FIND out how with a little bit of faith, Heart of Chocolate founder Karen Ngoh turned her love for chocolate and passion for social justice into a thriving business.
Imagine a child forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day in the hot sun with no pay, little food or sleep and beatings when they don’t work fast enough.
This is the life of many children and adults enslaved by cocoa plantation owners whose cocoa is used to produce some of the world’s best known chocolates. But while some of us might just shrug this off as a fact of life, chocolate lover and owner of Heart of Chocolate Karen Ngoh couldn’t stomach the thought that her favourite treat had such a dark side.
“As a consumer, I began to look for alternatives. I thought that one way I could continue having chocolate but not actually support this exploitation was to begin buying fair trade chocolate. But I quickly realised there weren’t a lot of choices when it came to fair trade chocolate,” Karen says.
So Karen decided to start her own fair trade chocolate business, Heart of Chocolate, and it wasn’t long before her part-time business venture became a full-time preoccupation.
Throwing caution to the wind, Karen decided to quit her banking job and dedicate herself to Heart of Chocolate.
Now into it’s second year of business, Heart of Chocolate is an exclusive distributor of three premium fair trade chocolate brands: Divine Chocolate, Kokako Organic and Organic Seed and Bean.
All three of these brands are made from fair trade ingredients, which means they are ethically sourced and environmentally friendly, and care has been taken to ensure sustainable packaging has been for every product. Some of the chocolate varieties are also certified organic and/or vegan.
Talk about satisfying your chocolate craving, it’s actually hard to choose from the myriad of options (we stopped counting after 40), but Karen’s personal favourite is the white chocolate with strawberries from Divine Chocolate.
“It’s just the quality white chocolate they use. It’s real cocoa butter instead of cheap white chocolate, which only uses vegetable oil and doesn’t actually have chocolate inside of it. It also has little pieces of tart strawberries,” she says.
Karen insists good quality ingredients like those in her white chocolate and strawberry bar are what makes Heart of Chocolate such a success. People, she says, are drawn to products that taste fabulous, look great and have an amazing story behind them. Heart of Chocolate also prides itself on offering creative flavours that you can’t get anywhere else, while still remaining fair trade.
But Karen is also a firm believer that conviction and passion are what make a successful business.
“I really think businesses should be about other people and not just about personal profit. I think that as people who live in first world countries and who have a lot of opportunities, we can actually use that to benefit others who don’t have as many opportunities,” she says.
Her other tip for aspiring business owners is to have a clear understanding of why you started your business. Put that together with a core group of people who believe in you and the journey you are taking, and you’re well on your way to success.
Karen remembers when she was young and looking for her calling in life. Like many young people, she dreamt of being a successful business person. It was her faith and her passion for social justice that turned that dream into a reality.
“For me, my faith really made me change direction a bit and realise that it’s really not about the business as much as it’s about the people and bringing the two together. I am really fortunate to have the perfect expression of it in chocolate, which is a great business idea and is also fair trade. So I’m doing business, but I’m also giving back to other people.”
So what’s next for Heart of Chocolate? Karen hopes to increase awareness about her products, especially her two new brands, Kokako and Seed & Bean.
She’s also aiming to increase the distribution of her products in the Australian market and possibly start a fundraising version of her products so that schools or community groups can use fair trade chocolate to raise funds for the needy.
Heart of Chocolate will be at Federation Square, Atrium on May 11 from 11am to 9pm for the Australia’s Fair Trade Fortnight, so do drop by to say hi to Karen and sample some yummy morsels from the Divine and Seed & Bean range.
Karen is also giving away a $25 Heart of Chocolate gift voucher each to two lucky Meld readers.
For your chance to win, email email@example.com with the subject heading Heart of Chocolate, and tell us in your email one product/flavour you’d most want to try from Heart of Chocolate and why. Don’t forget to include your full name and contact number.
The competition closes May 31 and is only open to those living, studying or working in Victoria. Winners will be notified via email on June 1.