Interviews

Friends since they were five and now their chocolate business is a sweet success

6 min read

30 October 2015

Some of the greatest partnerships in business go back many years, but Ed Smith and Richard Wilkinson, co-founders of innovative super-food chocolate brand Doisy & Dam, have known each other since they were toddlers.

The two are now surfing two culinary trends – luxury chocolate and superfoods with their company, which creates upmarket chocolate with added ingredients such as quinoa, sprouted buckwheat and spirulina.

Thanks to his City of London background, Wilkinson, 27, handles finance, operations and logistics while Smith, 26, and a former marketer who brought British menswear label Jack Wills to the US, is in charge of the more creative aspects of the business, heading up the sales and marketing.

As for Doisy and Dam, they were two scientists who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1943 for their work on vitamin K. Their discoveries led to a much better understanding of health and nutrition, which is why Wilkinson and Smith decided to put them on the front of their bars.

Smith and Wilkinson had wanted to do their own thing for some time but were advised to get some more experience before setting up in business. Their search for foods that blend healthy ingredients with luxurious self-indulgence was the inspiration for Doisy & Dam.

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“We’re massive foodies,” said Smith. “We started by developing all sorts of superfood-based treats and our eureka moment was definitely when we first tried our superfood chocolate.” The product, which is hand made in their factory in Norfolk is gluten free, organic, soya free, GMO free and its dark selection is suitable for vegans. The range currently includes: Date & Himalayan Pink Salt; Roasted Cocao Nibs; Lemon, Poppy Seed & Baobab as well as Mulberries, Black Sesame and Spirulina.

Smith and Wilkinson started work on their chocolate formulations in 2012 and launched the business officially last year. Funding came from their own money – each had saved £5,500 – giving them £11,000 seed capital in total. “It wasn’t a lot but that actually helped because we had to make every penny count,” said Smith. The office is in Brockley, south-east London. “It’s quite foodie area here, although not many people realise it.”

To market test their prototypes Smith and Wilkinson cycled around London visiting grocers and delicatessens with free samples of their chocolate. “We didn’t push it hard, we just offered tastings for customers and then suddenly people started ringing us up and asking for more,” said Smith. “I think there’s a movement towards food that people can understand, healthier eating and a realisation that you don’t have to sacrifice taste in order to have better food – I think our timing was right.”

The Doisy & Dam range of organic dark chocolate is handmade in Norfolk and is currently available in Ocado, Planet Organic and As Nature Intended. The entrepreneurial duo’s biggest break was a large order from Whole Foods. Like all startups, though, they have made mistakes – these include printing a run of labels for 5,000 bars with one flavour on the front and another on the side. Recently their foil manufacturer messed up, leaving Wilkinson and another colleague to hand cut 2,000 sheets of foil to continue production.

The company has won four stars at the Great Taste Awards, and is now adding five new flavours with the launch of an innovative new range of white and milk chocolate, as well as white and dark chocolate gift sets, ready for Christmas gifting.

Smith and Wilkinson have also recently received £150,000 private investment for 15 per cent of the business from a single investor based on their success so far. Smith predicts an increase in turnover from £65,000 in 2014 to £275,000 in 2015 and between £750,000 and £900,000 in 2016. To date, they have sold over 15 tonnes of chocolate and 225,000 bars.

Doisy & Dam’s long-term aim is to move into different food categories with the same theme of using superfoods to make delicious foods that are as nutritionally sound as they can be. They want to create a range of products that are synonymous with quality, deliciousness and natural goodness. Next summer they’re launching a cold-brewed cocoa drink.

Knowing each other for such a long time has helped them work together. “We’re highly competitive and we’ve always bickered so there’s nothing new there,” revealed Smith. “We’ll sometimes shout at each but it’s all forgotten very quickly. We found it very easy to adapt to a business relationship because we know each other so well, in a lot of business relationships people are worried about how something might come across, that isn’t an issue for us. We often each take an extreme point of view but then end up compromising which works well.”