Yesterday on Instagram I shared the news that we are launching some gorgeous gift boxes ahead of Christmas, collaborating with four other independent brands to bring these together. To celebrate and to spread the small business joy, we will be chatting to the four brand owners over the next few months.
First up, we chat to Lara and Cameron, founders of our all time favourite chocolate brand, Bare Bones Chocolate, who have supplied two different bars of their chocolate for our gift boxes. You may have spotted them in our Special Anniversary Edition, but since then they’ve moved to new premises and the business is going from strength to strength. We catch up with Lara to find out more…
Passionate about taste, fair-trade and sustainability, chocolate makers Lara Messer and Cameron Dixon create sublime bean-to-bar products through their brand, Bare Bones Chocolate
Hi Lara, how would you describe Bare Bones?
We are micro-batch chocolate makers from Glasgow, handcrafting single-origin chocolate from bean to bar. Our chocolate is made of just the ‘bare bones’ – incredible cacao, raw unrefined cane sugar and a tiny bit of cocoa butter. No additives, excess flavourings or emulsifiers.
We are so proud to be a sustainable business – paying three times the fair-trade market rate for our cacao, working with UK packaging and ingredients suppliers, wrapping all our chocolate in recycled and recyclable/compostable materials, and paying the living wage.
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
Bare Bones was born on a train home from work after I had a few difficult clients in a row and was feeling completely lost and stressed. I felt so down and remembered that I had a bar of bean-to-bar chocolate in my bag and started eating it (and felt so much better! The power of chocolate!). I got carried away thinking about how fulfilling it would be to be a chocolate maker and started frantically googling how chocolate is made. I was so inspired that I ran home to my partner, Cam, told him the process, and that I thought we should try and make some ourselves. And the rest is history!
How did your career begin?
Before Bare Bones, I was a food photographer in London, working with various food and lifestyle publications. Cameron is a mechanical engineer, which is absolutely essential for chocolate making as it is mostly process, science and physics!
Where do you find inspiration for your creations?
We are always so inspired by holidays we have been on. Searching for colours, coffee shops, flavour combinations and design styles!
How did you first discover your love for what you do?
I first discovered bean-to-bar chocolate when I was looking for Christmas presents for our families. I have always admired craftsmanship and small businesses… always choosing to support a small maker than a big box store. I found Dandelion chocolate in San Fransisco and was completely hooked on how incredible real chocolate tasted compared to the likes of Dairy Milk!
Could you describe a typical working day?
Each day is different and there are so many processes that go into making a bar of chocolate. We are a small team of chocolate makers now, which is so exciting, and we each have our area that we work on – from roasting and tempering, to hot chocolate flaking, wrapping and postal. My role is mostly marketing the chocolate and communicating with our amazing stockists and customers – which I love! It’s so nice to be using my food photography for our own business! Cameron is head of chocolate production – his engineering background and methodical mind are so vital in chocolate making. Together we are a very good team!
What is the ethos behind your business?
We want to make the best possible chocolate that people love, but do so in the most sustainable way. We wanted to build a brand that supported everyone in the supply chain, honouring the farmers, the cacao and the makers.
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Chocolate making has so many processes, machines and stock involved, so every stage of growth has been really complicated and has needed an incredible amount of planning.
Tell us about the process behind your chocolate…
The process is extremely labour intensive and there are so many steps to making an amazing bar of chocolate. We import cacao beans from Madagascar, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Guatemala to our workshop in Glasgow. From there we sort through each and every bean (literally!) for defects before roasting. Not many makers do this step, but we are very thorough and make sure only the best tasting beans make it through.
We roast the cacao beans to enhance the flavours – which have been created from the growing, fermenting and drying process – using a modified coffee roaster which gives us unparalleled control of the flavour and allows us to roast each bean evenly. After roasting, we crack the beans to release the nib from the outer shell (husk). The nibs are the chocolate, so in order to discard the shell we put the husks and nibs through a winnower. Winnowing is the process of separating the shell from the nibs. We donate our husks to a local rum distillery, Wester, who create a delicious chocolate-infused rum!
The nibs are added to a large stone grinder with organic, unrefined cane sugar for up to 3 days. This reduces the particle size to make beautifully smooth chocolate and eliminates the acidity that is built up in the fermentation process. We age the chocolate for around two weeks to develop the flavour (much like wine or cheese), and then temper the chocolate to align the crystal structure, which gives the bars a beautiful shine and crisp snap. Finally, we hand-wrap our bars in compostable sheets (no foil here!) which has such a lovely feel… like you are opening a present!
