Wellington Chocolate Factory

by Brendon Wilson

TINZ Director

Writing for Employers and Manufacturers Association

BusinessPlus Magazine

Wellington Chocolate Factory

We often mention the benefits a company can look to if they make ethics and integrity their central policies. Here’s a small company we have seen recently who base themselves ethically to reap these returns....

A small company, The Wellington Chocolate Factory, has decided to place ethical operation and integrity at the centre of its strategy and operation, so that ethical outcomes, even those outside their own company, are their major differentiator to generate success in a highly competitive business sector.

Arriving at their buzzy central city laneway location, the air of friendly excitement and aromatic goodness hits you as you are offered tempting tastes to set up the experience.

Turning the traditional model on its head, The Wellington Chocolate Factory, co-founded by Gabe Davidson and Rochelle Harrison, expect their business to operate best by planning their company’s whole existence on doing ethical good for all in their supply chain, to maximise their shareholders’ value.

The Wellington Chocolate Factory was formed by Gabe and Rochelle in Dec 2013 following extensive experience in Melbourne while roasting coffee and owning cafes. Gabe saw then that a small ethically-focused craft chocolate business could be satisfying and successful by setting new value benchmarks in a sector often marked by poor practices, including dubious sources and the use of child labour.

Gabe saw no reason why the then widespread boom in specialty coffee sourcing, roasting and cafe culture should not work equally well in chocolate. An industry sector dominated by large multi-nationals, up until recently, with the operating style and pressures expected of these companies. The global multinationals will often attempt to compete with a craft newcomer by adding a ‘premium chocolate product’ range to say ‘me too’. Interestingly Gabe doesn’t compete in these companies’ space. He believes he is creating a totally different culture and operation, and appealing to an entirely different target market for its own values.

Gabe and business partner Rochelle decided to run their business by personally involving themselves in every step of the supply chain, from growing, picking, roasting, transporting, and then producing their chocolate products in New Zealand. They could personally vouch for the integrity of every stage of their business from the earth right through to the sale to the customer, and make this absolute integrity and personally-assured ethics their differentiator.More than that, they wanted to use their success to improve the lives and economies of people, communities and countries far more widely than just their own company’s success.Thus any formal certification audits to show sources, practices and standards, would always be a straightforward matter within their direct knowledge and documented operation, rather than trying to check, change and re-engineer their business to meet requirements.From this platform they can also build integrity practices and systems on a sound base as they progress, rather than having to retro-fit them.Their integrity and ethical business model embraces innovation and excitement in ways that traditional business methods simply cannot.

This philosophy took the Chocolate Factory through steps which they wanted to establish from the start:

  • They developed and treat staff as friends and collaborators, so openness, trust and commitment grow from communication, training and inclusion. Staff are fully involved in the business and part of the integrity process
  • Staff know their work has a widening impact for good at all stages of the chain, rather than just making or selling
  • ‘Vision’ is less important than clearly-stated ’principle’: ideas, solutions and success will follow
  • Create trust, confidence and assurance in your products and your company through decency and organisational justice
  • One Board member is their Ethics Officer, all staff are encouraged to take issues and concerns to the Ethics Officer at any time, and are guaranteed freedom from any negative reaction or repercussion
  • A 4-year plan targeting the values they decided on, rather than purely dollar results
  • Consumer packaging designed by artists who they bring into their ethical process, creating original artwork to differentiate and let their product tell their story to a growing client base
  • As well as improvement and opportunity for growth, they continually look for ways to audit and prove the integrity of their practices and sources

Gabe found it would be nearly impossible to improve practices by sourcing from the industry’s traditional cacao-sourcing countries which are driven by low-cost large-scale operations. Among other things they were unable to ensure child labour and other negative humanitarian practices were prevented.

Peru, The Dominican Republic and Bougainville offered the opportunity to personally build supply chains which were organically certified and ethical from a humanitarian perspective.

Once focus was put on the sourcing of cacao beans from farmers who could show guaranteed organic sustainable practices, emphasis was placed on ensuring there would be no weak links in the chain. For example, this meant helping farmers to secure their land tenure, financing their specialist cacao bean fermenting and drying equipment. Then securing transport arrangements to bring the beans to New Zealand with certainty, at controllable cost, and once again, through the most ethical means.

By definition, they have chosen to trade in some sensitive difficult parts of the world with serious risks of corruption and human rights violations. The Wellington Chocolate Factory have established integrity principles and won’t compromise them even in the smallest way. This way, the expectation and example is set and there is no chance of even a little slide towards more serious problems of corruption or ethical practice—everybody in the company and in the supply chain knows that any temptation to ‘just do what is expected’ must be declined and managed in a different way.

They are not frightened to do things which seem ‘off-the-page’ if it will have a positive influence. Their aim is improving the sector, even if it also improves opportunity for other companies. They believe that better lives and more ethical opportunity for communities and peoples through the whole sector will create a larger end-market of ethically-aware consumers who will appreciate and come to expect these standards, rewarding all players in the market able to show they are truly ethical.

The Wellington Chocolate Voyage is welcomed to Tinputz, in Bougainville, PNG

The amazing stories these aims have led to are already legendary, bringing fresh exciting opportunities on a wider canvas. For example, re-creating ancient trade routes with small traditional canoe craft across the Pacific, ensuring transportation between otherwise uneconomic and ignored supply locations, has been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: ‘we sailed 10,000 miles on the Uto Ni Yalo, a traditional Pacific voyaging canoe, bringing cocoa beans from Bougainville back to New Zealand, a venture backed by 440 Kickstarters, so we can make our ‘Bougainville Bar’.

WCF have set themselves high standards to live by: they know they have to continually measure themselves, and all their supply chain and production processes, to ensure standards keep rising, and that they continue overcoming challenges through ethical integrity and innovation.

They have experienced a big growth curve as most new and successful small businesses do. They’re now growing just as fast but with more control, still keeping the excitement, innovation, improving lives, communities and industry through their ethical and integrity-based approach. This is now occurring in a broadened circle of exciting plans and affecting a far wider range of communities and countries in other continents. To support this growth, Gabe and Rochelle have worked closely with Motif Agency’s James Bushell to ensure their management team is well-sorted. Motif specialise in providing advice to ethical SME's. James now chairs the WCF board and has formalised many of the social and environmental goals WCF has set. He has built a framework for the business to provide a smoother risk-free transition from small to medium-sized business, including processes to fit them for further significant growth.

An exciting and fun way to do good and grow a business - the sky is the limit!


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