and the quality of the market information provided, which indicated a significant business opportunity especially outside Northern Ireland. The company has a very clear business growth strategy that’s soundly based on a commitment to the highest quality standards in terms of its products and presentation.”
Paula also insists on using the best single origin cocoa from countries such as Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Sao Thome.
"It used to be that hand-made chocolates were bought for presents or special occasions," she says, "but you will find that an increasing number of people are buying them as a little treat for themselves or to give themselves a lift.”