Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
We’re a family-run Oxfordshire business and we make what we call, “beautiful, guilt-free chocolate”. Guilt-free because it contains no sugar. Instead, we use sustainably harvested, raw, organic honey and work our chocolate at a lower temperature than conventionally done so that we can keep the nutrients intact. We’re passionate about making chocolate that tastes great. We do our homework to make sure that what goes into it is as nutrient-rich as possible, and as close to nature as it can be. Our aim is to get the balance between health and taste right, and we think we do - but don't just take our word for it: try some and let us know!
When did you start The Chicken Shed and why?
Around 2012, we cut out refined flour and sugar from our diet. Instead we decided to choosie natural, unrefined alternatives based on the advice of our friend, raw food nutritionist, Ellie Bedford. She was also the first one who suggested to team up and make chocolate but it wasn’t until I was faced with the lack of refined sugar-free chocolate for Easter that I came up with a recipe for Easter eggs I was actually proud of. Enrico (my husband) and I were up until past midnight making all these little chocolate eggs for our two girls. The next day, my mum (who lives in my home country Belgium) commented that they were the best chocolate eggs she’d ever tasted. I think that was the moment when my passionfor chocolate really kicked - and the dream to turn it into a business arose. Enrico and I realised that we also really wanted to work together, as partners. We sought Ellie’s permission and blessing to go ahead with the idea ourselves and after that we headed to Belgium to learn more about the art of chocolate making. Now involving our girls, we set about developing a range of flavoured bars. We obtained an organic certificate later that year, and started selling our chocolate at our local farmers’ market and events in the area. We slowly started to build up a local customer base of independent businesses. One of the things I love is that we all get involved in the business: If I change something on our website or develop new packaging, and especially when we develop new flavours, all four of us get involved. Our youngest has a particular talent for cooking and baking and is our expert taste-tester. Although Enrico has about 30 years’ experience as a chef, if there’s any doubt over anything taste-related, it’s her word that carries most weight! Our eldest has such a lovely and easy way with people (she is much more confident than I was at her age), so we try to involve her in the sales side of our business.
What makes The Chicken Shed unique?
Our chocolate contains only amazing ingredients. One of the reasons chocolate is generally seen as a naughty treat is because of the sugar it contains. We use honey instead and don’t overheat it, so the enzymes (which are needed for good digestion) remain intact. We use superfoods in all our bars and one of our mottoes is “good for you, good for the planet”.
What steps go into making your chocolate?
Oooh, that’s a bit of a secret! …although there’s a link to a little Youtube video we’ve made showing part of the process. What I can tell you is that we keep the nutrients intact by not overheating the chocolate, and we commit to staying as close to nature as possible with our ingredients.
Where do you get the ingredients you use?
Our cacao is Peruvian Criollo (called the Prince of cacao) and our honey is Zambian, chosen because it’s organic, sustainably harvested (most of the honey is left for the bees) and a source of revenue locally which helps protect from deforestation.
What is your favourite The Chicken Shed chocolate and why?
I especially love our orange bar, sometimes I even spread peanut butter on it. It sounds weird, but it honestly is such a lovely combo. The ginger and cinnamon spice chocolates are particularly nice in the colder months of the year. It really depends on my mood and it’s so very personal.
How does your typical workday look like?
Gosh, it varies. As much as possible, I follow Robin Sharma’s method and try to structure my week so that each day has a different focus. Monday is numbers day, Wednesday is Social Media and press, Thursday is Sales and Friday is creative (Tuesdays are reserved for my more conventional, other job). It has to be said though that the fluidity of life doesn’t always allow me to stick to that but I feel so much better when I do. Another Robin Sharma thing I love is to allow 20 minutes at the beginning of each day to learn something new.
Enrico also has another job working as a chef at an organic farm, so only his days off (Mondays and Tuesdays) are dedicated to business planning (with me) and making chocolate. We do sometimes make time for a breakfast date too though :).
What is your advice to other small business owners?
I can’t remember where I read this, but I completely agree with it: “Accept that you will make mistakes, so make them as early on as possible and learn from them as quickly as you can.” That’s how I like to look at things when they don’t go to plan; it’s a learning opportunity (after the initial melt-down).
Where can people find your products?
How would you describe your perfect heiter (cheerful) moment?
Snuggling up on the sofa as a family; discovering new things and places; and when we get nice comments from customers – building a business does have plenty of tough days and people taking the time to voice their appreciation for what you’re doing really does make a difference to us.
Images: The Chicken Shed Chocolate
Interview: Katharina Geissler-Evans, heiter magazine