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Couture Chocolate with a Conscience: jcoco

By now, we think we’ve pretty well documented our little affair with chocolate. And though we’ve been trying to keep it on the DL these days, there are some things you just can’t hide, and our newest love, jcoco chocolate, is one of them.

 

We came across jcoco during a recent shopping trip though the hip Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. There it sat on a table of stationery and home accessories, like a beacon of bright orange, metallic-wrapped light. We got a little closer to check out the fun, graphic packaging. Then we opened up the bright outer “purse” and encountered the fun-loving black-and-white fashion photos inside. We were convinced that the taste of the chocolate couldn’t possibly live up to the vivacious packaging. But we were proven wrong—so very, decliously wrong—with our first bite of creamy milk chocolate spiked with orange and cayenne.

 

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And if this is wrong . . . well, you know the rest.

 

Turns out that jcoco’s story is as intriguing as its flavors and wrappers. The company was founded by Jean Thompson, a former marketing exec for companies like Microsoft, who was an investor in Seattle Chocolate. After gaining popularity, especially on the West Coast, over a decade, the company was rocked when an earthquake destroyed their manufacturing facility. Several other investors backed out, and she became the majority owner. A few years later, Jean—who confesses to sneaking her mom’s Nestle morsels out of the kitchen cupboard when she wasn’t looking—took the reins of the company with a pretty clear directive in mind.

 

“I worked to understand who my target audience was,” she explains. “I felt like everyone was marketing chocolate the same way, wrapped in brown paper to signal Chocolate! But why couldn’t we borrow from fashion and design and do something fun and colorful?”

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So she came up with the idea for “American couture chocolate,” and enlisted her staff to help create flavors, many of which are inspired by restaurant experiences. For example, Jean points to the Black Fig Pistachio bar, which was an attempt to capture the richness of a pistachio and fig salad she had for dinner at a local cafe. And the unusual combination of Agave Quinoa Sesame Milk Chocolate —which shouldn’t work together, but does—was inspired by a quinoa dish she sampled in a restaurant in Peru. (The Peanut Strawberry Baobab, by contrast, is a grown-up take on everybody’s favorite PB&J.) Although the jcoco staff likes combos that sound unusual, ultimately they just love great-tasting chocolate, so they go through several rounds of product testing (tough gig, we know) before finalizing a new flavor.

 

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With the exception of jcoco’s milk chocolate beans, which come from Vanuatu, and their cocoa nibs, which hail from Venezuela, the cacao beans for jcoco bars are sourced from all over the world and blended by a Belgian manufacturer in to company’s signature 72% dark chocolate.

 

Each flavored jcoco bar, which is made right in Seattle, is a single ounce, to both encourage portion control and to give jcoco the opportunity to play with fun vintage Getty images photography of, as Jean puts it, “women living large.” Three individual bars are included in each of the purses, which are a vibrant nod to the color-happy aesthetic of Kate Spade. The couture component comes in both in the stylish packaging and the fact that the process of wrapping each bar in a different image can’t be automated in the factory, and is thus done by hand. “We don’t want to be Louis Vuitton, but we pay attention to detail and fuss over every part of the product,” Jean shares. “It delights us.”

 

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What also delights Jean and the jcoco staff is their commitment to philanthropic work. Chocolate, which Jean considers the ultimate social food, was the perfect vehicle for contributing to important causes like world hunger. But, she recalls, “I felt like not enough companies were focusing on hungry people here in the U.S. So I thought, Let’s focus on eliminating hunger in our own backyard.” To date, Jcoco has donated a portion of its proceeds toward more than 250,000 servings of fresh—not packaged or dry goods—food to food banks in areas that distribute the chocolate. Jean even stops in to work at the food banks whenever she’s in one of these regions.

 

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Jcoco will be expanding its distribution—and philanthropic reach—over the coming year. In the meantime, Jean is excited about jcoco’s newest venture: a pop-up store at the Bellevue Square mall in Seattle that will be open from June 1 through the end of December. On a mission to “make the store as beautiful as the packaging,” Jean is coordinating some effervescent, colorful merchandising and a carefully edited selection of giftables that will change up each month. At the pop-up store, customers can pick up jcoco and Seattle Chocolate bars, and also mix and match their own combinations of Seattle Chocolate’s mouthwatering truffles. “We’re going to have tons of fun with it,” Jean says.

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