THE GOLDEN TICKET
EXPECT MORE NATIVE INGREDIENTS FROM KOKO BLACK, A DISTINCTLY AUSTRALIAN ARTISAN CHOCOLATIER.
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.”