Production has been flat out for the first ‘normal’ Easter in three years at the chocolate makers, which was founded in Swanage in 2002.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Chococo still has its original shop and café in Commercial Road in Swanage, but has now vastly expanded its operation.
The popular Dinosaur Easter eggs
Four chocolate houses
In total, Chococo now has four Chocolate Houses, as the owners like to call them. In addition to the Swanage premises, it has shops in Exeter, Winchester and Horsham in West Sussex.
The company also supplies well-known department stores and delicatessens, as well as selling direct via its online business.
The firm was started by Claire and Andy Burnet in a room above the current Swanage shop and café. Since then, it’s picked up more than a hundred national and international chocolate awards.
Everything is made by hand with ethically sourced ingredients at its headquarters at Holton Heath near Wareham in Dorset.
“Easter is our busiest time of the year after Christmas.
“The last couple of years have been very challenging, so this is the first Easter in three years that is anything like normal.”
Claire and Andy Burnet, founders of Chococo
“Something that was emotionally needed”
Two years ago, during the first lockdown, they had to close their stores and move sales online. They also teamed up with the Swanage independent delivery service to ensure chocolate rations got through.
“It really felt that we were providing pastoral care and something that was emotionally needed.
“An Easter egg was a welcome connection for people who were unable to see their loved ones.”
Chocolate display in the Swanage shop
“Last few months have been the toughest”
As hard as that time was, recent months have proved even more difficult, with rising staff absences.
“It’s been an extraordinary two plus years and the last few months have been the toughest of all.
“We managed to come through the pandemic relatively unscathed but since the New Year we have had to cope with the biggest number of our staff off with Covid. We had to close stores at times and that was despite still wearing masks.”
Chocolate hot cross buns
In Swanage the café side of the business was shut for a few days and the Exeter store had to close altogether.
They have not been immune to the well-documented supply chain issues either. A container shipment from Madagascar expected in September 2021 didn’t arrive until January 2022, meaning they had to switch to a different product from Equador for Christmas.
Popular items this Easter include the bell heather honeycomb eggs that use locally produced Robert Field honey. The Dinosaur egg, which plays on the area’s Jurassic theme, is a returning classic and there are also Ocean eggs which include a donation to the Ocean Giants marine conservation programme.
Julie Bentham, Chococo assistant manager in Swanage
“Products that do more”
“An increasing number of people are responding to products that do more, that support a worthwhile cause.”
The firm shuns plastic packaging and environmentally damaging ingredients like palm oil. They have planted more than 6,000 cocoa trees.
Giant Easter egg being raffled for Ukraine
“Love of fine chocolate”
Claire explained how it all began:
“It was a personal love of fine chocolate that started it all, back in the 1980s when my parents lived in Belgium and I used to visit them. It was before Belgian chocolate was a thing in the UK.
“They would talk about where the cocoa beans came from. Here people still talked in terms of a brand. There is a complete disconnect between what people are eating and the economics of production which is something we have tried to address.”
She says they were the first chocolatiers in the UK to talk about the origin of their chocolate and the farmers who produced it. They also insisted on making chocolate without additives and preservatives – ‘it’s part of the DNA of our brand’, she explains.
Production manager Kevin Cobb making Easter eggs by hand
“Working as hard now as when we started”
In November 2021 the firm moved to a new headquarters at Holton Heath after they outgrew their unit in Wareham. They plan to open another chocolate house in Bath at some point in the future.
“Andy and I are working as hard now as when we started. As the business has grown, so has the complexity of running it.
“Survival was critical over the last couple of years. We employ lots of people and we wanted to make sure we could keep going. Hopefully now we are coming out the other side.”
Chocolate Easter eggs on sale at the shop in Swanage