Firetree, the single-estate rich volcanic chocolate from the Pacific Islands and Madagascar, was founded in 2017 by David Zulman, Martyn O’Dare and Aidan Bishop who between them have over 85 years’ experience in the chocolate industry. The British made chocolate brand, boasting vegan and dairy-free credentials, launched in June 2019. The manufacture of cocoa, chocolate and sugar confectionery is worth £1.1bn to the UK economy, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Department for International Trade(April 2018).
There is no nation that loves chocolate as much as Brits – with the average Brit found to have consumed 8.4 kg of chocolate in, according to data from Mintel Global New Products Database. Premiumisation remains a strong trend in the chocolate market, and Firetree is capitalising on how provenance is now of interest to connoisseurs, who appreciate the taste of the chocolate is influenced by the volcanic origin of the cocoa beans.
B2B history and testing of concept
It is no surprise that the company has gone from strength-to-strength, focusing on making its mark in the super-premium chocolate market. It initially begun by supplying high-quality chocolate as own label or a B2B ingredient to prestigious retailers and chocolatiers such as; Harrods, Artisan Du Chocolat, Paul A Young, Melt and Rococo. It has also recently established the supply of volcanic chocolate to the Chocolatory (Nestle) Japan who use its chocolate to enrobe a super-premium KitKat, which costs over £10.
Typically, the super-premium chocolate narratives have been the rather ubiquitous and generic bean to bar and craft manufacture stories with little brand information, mythology or symbolism. Firetree now stands out by informing and educating, intriguing and exciting consumers.
In a league of their own
Firetree focuses on achieving the best tasting chocolate while paying the farmers significantly more than the mass market rate to harvest the best quality cacao. It sources cocoa beans from small island estates in the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and Madagascar. These volcanic terroirs produce the best quality beans but are too small for the well-known larger chocolate brands to consider. Almost two-thirds of the world’s chocolate comes from Ghana and the Ivory Coast, whereas the countries from which Firetree cocoa is sourced, only account for just over 1%, highlighting the rarity and offering a uniqueness of flavour. Firetree farmers expertly select the cocoa beans, then they are masterfully crafted by skilled chocolatiers to enhance and develop the seven different taste profiles.
Firetree has worked hard to set high standards across their different stages of production, from spending years nurturing the relationships with the farmers that the company works with, to the packaging with inspiring designs echoing volcanic magma flows from Berlin-based artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer. Very few companies in the sector make their own product from A-Z, with approximately 90% buying from big wholesale chocolate producing companies.
“Our vision is to become a brand leader in the emergent super premium sector. We aim to give the consumer an exciting anticipation from the time they pick up the product, followed by a unique taste experience with our range of volcanic chocolate where the flavours develop slowly on the palate. This is much the same as flavours develop and linger in the very best fine wines or whiskies. As a new business we have a commitment to our farmers to ensure they are paid fairly and operate sustainable best quality agricultural practice in growing the highest quality cocoa beans for our chocolate,” commented Zulman, the co-founder and managing director.
Growing up playing cocoa sacks
Zulman is third generation in the chocolate business. He grew up playing in cocoa sacks in his grandfather’s chocolate company in South Africa, where he gained most of his industry experience. He left in 1986 and bought a business in the UK which successfully imported sweets and chocolate from his grandfathers’ company in South Africa to the high street retail chain Woolworths for their well-known Pick’ n Mix. This led to the establishment of a UK chocolate manufacturing business to replace the previous importing and the launch of several innovative and popular chocolate lines.
In the late 1980s Zulman met Martyn O’Dare – who at the time was working for chocolate manufacturer Cacao Barry. In more recent years O’Dare was UK general manager of Cargill Chocolate, the second biggest chocolate manufacturer in the world. O’Dare had become Zulman’s preferred chocolate supplier throughout his career. O’Dare resigned from Cargill when he saw the writing on the wall; the demand was changing – people were starting to want better quality chocolate at lower volumes. Meanwhile Zulman also met Bishop while working on a side venture which involved growing cacao in the Philippines.
In a North London pub, the Firetree concept was born
In a North London pub, the three co-founders met in late 2016 and thrashed their ideas about, and then started a company and spent the next nine months writing a business plan and looking for funding. They subsequently manufactured B2B product for other manufacturers and operated a white labelling service to retailers. Once they had enough proof of concept, they took their idea to the market and launched their brand – and “Firetree” was born.
The current collection comprises of seven bars with a variety of complexity and intensity, each from a separate high-quality farm including a 100% cocoa bar, which makes up the Firetree collection. The bars are made up of a rich and unique taste. The taste is achieved and enhanced, first by properly fermenting the cocoa when it is scooped out of the pod on the farm, then by drying the beans in the island sunshine and roasting the whole cocoa bean to retain the inherent flavour.
Sales-wise, Firetree is firmly focusing on approaching landmark stores rather than mass-market chains across the world. Firetree aims to have a presence in every key market that appreciates indulgent products, and towards the end of the year and into 2020 they will start building the export business, initially focusing on the US, Canada, Middle East and Asia with other markets will follow.
The team knows there is a market out there for high-quality chocolate and that discerning customers care about the story behind the brand. Firetree is different, sophisticated, passionate, innovative, and comparable to fine wines, single malt whisky, champagnes and Cognacs. It is not all about quantity – it is all about taste and quality!