Slocan business spreads chocolate sensation into grocery stores throughout Kootenays
The selections are almost overwhelming: orange quinoa crisp dark chocolate, peppermint and hemp vegan milk chocolate, Aztec spice drinking chocolate, cranberry ginger swirl chocolate bark. Those are only a few of the mouth-watering products available from Viva Cacao (pronounced VEE-va ka-COW), the brainchild of owner Beth Campbell.
Over the years, Campbell has found rising success with her chocolate.
Based in Slocan, she knew she wanted to make her business even stronger.
By putting in tons of ingenuity, hard work and time — and obtaining some advice through Columbia Basin Trust — she has taken her business to an even higher level.
A long-standing love
The business’s history began about a decade ago, although Campbell’s journey started much sooner than that.
“I always had a love for cooking and food,” she says, crediting this passion to her mother.
While working as a baker, Campbell got intrigued by chocolate. First, she wanted to figure out how to recreate commercially available items at home. Second, she discovered “the dark side of the chocolate industry,” as she calls it — the social injustices and rights violations seen in the making of conventional chocolate — and hoped to offer ethical alternatives.
The results are high-quality, delicious and nutrient-dense chocolate products backed by business practices that support social justice and environmental sustainability. All the products are plant-based, using coconut sugar as a sweetener. In addition, “We have a focus on getting our ingredients through small farmers and co-operatives, and making sure they get a fair price.”
Creating a solid product
At first, Campbell sold her handiwork at the local farmers’ market. “People really liked it, so I kept going.”
That’s when she decided to notch up her business know-how. She approached the Trust’s Basin Business Advisor’s program (BBA), which delivers free, one-to-one, confidential business counselling and assessment services.
This helped her undertake the steps needed to sell her product in grocery stores, including getting UPC codes, following the labelling requirements of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and tailoring her packaging specifically for the grocery store market — packaging that maintains her environmental standards as it’s compostable.
A couple of years later, she realized a rebrand was in order, too. This meant abandoning the old name — Belicious — and introducing Viva Cacao, plus cost-sharing with the BBA program to hire a local designer to create a fresh look.
“It’s been an incredible response about our packaging and how it looks,” she says. Better yet, “I get great response from people about the product itself.”
One step at a time
It’s no surprise that praise has been plentiful, considering the amount of effort that Campbell devotes. In addition, she now has the aid of two employees, who take care of most of the production. She herself can focus more on the business side, such as getting new sales accounts and marketing her chocolate.
Over the past few years, sales have more than doubled each year. Viva Cacao has spread into grocery stores throughout the Kootenays, in Vancouver, on Vancouver Island and even in Alberta. “We’re trying to push all the way across-country, hopefully — little by little.”
And the journey isn’t over. To help it along, Campbell is continuing her business training through BBA. “I did a whole run of learning about how to read financial statements, and it was incredibly helpful — I learned so much from that.”
Next, she plans to concentrate on improving distribution.
The Trust is pleased it can help businesses like Campbell’s to be resilient to recent challenges and able to adapt, expand their operations and employ Basin residents—and Campbell greatly appreciates the one on-one time she has received from very knowledgeable people.
“I definitely wouldn’t have as much understanding about how to run a business if it weren’t for the help I received. I would not be where I am.”
Our tastebuds are grateful that her passion has come this far.