Cornwall Life visits a Cornish Chocolate Company
PUBLISHED: 11:39 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:53 20 February 2013
Being Easter, in this April issue Cornwall Life visits a Cornish Chocolate Company - Kernow Chocolate
Charmed by Chocolate
Bernard Cole satisfies his sweet tooth with a visit to Kernow Chocolate
When they moved to Cornwall in 1985, agricultural engineer Alex Shapland and his wife, Jayne, faced a rosy future running their engineering business. That was until BSE struck. With the uncertainty in the agricultural industry that followed the outbreak, they realised they had to find a new career and business challenge if they were to continue living and working in the county they had come to love. But what should they do? The couple got their answer from Buttermilk Confections in Padstow, a successful confectionery company run by two of their good friends.
Alex and Jayne first dipped their fingers in 'confectionery' by helping Buttermilk set the occasional batch of fudge. They loved it - the work, that is, rather than just the fudge - and soon the germ of an idea began to grow, an idea that took one step closer to reality when Jayne and daughter Nicola took the plunge by enrolling on a chocolate-making course in Paris. "We were enthralled and totally hooked," says Jayne. "We were working in the centre of Paris surrounded by chocolate and like-minded people and we just knew it was what we wanted to do."
Arriving back in Cornwall just days after graduating as chocolatiers and looking forward to a long-awaited holiday in the sun, they were welcomed home by Alex with a slightly nervous grin on his face. "Holiday's off," he said sheepishly, "but don't worry, I've just spent the money on a chocolate factory. So say goodbye to Lanzarote and hello to transporting and setting up our new venture." Thankfully for Alex, his gamble paid off - the loss of the holiday was soon forgotten and within days the equipment had arrived and Kernow Chocolate was born.
Since its tenuous beginning in January 2005, Kernow Chocolate has gone from strength to strength. Operating from Trevisker Farm on the edge of St Eval, this is a real family business. Alex and Jayne head the team, with total hands-on support from daughter Nicola and son-in-law Andy and from son Philip and his girlfriend, Vicki. Between them they manage every aspect of the business: producing from sacks of raw chocolate the company's ever-expanding product range, packaging, delivery, marketing, sales and admin. "And," says Nicola, looking up from the computer, "we also have a shop in Wadebridge that sells not just our chocolate but also a full range of Cornish-made food, drink and craft work."
Surrounded by vats of warm and slowly turning liquid chocolate, the production area's aroma is incredibly seductive. No wonder so many people fall in love with this magical foodstuff. "And everything we produce is hand-made here on the farm," says Alex. "Apart from the raw materials, nothing is brought in from other producers." To prove the point, Philip and Nicki were busy pouring the latest batch of liquid milk chocolate into huge Easter egg moulds ready for the fast-approaching Easter rush.
"There's a certain amount of seasonality in the trade," mentions Alex, "and our range reflects our customers' requirements. Our best-selling item, though, is our recognisable 100g bar with its wrapping showing photographs of Cornish scenes taken by local photographer Sarah Lay."
Apart from the range sold through its own Wadebridge shop, Kernow Chocolate also supplies the Eden Project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, St Michael's Mount, Trebah Gardens and many of the county's other main attractions. One of its newest outlets is Chocolat in St Ives.
Furthermore, Kernow Chocolate is probably the smallest Fair Trade chocolate producer in the UK. In 2008 it produced and sold more than 4,000 bars to customers who actively seek out their Fair Trade range.
The team also spends much of the year at shows and food fairs and last year they exhibited at, among others, London's Good Food Show and at the Real Food Show at Olympia. "But the main selling show and the one that's the most fun to do is the Royal Cornwall Show," adds Alex. "We all fight each other for the chance to spend three days up at the Wadebridge showground."
For the moment, though, everyone is concentrating on the Easter rush. Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, boxes of chocolates and a full range of other tempting goodies in a variety of flavours are already lining the stockroom shelves ready to wend their way to the shops, farmers' markets and other outlets across the region.
So, as they go about their working day inhaling the comforting aromas of the production area, Alex and Jayne's dream of running their own chocolate business from the family home in Cornwall is now a reality. And with turnover increasing and a growing reputation for providing a top-quality product, this family-run enterprise is now firmly embedded in the Cornish confectionery market. "Our dream," Alex reveals, "is to find a suitable site in Cornwall on which to build a state-of-the-art chocolate factory with a visitor centre so that others can share our enjoyment of working with this wonderful, natural product."
Trevisker Farm, St Eval, Wadebridge PL27 7UE (01208 816123, www.kernowchocolate.co.uk