Grants for equipment to enable innovation in small businesses in York, North Yorkshire and East Riding

"When you are generous and share, you get back ten times more than you give out"

Sophie Jewett’s approach to innovation is to share, collaborate and work with competitors.

She founded York Cocoa House in 2011 in the centre of York and now has 25 employees working in the chocolate emporium – making and retailing chocolate and serving chocolate temptations in the shop and café.

YCH1She believes innovation has to run through the whole business and involve all employees – as an example, she involves everyone in new product development. Sophie says: “Different cacao types have different qualities, taste and physical properties. Everyone gives ideas about which ingredients go together and which cacao might work best for which recipes. We all taste things differently so this gives a really good breadth of ideas and tastes. It also means we can all talk knowledgeably to our customers about any of our products.”

From the beginning, Sophie has been passionate about her supply chain and the need to buy ethical and sustainable cacao. 

She is also passionate about being open and generous in the way their business operates, and that this is key to successful innovation.

“We have gone out to companies we admire in the beer and coffee industries. The brewing industry is a fantastic example of growing the independent sector, they are incredibly open and generous in working together. There is a tradition of cuckoo brewers – where they borrow equipment from a brewery to make their beer.

YCH2“I have been working with Ainsty Ales in York – and they have been really helpful to understand a growth model for independent manufacturers. They are so collaborative and I want this for the chocolate industry.”

Sophie believes that in recent times there has been a win/lose mentality in the chocolate industry – if one company wins, another has to lose – which has impacted on the whole sector.

Now she is opening the York Cocoa Works – a chocolate production, academy and development centre in the heart of York with visitor demonstrations showing how their chocolate is created – from raw cacao to finished chocolates, cakes and drinks. “We want to create a production space where growers, producers and customers can share and learn from each other to create better chocolate,” says the chocolatier.

A key part of the new operation will be to make small batch scale productions with the efficiencies and scale of a continual process system. They have had funding from PAPI to buy and develop the kit needed for this – which will help manufacturers take their kitchen recipes to full manufacture much more easily. It will be used in helping the Sierra Leone farmers develop their recipes for large scale production.

Sophie measures the success of their innovation by how others perceive the York Cocoa House’s ability to solve their challenges and problems: “Our growth model is based on other organisations having confidence to work with us – if we are good, they trust us and that allows us to commercialise our activities alongside them.”

YCH3Asked about the role of customers in innovation, not surprisingly Sophie says they are critical. They host monthly tasting panels for new products and typically around 15 to 20 customers take part – alerted by mailings and social media. These are so successful, customers even pay to take part these days.

For the opening of the York Cocoa Works, they are inviting 200 customers to tour the new facility and take part in tastings.

Sophie hopes they are creating a new era of chocolate manufacture for York and the UK: “When you look at our history with the great names of Cadbury’s, Terry’s and Rowntree’s – these were very ethical employers. The bit they didn’t get to was in focusing on the cocoa product itself. Too much of the industry these days is based on cocoa trading – and many of these traders never even get to touch a cocoa bean.

“I want to create a new, collaborative chocolate industry that works with and cares about our cocoa suppliers, as much as our customers and employees. I see time and again that when you are generous and share, you get back ten times more than you give out. That is the key to innovation and success.”

Sophie’s top tips for innovation

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out and work with companies you admire in your own or parallel industries – we are learning from the beer and coffee industries. But choose your competitors wisely
  • Look for a win/win in the way you work with others
  • Involve customers and employees in your product development – they give honest feedback and more ideas than from just working in a small team