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Good market research shows Scots chocolatier, Cocoa Black the route to export success.

Cocoa Black has a premium quality, luxurious and desirable product which the company wants to export. But how do you find out where to export and which markets will be most receptive?

Cocoa Black is based in Peebles in the Scottish Borders. The company manufactures and retails a range of luxury handmade chocolate, cakes and patisserie which are also available to buy online.

Cocoa Black also operates a Chocolate and Pastry School, which provides instruction in chocolate making and baking for beginners to professional chefs. The school attracts participants from across the UK and overseas and was recently a finalist in the Tourism Business of the Year awards.

The owner Ruth Hinks is a culinary Olympic-winning pastry chef and chocolatier. She is the current holder of the title 'UK World Chocolate Master'. Her husband and fellow director David previously worked as a management consultant with KPMG.

Over the past five years, Cocoa Black has grown rapidly. Having successfully navigated the start-up phase, the business is now preparing for a period of rapid growth including export.

In 2011, Cocoa Black was named ‘UK Confectioner of the Year’; it won the award for ‘Best Chocolates’ at the UK Chocolate Masters and was a finalist in the categories ‘Tourism Business of the Year’ and ‘Retail and Town Centre Business of the Year’.

The challenge

When Ruth and David Hinks started their chocolate manufacturing business, Cocoa Black, just five years ago, they knew they wanted to develop the business in a number of areas:

  • Manufacturing high quality chocolate products in a unit on the outskirts of Peebles
  • Set up a shop and café in the centre of the town
  • Establish a world-renowned Chocolate and Pastry School in Peebles 

A final aspiration was to start exporting their chocolate products.

How we helped

Ewan Davidson, their Scottish Enterprise (SE) Account Manager, quickly saw that the business had huge international potential. “We identified that there were major opportunities for this very select product of luxurious handmade chocolates. But we also realised that they needed to be very selective about which international markets to target.”

With our support, Cocoa Black undertook an international strategy workshop to identify business expectations around exporting and what the potential risks might be. Our research also helped to determine what the key criteria should be for evaluating potential overseas markets and where the business would stand the best possible chance of export success.

Having agreed an international strategy, Cocoa Black is now actively working to deliver it. Much work is also going on behind the scenes to ensure that the business can grow to meet overseas demand, for instance, ensuring that all manufacturing processes are as efficient as possible.

Where next?

David outlined the companies next steps. "With help from SE partners at Scottish Development International, we've been researching and prioritising which markets we want to target.

"The next step is to determine precisely how best to move into the chosen markets, for example do we need to do it in partnership or do we focus on e-commerce?

"A number of big questions remain unanswered, but we are confident that we have the right team of advisers in place to make it happen."

"David and Ruth are busy making sure they’ve got the right resources in place and the right equipment", explains Ewen, "making sure they are doing things as leanly and efficiently as possible, making sure that they have done all the necessary research prior to launching their international action plan.

"They’re starting to build their international strategies now in places like Abu Dhabi where there’ll be huge demand for their product but we’re looking for all the justifications for launching into those markets – and they’re only going to take on two or three."

Ruth highlights the benefits of our support:

"SE has given us the opportunity to adopt a structured approach to market selection and has also uncovered commercial opportunities which would otherwise have been missed.

"There remains a lot of work to be done, but SE's intervention has certainly allowed us to develop this aspect of the business with much greater confidence." 

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