With a surname like Cadbury, it’s perhaps unsurprising that James Cadbury - the great-great grandson of the man who brought us Dairy Milk, Flake and Crunchy - has delved into the chocolate business.
In 2016, Cadbury launched his premium organic chocolate brand, Love Cocoa. It’s gone on to secure shelf space at high-end shops including Fortnum & Mason, Liberty and Harrods and currently plants more than 500,000 trees in Kenya as part of its ethical promise to customers.
Last year, he tapped into growing demand for vegan products and launched a dairy-free chocolate brand HIP, which stands for Happiness In Plants. The brand is already already achieving similar levels of success to Love Cocoa, with major retailers like Selfridges stocking the plant-based treat. Together, the two product lines have a combined retail value of £10m.
The confectionery entrepreneur tells MT why despite chocolate running through his veins (okay, not really), he’s avoided over-leveraging on the Cadbury dynasty and why despite being less profitable, he’s going "all in" on his plant-based range.
Do you think people had assumptions about your chocolate brand because of your lineage?
“There were a lot of assumptions that I was handed a golden spoon and buckets of money from my family. But that was really not the case.
Despite my famous family name, I didn't have any knowledge of the chocolate industry at all. My father was a lawyer and not involved in the business. Like anyone else starting a business, I met with people to pick their brains, pushed my boundaries to learn more about the industry and used up my own savings.
Having the Cadbury name, there were people who tried to convince me to sell a cheap product. It might have got me some PR but unless you’ve got a really strong product it’s not going to have any longevity. So I spent time making sure the people I was talking to were the right long-term partners for the business.
I am really proud of the early history of Cadbury’s. It did some amazing stuff around sustainability, ethics and looking after employees. So I tried to move forward with something similar but with my own mark. For example, at Love Cocoa, we plant a tree for every chocolate bar sold. But overall, you’ve got to craft your own identity and focus on how your brand is different from an old family business.
It comes back to forcing yourself to go out and speak to people, going to these trade shows and starting a conversation. As an introvert, it’s something I didn't like doing but it can help you carve out your own identity and stand out in the crowded market.”
On Dragon’s Den, entrepreneur Tej Lalvani offered to invest £75k for a 15% share of Love Cocoa, but you walked away. What did you learn?
“A lot of people think the loan negotiation process in Dragon’s Den is quite short. I was in there for over an hour. They really condense it.
Also, the stuff that the dragon can help with is really vague. You have to take it on trust. So I was giving up a lot of equity for the benefits that a dragon might be able to bring. I decided to strike a deal but with the confirmation that we could talk more about how he could help the business later.
In the end, we amicably agreed to walk away from the deal. It wasn’t worth the equity I was going to give up because I didn’t think I could get enough of his time.
Sometimes you get carried away when you see a big pot of money. You think that it's a really good deal. But ten minutes later when the euphoria goes, you get a gut feeling that something is not quite right. Go with that gut feeling because I have agreed to a few deals while adrenaline is still pumping and regretted it down the line.
Plan ahead to make sure you’re not desperate to take that deal. Make sure you are raising investment well before you’re running out of money. Otherwise, you can be pushed into a bad deal.”
Why have you jumped on the plant-based trend with your latest vegan product line HIP?
“We do annual surveys on what our customers want and we often have a question around veganism and whether people want a dark chocolate or a milk alternative. Everybody who was plant-based said they still want that creamy texture that dairy gives you, without the dairy. So we went all in, knowing that milk-alternative chocolate is super popular among some of our customers who already buy the product.
The cost of oat milk is a lot higher than dairy. So the profit margin is smaller. But I think with more people drinking oat milk, it's going lead to more economies of scale and eventually lower the price of oat milk.
It’s a high-growth, long-term market. I think we will all be a lot more plant-based in the next five years. People are dying in some countries because of record-breaking heat. It’s horrific but it’s going to be more normal because of climate change and people’s carbon footprint. Being plant-based helps alleviate some of that.
Having a smaller carbon footprint is really important for us. We want to be carbon negative eventually, which we are pretty close to being by planting trees. Also, the outsourced warehouse who do our fulfilment is green. All the energy they use is from renewable sources and they’ve swapped out plastic for compostable paper.
You wouldn't historically see businesses thinking about sustainability when they were choosing a fulfilment partner, but now with consumers wanting eco-credentials, that’s a way of doing it.”