CHESTERFIELD, Va. (AP) — The former mayor of Hopewell, Steve Taylor, and his wife Kim recently opened a chocolate wholesale manufacturing and retail facility, Taylor Made Chocolate, in Chesterfield County.
The bean-to-bar artisan chocolate making process that unfolds in the back of the Taylor Made Chocolate store begins with cocoa beans that are imported from Haiti. Taylor and his employees sort through the beans, taking out the ones that will take away from the flavor of the chocolate, and then the best beans are roasted and winnowed in the facility. The beans are then taken through the final mixing and cooling stages before being packaged and sold on the shelves at the front of the store.
For the Taylors, opening Taylor Made Chocolate was part of a much greater mission than selling chocolate bars. The couple opened the store with one overall goal in mind — to help others.
The Taylors’ idea to begin the company all started in 2012 when a couple from the International Justice Mission came to the Taylors’ church to give a presentation about how they were going to Asia to help fight human trafficking. According to Taylor, the husband was a JAG attorney with the United States military and was going to use his law degree to work with police to free captive women and children from brothels in Asia.
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The presentation tugged at the Taylors’ heartstrings as they were exposed to just how prominent human trafficking is. The couple soon began supporting the International Justice Mission with small monthly donations, which enabled them to receive the organization’s monthly newsletters.
“The newsletters told of all these nice success stories about these people who have been freed from human trafficking, but even though they were success stories, they were sad because (the victims) still had to get their lives back together,” said Taylor. “So our hearts started to ache about what we could do to help out with human trafficking. We began to ask ourselves, ‘How can we make more of a difference?'”
As the Taylors looked further into the human trafficking issue, they discovered a need for victims to have options post counseling.
“We noticed that people who get freed from human trafficking go to counseling, and then when they get toward the end of counseling, they need to get into something other than their former job,” Taylor said. “So we knew that we eventually wanted to help (human trafficking) victims reintegrate back into society.”
While the Taylors did not know at that point in time that they would open a chocolate manufacturing facility, they knew they wanted to somehow help human trafficking victims by providing them with job opportunities following counseling.
“We want to bring them in to do training during our busy season, which is summertime when we’re getting ready for chocolate season,” said Taylor. “Our goal is to get them the job training and skills they need that they can take with them to other jobs. In some cases, we’ll hire them too.”
As they began to look into opening a business, the Taylors looked at uprising food trends.
“We noticed that many food trends have taken place over the past few years, such as Greek yogurt, sports drinks, microbrews, etc.,” explained Taylor. “So we began to look at what was coming next. That’s when Artisan chocolate fell on our radar.”
According to Taylor, artisan chocolate is an emerging trend that is currently where microbrews were 5 years ago and where coffee was 10 years ago. Artisan chocolate is the fastest growing market segment within the chocolate industry, growing at a rate of 11 percent per year.
?(The artisan chocolate trend) is emerging for several reasons,” Taylor said. “For one, people want high quality chocolate, considering the average American consumes 10 pounds of it per year. Secondly, they’re starting to make a socially conscious decision when they purchase stuff. They want to do good with their purchases … they not only want to eat something good but they want to do good.”
He added, “They are also buying high-quality chocolate due to the health benefits. There’s really high sugar content in store-bought chocolate. The big guys cover up low-quality beans with high sugar content. (At Taylor Made Chocolate), we’re using high-quality beans along with a roasting technique that gives them a really nice flavor, so we don’t need to use as much sugar.”
Shortly after discovering the artisan chocolate trend, the Taylors decided to enroll in online courses and became certified in bean-to-bar manufacturing, truffle making, and quality assurance. The couple then reached a point where they needed to make a decision on whether Steve should leave his career of 26 years to begin the Taylor Made Chocolate company. In the process of making that decision, Taylor said his wife showed him a quote that read, “It’s better to fail than to succeed at something that doesn’t matter.”
“That quote really struck home with me,” said Taylor. “That forced us to look at what we’re doing on a daily basis and ask ourselves if what we are doing is something that really matters. That was one of the deciding factors to start… we wanted to make the world a better place.”
Taylor decided to leave his career and use his retirement plan to invest in the startup of Taylor Made Chocolate.
“We applied for the Robs 401k government program, which allows you to take your retirement plan and invest in starting your own company instead,” Taylor explained. “So if the company fails, I lose all of my retirement money.”
He added, “The biggest thing we want people to realize is that we feel we are taking a great risk with this, and we’re doing it because we want to make an impact on the lives of people. We hope that people will come support us so we are able to make that impact.”
In addition to helping the human trafficking victims in the Richmond area, the Taylors were also conscious about which country they purchased their cocoa beans from. They wanted to choose a location that they would be able to positively impact in some way.
“When we were looking at options for where to import our beans from, we noticed a large presence of slave labor in Haiti,” Taylor said. “The farmers are being ripped off by big companies and not being paid fairly for their cocoa beans.”
Upon that discovery, the Taylors realized they could make a difference in the lives of Haitian farmers.
“The average per capita income is about 900 dollars a year in Haiti, but on the (farmers’) two to three acre farm, they can raise cocoa beans to get about 3,000 dollars a year,” Taylor explained. “So we decided we wanted to go into a community and triple the standard of living for a farmer by paying what’s called fair trade for chocolate.”
When Taylor Made Chocolate uses fair trade to purchase their beans, the average Haitian farmer is able to earn three to four times more money than if they were to take their cocoa beans to an open market.
The Taylors partnered and are in the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding with a university in Haiti that is going to send agricultural technicians to farms to assist farmers with getting their cocoa beans to grow well, teaching them how to correctly ferment their beans, and teaching them how to dry them out so they are able to get the best quality beans and triple their standard of living. The ultimate goal is to have the successful farmers form into a co-op and become the supplier of cocoa beans for Taylor Made Chocolate.
“Our goal is to use our supply chain to impact people who are at risk of slavery in communities in Haiti,” said Taylor. “We want to raise the quality of living for them.”
The Taylor Made Chocolate factory store is located at Rivers Bend in Chester at 241 East Hundred Road. Customers are able to purchase truffles, chocolate bars, Haitian coffee, and hot artisan chocolate mix. The Taylors also ship gift baskets and keep a list of what people are asking for so they’re able to start stocking desired items. Taylor Made Chocolate can also be purchased at For The Love of Chocolate in Carytown.
In the near future, the Taylors are hoping to provide tours of the chocolate manufacturing facility, as well as have their chocolate sold in other stores throughout the region.
Information from: The Progress-Index, http://www.progress-index.com