The Australian - Wish Magazine - - FOOD -

Si­mon Crowe can still re­mem­ber when he first walked into the fac­tory where Koko Black makes its choco­lates by hand. It was six years ago, long be­fore he ever took the helm as owner of the Aus­tralian chocolatier, but he was in­stantly mes­merised.

“I was blown away by the move­ment of the peo­ple, by the smell, by the fact that there was this in­cred­i­ble en­ergy – not quite Willy Wonkaesque but not en­tirely dis­sim­i­lar,” he says. “There were no choco­late rivers, un­for­tu­nately, but it re­ally en­gaged the senses and I thought it was pretty pow­er­ful.”

Crowe was shown to the fac­tory in Coburg, in Mel­bourne’s north­ern sub­urbs, af­ter he be­came friends with Koko Black’s cre­ator, Shane Hill. They talked about Crowe be­com­ing an in­vestor but it never even­tu­ated, and Koko Black went into ad­min­is­tra­tion in late 2015 af­ter ex­pand­ing too quickly. Crowe, who founded and owns the Grill’d ham­burger em­pire, bought it in 2016, and has spent the past two years fig­ur­ing out where to take it next.

“Our vi­sion is to be one of Aus­tralia’s global brands,” Crowe tells WISH. “I look at the cof­fee and wine cat­e­gories and Aus­tralians have turned those two in­dus­tries on their head, rel­a­tive to our size on a global ba­sis. My view is, that is our op­por­tu­nity as it re­lates to choco­late.”

Crowe be­lieves he can do that with Koko Black by fo­cus­ing on us­ing Aus­tralian na­tive in­gre­di­ents as well as em­pha­sis­ing that all the choco­lates are hand­made us­ing no preser­va­tives. He sees the Mel­bourne-born chocolatier ex­ist­ing in a more “ar­ti­san con­tem­po­rary” space than it does now, but with a uniquely Aus­tralian story to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from tra­di­tional Eu­ro­pean choco­late brands.

He and his team have com­mis­sioned in­te­rior de­sign­ers to redo the 13 Koko Black stores across the coun­try as well as graphic de­sign­ers to makeover the pack­ag­ing. He has also en­tered into sig­nif­i­cant part­ner­ships with Qan­tas (pro­vid­ing all the choco­lates on busi­ness- and first-class flights) and Crown Ho­tels (sup­ply­ing the choco­lates for turn­down ser­vice and the mini-bars) as well as creative col­lab­o­ra­tions with peo­ple like award-win­ning chef Dan Hunter and his Vic­to­rian restau­rant Brae.

“For me, he and a cou­ple of his peers are at the pin­na­cle of what it means to be uniquely and gen­uinely Aus­tralian and us­ing na­tive in­gre­di­ents,” Crowe says. “And that is where I think a lot of the fu­ture fo­cus of Koko Black comes into play.” Koko Black and Hunter are work­ing on eight pra­lines and four choco­late blocks that will hit the mar­ket soon, and more prod­ucts will drop in time for Easter.

“We have a story to tell and that comes back to us be­ing a choco­late ar­ti­san and do­ing so with that Aus­tralian bent,” he says of Koko Black. “That is why work­ing with Dan Hunter is so fun­da­men­tal and ex­cit­ing. It helps us put down our Aus­tralian roots and make that part of the DNA of the brand.”


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