Tell us about the new space you work in and why you chose it…
We just moved into two beautiful railway arches in the centre of Glasgow. The area is the Arts and Music district of Glasgow, which we are so excited to be a part of. The arches themselves are really quirky (not a straight line in sight!) and are just perfect for us and our team. We have some lovely neighbours, too – Infinity Yoga, Fakie Skateboarding shop and Plantyful vegan bakery. We wanted to make the arches a very warm, fresh and inviting place to be. Incorporating our packaging colours, lots of textures and wood. The wood used around the workshop is actually from the crate that delivered our coffee roaster!
Is there an element of your work that you love the most?
My favourite part of the process is wrapping and posting the bars. I love to think about the customer and who is enjoying our chocolate!
How valuable is the online community to your work?
We are so proud to have such lovely customers who buy our chocolate online and engage with our Instagram posts. It means so much to us to receive messages about a customer’s chocolate experience or to see a photo of our bars in the wild!
What’s been the biggest eye-opener for you in running your business?
I think the biggest eye-opener has been that a lot of the time things are completely out of our hands. Brexit and Covid-19 have played havoc with deliveries of our raw materials, machinery and packaging, which has been really stressful. We try to take each day as it comes and fix one problem at a time!
How do you differentiate Bare Bones in the marketplace?
We’re fanatical about flavour and have such high standards for our chocolate! We really try to go over and above to make sure our chocolate tastes the best it can.
We designed our packaging to have eye-catching colours and a simple, beautiful design. I think they draw you in and then the information on the bars is very detailed. We have QR codes on the back of the bars too, which leads you to a page all about the chocolate, the cacao origin and us!
Working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
The joys – being able to do such creative things like limited edition bars or fun campaigns for social media. We also love what we do, so we don’t feel like we are working each day!
The challenges – being in control of everything can often be daunting! We are so lucky that we have each other to bounce ideas off.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
I try to tell a story through our social media using bright imagery and videos, as there are so many exciting parts to the chocolate making process. I love working on our Instagram feed and planning new features!
What have been your business highlights so far?
Having such wonderful customers and stockists is the most incredible feeling. We are so grateful for every order, and it means so much to know our chocolate is being enjoyed around the world.
We have also won some awards in the last two years which we are so proud of: in the Academy of Chocolate 2021 we won silver for our Dominican, Madagascar and Honduras bars, bronze for our Honduras milk with coffee, and GOLD for our Guatemala bar! And in 2020, we won gold for ‘Brand Experience’ and the Rising Star award, as well as silver for our hot chocolate at the International Chocolate Awards!
What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?
The paper we use for our chocolate boxes is extremely thick, so we have to roller each edge of each box with a screen-printing roller to fold it!
Do you have any creative pastimes or hobbies?
I love collecting vinyl and we spend our weekends hunting for more in charity shops and record stores. We also love going to coffee shops!
What is the most important lesson that running your business has taught you about life?
Try and enjoy the process. Thinking about the future will get you through the hard times, but it is important to enjoy the small steps and the day-to-day as that is where you live your life.
Any good advice for independent creative businesses who are just starting out?
As boring as it sounds, my best advice is to make sure you know your numbers. Keep a close eye on your finances and cash-flow, but be sure to invest in machinery if it will make your process more efficient/life easier!
Do you work on collaborative projects?
This year we launched a collaboration bar with Watch House coffee in London. The bar is an exquisite 77 per cent Guatemala dark chocolate that has tastes notes of toffee, orange and earl grey tea. The packaging is so beautiful too, and we are very proud to be working with the team at Watch House. We’re also working with 91 Magazine at the moment on their soon-to-launch gift boxes, which feature Bare Bones chocolate and a mix of treats from other makers we love.
What does the next year hold for you?
To celebrate our new factory space, we have commissioned a handful of golden tickets to hide in online orders. Finding a ticket secures you a spot on our chocolate factory tour!
Where can people find Bare Bones products?
We have some incredible stockists across the UK who we are proud to be working with. We have an online shop too with same-day dispatch.
Books I love:
Not a book, but I absolutely love the magazine Pet People! I’m not sure if it is in print anymore, but it is my absolute favourite.
My biggest heroes are Elsie and Emma from A Beautiful Mess. I’ve followed them for 10+ years and still love everything they do.
Shops I love:
I am always so inspired in coffee shops, cycling to work or a nice walk in the park!
Instagrammers I love:
You will find the Honduras 60% Milk Chocolate and the Guatemala 65% Dark Chocolate bars in the 91 Magazine gift boxes, launching in October!