Gozo in Colombia means joy. With Christmas just around the corner, Caroline Dask caught up with GOZO Chocolate owners Cathy and Matt about sweet treats, sustainable practices and mixing family and business…
Some of us (myself included) seek comfort in chocolate throughout the year – but particularly at Christmas time. Chocolate is a big part of the festive season.
One does not go without the other. At Luxe HQ, Christmas has come a little early as we chat to the brains behind GOZO.
Responsible for chocolate pairings truly made in heaven, it comes as no surprise that the business owners complement each other just as well. Matt and Cathy Stephenson are a husband and wife duo, who early on never thought life would take them on a path to the confectionery business, but fate has a funny way of placing you right where you belong.
“When I was younger, I always dreamed of being a footballer. Then, an MD because my dad was an MD and he used to travel all over the world and bring me lots of toys back. So, naturally, I thought this is what MDs did!
“They would travel all over the world buying toys. What could be better than that?” Matt laughs.
“However, in a way, I’ve always known I wanted to be my own boss,” he adds.
Cathy, on the other hand, dreamed of becoming a doctor and helping people, and although her career took a turn in another direction in marketing, she’s always had a love for science, nature and animals.
The story of how GOZO Chocolate came to life stems from something Matt heard in his childhood.
The Beginning Of GOZO…
“I was told that if you can pick your path, pick it in food because everyone needs to eat,” he says.
And it’s true. Before there was GOZO Chocolate, there was, and still is, Choc Nibbles. You might have seen them in the shops and even tried the irresistible combination of chocolate, caramel, and biscuit, packed up in an eye-catching design.
Started in 2007 by Matt, and later in 2014 joined by Cathy, this is what gave them the knowledge and experience in the confectionery industry, all leading up to the more recent launch of GOZO Chocolate in the North East.
“The idea for GOZO Chocolate was planted around six years ago when, after the success of Choc Nibbles, we just wanted to diversify, create new markets, new sectors and new customers,” Cathy shares.
“We invested in some new machinery and equipment to allow us to create different chocolate offerings that would make us stand out.
“This was during the pandemic, when we invested a lot of our time developing the brand behind GOZO Chocolate. We always thought that chocolate should be a happy moment. A moment that allows you to sit back, savour and just really enjoy it.
“We wanted to create a brand that was hopeful, optimistic and give people a moment of happiness during times of uncertainty,” Cathy adds.
GOZO Chocolate and ‘Pretty Woman’
“In the current market of confectionery, what we tend to see is that chocolate bars are smaller, thinner, and when it comes to add-ons, you usually get nibbles instead of whole nuts or real fruit,” says Cathy.
“We wanted to make sure that when you buy GOZO, you get an honest, generous bar of chocolate that’s full of flavour. We opted for a 58% cocoa content for our dark chocolate bars which we found was a real sweet spot; it’s not bitter or a challenge to eat.
“Our cocoa beans are sourced solely from Colombia; these origins are reflected in GOZO’s unique flavour profile, nurtured by the climate, the composition of the soil in the region it’s grown in and how the farmer works the land and his crop.”
Columbia seems to be a recurring theme during our chat, and a quick look at GOZO’s website brings up a name: Luker Chocolate.
“Do you know the clip from Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts walks into the shop and they won’t serve her, then she goes away, comes back and says: ‘big mistake’?,” Matt asks and I feel myself nodding before he can finish the sentence.
“Well, this partnership was something like that! I’ve known Luker Chocolate for years and I kept asking if I could buy their chocolate, and they kept saying I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t them being arrogant, it’s just that we didn’t have the right products and I wasn’t ready for what Luker represents.
“I saw them every year at trade fairs and continued to ask – then one day, they just said: ‘right, you’re ready’, and that was it,” Matt says.
Luker Chocolate has achieved the coveted Fine de Aroma Classification with flavour profiles matched by only 8% of the world’s cocoa growers who can claim their cocoa tastes this good.
It is a family-owned business. Their chocolate is grown in Colombia by farmers, not farms. Their values of sustainability, honesty and transparency are what set them apart from everyone else. Naturally, to be in partnership with Luker is a privilege and a true achievement, as shared values are vital for working together.
“Because Luker is so well known for their ethical practices, and for supporting small farmers to ensure they receive a fair price and education to deliver sustainable practices, that makes our sustainability message very clear and easy to deliver without the need for additional badges and stickers,” Matt explains.
“We actually got to visit Luker Chocolate in Colombia last year and saw first hand how they operate as a business within cocoa, how in-house experts support small farmers in different aspects of their practices and we just knew we made the right decision partnering with them,” Cathy adds.
“We also got to visit some of the farms in really remote areas of Colombia. The farms tend to be smallholdings, so they will have some cattle but it’s not a mass production.
“As we were sitting with some Luker representatives, they were educating farmers on how to get the best yields from their crop, how to best nurture their cocoa trees, always in the context of the farm’s locality and specific biodiversity challenges faced.
“So, they help farmers to get the most out of their product, whilst protecting their environment and communities, adding tangible value at origin. It’s just amazing to see their strong ties with farmers and the cocoa-growing community as a whole,” Cathy explains.
‘The Chocolate Dream’
GOZO invests directly in projects run by Luker Chocolate. ‘The Chocolate Dream’ works towards a goal of reforming the chocolate value chain from its origin through improving farmer income and beyond.
GOZO sponsors a project called Micro Basins and helps to protect water sources and provide safe drinking water in rural Limoncito, Colombia, which over time has been contaminated through pollution and waste.
Every bar of GOZO Chocolate purchased supports this project.
“We want people to buy GOZO because it tastes good. We want people to recognise it as premium, luxury chocolate at an affordable price – and then later on, if they find out that ‘by the way, as a company we try to do the right thing’, that’s great,” says Matt.
With her background in marketing, Cathy drives the message behind the brand, while Matt takes care of the day-to-day business operations. When asked why they don’t focus on their ethical practices as a marketing tool, Cathy is more than happy to explain:
“Chocolate shouldn’t be a guilt buy. It should be an overall happy experience. Even before the GOZO, Matt and I, as business owners thought that was the right thing to do, to be a part of such a wonderful programme supporting Luker, which really does make a difference to rural communities and the farmers.”
GOZO Chocolate x Fenwick
Just a few weeks ago, GOZO hit a huge milestone. Their products have landed on the shelves in Fenwick and with the news still fresh, it’s a pinch-me moment for both Cathy and Matt.
With success that seems to be growing daily, I’m curious about the old saying ‘don’t mix family and business’.
“I find it dead easy,” Matt jumps in.
“Well, when your partner is actually your boss…” Cathy laughs.
“You said this interview is on the record, right? Would you mind sending me that part where Cathy says I’m her boss? I’ll make that my ringtone!,” Matt laughs.
As they go on to share how they’ve created a true partnership and how they’ll ride the wave of highs and lows together, their business, just like them and their chocolate, is a perfect match.