Giles Baker and Vanessa Kettelwell never planned a sustainable makeover, but when a U.S. customer demanded eco-friendlier chocolate they found a whole new market. Now they have an answer to food miles, a luxury product for the eco-conscious and even jokes that Germans understand
For pure feel-good factor it’s hard to beat the quirky sense of humour served up on Bloomsberry & Co chocolate wrappers. Plastic surgeons have been known to give their patients Bochox (“consumption produces stress-relieving endorphins that make you forget about your wrinkles”), while Magic Fairy Chocolate (“one poof and it’s all gone”) is popular with the gay community.
But it took a nudge from US organic supermarket giant Whole Foods to get Christchurch-based Bloomsberry thinking sustainably with the launch of its Climate Change Chocolate.
Designs featuring wind turbines and (carbon) footprints are printed on recycled cardboard and the inner wrapper has 15 tips for reducing energy use, ranging from washing clothes in cold water to replacing the car air filter. For every bar sold, 55 American pennies go to purchase 133 pounds (60 kilograms) of carbon dioxide offsets from TerraPass, a social enterprise that uses proceeds to fund greenhouse gas reduction projects such as wind farms.
First-quarter sales bought 9.3 million pounds of carbon offsets, the equivalent of taking 900 cars off the road for a year. Although the initiative came from Whole Foods—which already stocked other Bloomsberry lines developed specifically for the US market, including Hanukkah Nosh kosher chocolate and ‘broomstick fuel’ for Halloween—Bloomsberry co-founder Giles Barker says the project has had a significant impact on company thinking.
Bloomsberry & Co was established in 2001 by Barker, the Christchurch graphic designer behind the clever packaging, and his wife Vanessa Kettelwell, a former chef turned marketing whizz. She got their first orders by trailing a tour bus to Queenstown and collecting the names of store buyers wherever it stopped. Now the company has an annual turnover of $3.5 million and its chocolate sells in seven countries.
When Whole Foods approached Bloomsberry late last year the supermarket chain already sold TerraPass cards, and a variety of chocolates that raised awareness and funds for other worthy environmental causes.
Initially, Barker says, TerraPass was a bit nervous about putting its name on confectionary “in case it made it too flippant or silly. But the counter to that is that people are always going to buy chocolate and it’s wrapped and packaged anyway, so if you can turn it into a ‘social good’ message, that’s a good way of communicating.”
“English buyers are very pleased the product doesn’t come halfway around the world. We’d struggle to send it as a product from New Zealand. It would seem too indulgent—even for chocolate ”
Barker says doing the Climate Change Chocolate inspired the Boston-based American arm of the business to become fully carbon-neutral, and the entire US range is swapping over to recycled cardboard. Improvements are small but constant: plans include printing the conservation tips on the inside of the cardboard sleeve, rather than on a separate paper wrapper, and the hunt is on to find recycled cardboard for the European market.
Barker says acting sustainably is becoming increasingly important, so outsourcing manufacturing, printing and packaging in major markets such as the US, rather than shipping product from New Zealand, is a major plus. Regardless of where the chocolate is manufactured, the design work will continue to be done in Christchurch at Barker’s graphic design studio, Out of the Blue.
In Britain eco-savvy consumers really do care about air miles and unnecessary packaging. When it came to winning shelf space in supermarket giant Sainsbury’s, it helped that Bloomsberry used Swiss chocolate and had reduced packaging by two layers. “English buyers are far more aware of these things than anyone else we’ve come across. They’re very pleased the product doesn’t come halfway around the world. I think we’d struggle to send it as a product from New Zealand. It would seem too indulgent—even for chocolate.
“If you don’t have to transport it a lot you can deliver more frequently, you can be on top of the needs of your customer. It just really works.”
Bloomsberry’s presence in luxury store Harvey Nichols led to growing interest from English gift shops keen to stock the fun chocolate, so in late July Barker, Kettelwell and their two children moved to the UK to further develop European sales
There’s been interest from Ireland and, as luck would have it, Out of the Blue has a German staffer who tweaked the wording to capture the company’s brand of humour for German consumers. “When we move into other languages it’s going to be interesting. It’s not just a translation job, it’s a design and translation job. The play on words may revolve around one particular word and how it is laid out.”
Barker says clever word play is the reason Bloomsberry bars sell well in bookshops, not places you’d normally expect to find chocolate. “If you’re going to get the silly jokes you have to read them, so they tie in really well with the type of person who buys a book.”
Bloomsberry & Co had its genesis in the form of outrageously silly gifts created for clients—like the Christmas Royal Variety biscuit assortment presented in a tin with staff members’ faces replacing those of the royal family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
Barker says dreaming up and designing the gifts was so much fun it started to take over, so he came up with a manufactured product that could showcase their design skills and provide light relief from regular assignments. He still has a page from a yellow A4 pad filled with his original drawings for the chocolate wrappers. “Chocolate seemed like a lovely medium to work with because nearly everyone loves it.”
The rectangular box lent itself to “an endless stream of mad ideas,” the first of which was Barker’s Emergency chocolate (for immediate relief of chocolate cravings, lovesickness, exam pressure, mild anxiety and extreme hunger), which is still their best-selling bar.
And Kettelwell says one of the great things about confectionary is that it’s recession proof: even when times are tough, people still enjoy a treat. “Once upon a time people would buy a Bloomsberry bar of chocolate and put it with a gift. Now they’re giving it as the gift.”
Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).