Choc-a-block business

Supplying a range of chocolates to the catering and retail sector, Dubai-based ChoCo’a is seeing business boom with an annual turnover of more than AED2 million for this year to date

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By  Lynne Nolan Published  December 9, 2006

|~|assem-feature.jpg|~|“I felt there was potential for high-end chocolate in the Dubai market. I studied the entire Gulf region and found that chocolate suppliers were directing their efforts more towards accessories, rather than the actual product,” comments Assem Hamzeh, managing director, ChoCo’a.|~|Supplying a range of chocolates to the catering and retail sector, Dubai-based ChoCo’a is seeing business boom with an annual turnover of more than AED2 million for this year to date Following a 15-year career in Lebanon’s chocolate production industry, Assem Hamzeh decided to set up his own company, ChoCo’a, in the UAE back in October 2004. The move was a wise one. The Dubai-based production facility and showroom brought in a turnover of AED390,000 (US $10,618) in its first year, which has skyrocketed to AED2 million (US $545,000) for this year to date. Specialising in Belgian chocolate products, the company’s production capacity has also increased, from 250kg to 700kg per day. “I felt there was potential for high-end chocolate in the Dubai market. I studied the entire Gulf region and found that chocolate suppliers were directing their efforts more towards accessories, rather than the actual product,” comments Assem Hamzeh, managing director, ChoCo’a. “So I decided to make the actual chocolate product my priority. At ChoCo’a you pay more for the chocolate than the tray,” he adds. Sourcing its chocolate from Barry Callebaut in Belgium, the Dubai production facility transforms the couverture chocolate into a host of products. But despite importing fillings such as almond cream, hazelnut cream, coconut cream and toffee and caramel from Belgium, Hamzeh also looks to the local market for ingredients such as almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts, which have been specially treated to work with chocolate. “We sell everything related to chocolate, such as cakes, drinks and individual desserts. We buy in the finished product and then use it to mould different shapes with the existing 70 fillings we have,” Hamzeh explains. Although importing and supplying chocolates from a small production facility results in higher costs for the end product, business is going well. In August and September of this year the company exported more than 15 tonnes of finished products to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which required more than 12 tonnes of raw chocolate. In 2007, Hamzeh says he will open a number of franchise stores across the GCC. “As a business you need to have people asking for you. We currently have contracts underway, which will be finalised in January or February next year,” reveals Hamzeh. Explaining the day-to-day workings at the facility, sourcing raw materials and its storage depends on the production team’s requirements for that week. However, the team start the production process early each morning, using melting machines, cooling belts and a heating cabinet to melt the cocoa butter before it enters the moulding machine. One of the key factors in the successful operation of the facility, says Hamzeh, is ensuring the temperature for melting and setting is not one degree above or below the set figure. “The tempering point is very important for shining the chocolate, as good chocolate is shiny in appearance. When it is ready, the production and expiry date must be issued on its packaging as well,” he says. ||**|||~|chefs.jpg|~|Supplying to corporate events and weddings has contributed vastly to ChoCo’a’s burgeoning trade, yet hotels and restaurants have proved a huge market for customised products. |~|Catering to different dietary requirements has also proved a flourishing area of trade for ChoCo’a, as the company offers a special made-to-order chocolate range for diabetics. It is also currently developing a full range of items including cakes and pastries, to market health-conscious customers. “We are moving across the spectrum step-by-step, but we have a good team backing us up,” says Hamzeh. With 45 employees, including a chocolate chef, executive chef and pastry chef, the team meets every ten days to brainstorm new products and developments, and due to the size of the company’s operations, it is able to personalise goods and offer a wider range of niche products. “We are flexible enough to work without minimum order requirements; we are a production facility, not an industrial facility,” comments Hamzeh. However, the company is busy, and with five delivery vans for its UAE distribution, the company owes much of its success to the escalation of the Middle East’s MICE sector as it offers branded boxes of chocolate and other chocolate-based gifts for launch parties and events. “This is a major facet of the business, and we are dealing with some big names as the MICE market develops. We also have a showroom that offers a different product line, which is proving popular for events like weddings,” Hamzeh says. Supplying to corporate events and weddings has also contributed vastly to ChoCo’a’s burgeoning trade, yet hotels and restaurants have proved a huge market responding to the company’s customisation capabilities. “We are not promoting mass products. Most hotels have their own chocolate production divisions but they turn to us for something different,” he says. Not only are customers requesting custom designed products, but with a range of events and hotels in the region, ChoCo’a is also seeing its dark chocolate products surge in popularity, and with the festive season approaching, it is also seeing a demand for truffles, chocolate logs and cookies. “There are so many celebrations and events occurring in the region that there is a constant demand for different products, such as dates with cream and chocolate, dipped Arabic sweets with chocolate or chocolate truffles. However, the best selling product to date is still chocolate with nuts,” he adds. ||**||

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