If some people are born with entrepreneurship in their DNA, then Amelia Rope, founder of luxury chocolate brand Amelia Rope chocolates, is surely one of them. Amelia, who grew up near Maldon in Essex (she still uses Maldon sea salt in her chocolate), always knew she was destined to work for herself. After two appearances on Masterchef, and a 5-day chocolate course by French luxury chocolate makers Valrhona, she set up Amelia Rope Chocolates in 2007 and the rest, as they say, is history! You can now find Amelia's luxury chocolates in retailers across the globe, from Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason in London to Aya Cocoa in Kuwait. We couldn't wait to find out more about the woman behind the chocolate!
Could you tell us a little bit about your career journey and what inspired you to get into the world of chocolate?
My twenties were spent as a PA, changing my job every year out of frustration, boredom or under-appreciation! I learnt a lot as I worked for large, medium and small businesses in a broad spectrum of industries. Chocolate found me, totally by a mistake! Running my own gig was in my DNA... It was a question of having the courage to take the risk of running my own thing with zero security and getting the vehicle to do so. My last 'proper' job was a Practice Manager of a very demanding NHS/Private Practice. Competing on Masterchef twice (2006/7), exploring the culinary world, going on a 5-day Bourbons course at Valhrona in France and a vision of a product which was unique propelled me into founding Amelia Rope Chocolate in 2007. The unique product was crystallised flora (rose petals, mint leaves, pansies and violas), dipping them in hand tempered Valrhona chocolate and decorating them with gold leaf. I am still amazed I ever had the vision of these! What delights me is that I used to struggle with my weight and be 2 stone heavier than I am now - chocolate was the enemy and now I eat probably far too much, but don't seem to have a struggle with my weight.
Your single origin chocolates give the humble chocolate bar a whole new meaning! How did you come up with the concept of the luxury bars and distinctive packaging that make Amelia Rope Chocolate instantly recognisable?
I believe so but then I am totally biaised! I cant say the idea was mine... It was one of an inspirational entrepreneur and dear friend, the late Pat Reeves (co-founder of Deliverance and sofa.com). As soon as I met Pat in around 2008, he told me to make chocolate bars. He was convinced they would have marketability, durability, scalability and the all important shelf life. What did I say... 'No'. Up until I hit 40 (and slightly after), I continually said 'no' to anything and everyone. Pat being Pat, he didn't take no for an answer and put in a commission in November 2009 for 1,000 chocolate bars. Each one would go out with a sofa to help spread the word. So down to the packaging... Pat said it had to be kraft paper and I so love splashes of colour so we hit 'gold' with introducing a coloured foil which peeked out at either end. Sadly now the USP has gone as I have appear to have inspired others to adapt the concept. The other criteria was it had to be dark chocolate and chunky-ish. With the simple yet chic packaging and top quality single origin chocolate, it was propelled into the luxury world. My first retailer was Selfridges where I launched in September 2010. One of the proudest moments to date.
Being a chocolatier sounds like a dream job; creating and testing new chocolate recipes and travelling the world to explore new flavours. What does a typical working day look like for you?
Sadly it is anything but a dream job! In the early days I made all my products - award winning truffles and the flora. Once I launched the bars, I decided to focus on developing recipes and building the business and so have always had teams make them for me. The first few years though I hand-foiled, hand-wrapped and even hand signed each bar! I have been with various teams over the years. At the moment they are back to being very much handmade in small batches. Each bar is painstakingly hand-wrapped. I love travel and sadly last year didn't venture to anywhere much. This year it must change! (I have visited plantations in Brazil, Colombia and even Mauritius!). My day begins early - 6.30am. I go via my kitchen to get coffee and a huge bowl of fruit and then sit at my laptop. My days always vary, which I love. One day I may be on a photo shoot, another meeting with potential retailers, private clients, or on my way to production to finalise new flavours, on a shop-floor doing a tasting, creating new flavours, juggling stock, sourcing new suppliers, reviewing costings. I do everything apart from physically make the bars... admin, social media, sales, marketing, customer services, updating my website (in the process of being rebuilt thankfully), and more.
What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Can I have several... Firstly when Ewan Venters, (now CEO of Fortnum & Mason, but at the time Director of Food Halls, Selfridges) recognised that I had a brand and after dropping my only two bars off saying he would stock them in Selfridges. Customers wanting to buy what I create, winning 2 Gold awards, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze from The Academy of Chocolate 2011, finding myself going into No 10 Downing Street (campaigning about something as I always do!), meeting Karen Brady on a photoshoot last year for Woman and Home. There are many more!
What has been the biggest challenge?
Remembering to laugh when it is tough, being proud of what I have achieved (I am always wanting more), juggling cashflow, running a business single-handedly without a business partner, keeping with what at the moment is the fastest moving world of tech, finding time for family, friends and to have a relationship.
What’s the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Keep it simple.
What top tips would you give someone about to take the leap into running their own business?
Be prepared to lose things dear to you, be prepared to bring things into your world you never imagined would appear - at times they will seem a miracle. Get ready for the most bracing time... lack of sleep, living on your nerves, getting yourself out of bed when you would prefer to be in it, times when you wont know if you can pay your rent BUT... you will never ever regret it. However far you get on the journey - the people you will get to meet, places you will find yourself, the moments when you just want to pinch yourself to say 'wow I did it'. I lacked in confidence until I founded my business. So... GO FOR IT! Don't look back. Just make sure you have a handful of amazing friends/family who will scoop you up and carry you the times when you want to give up.
What’s next for Amelia Rope? Where do you see your business in five years time?
To grow, take on a team and be able to produce the ideas which I have and know the market needs.