Chocolate king Louis Barnett of Bridgnorth
PUBLISHED: 13:01 17 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:42 20 February 2013
Louis Barnett set up Chokolit when he was just 12. Now the 18-year-old's family business based in Bridgnorth is producing a wide range of environmentally-friendly, ethical chocolate
You began making chocolate at home when you were 12, what inspired you?
I was having real difficulty academically until I was diagnosed at 11 years old with dyslexia, dysphasia and short-term memory loss. I decided to take a more vocational approach to my education. The only things I found enjoyment in at school were learning about animals and food. I began to work my way up through a project at a local falconry centre. Around this time I was asked to make a cake for my aunts 50th birthday. I found a chocolate cake recipe and it was such a success at the party that I received requests for cakes for other occasions including a wedding. I was also approached by a local restaurant who asked me to create a range of desserts.
What made you take chocolate from being a hobby to a business?
I began experimenting with chocolate and around Christmas 2005 I came up with the concept of a chocolate box after finding packaging too expensive and wasteful. The idea was an edible chocolate box filled with nine different chocolates with a flavour to suit every palate. It was fantastically received. This gave me the confidence to approach Waitrose after seeing a product from a local supplier on their shelves. Waitrose was extremely interested and suddenly my hobby was turning into a business. I just had to say to myself that if this is it then I am going to go for it. I became Waitroses youngest supplier at 13 and Sainsburys youngest supplier at 14. Thats when I knew that it was going to grow and it was more than just a hobby. My dad left his job, my mum became more heavily involved and we began a family business. I found a fantastic unit in Bridgnorth and went from a 350g chocolate machine in my garage to a 5kg machine in my own factory.
Who have been your influences?
My grandparents have always been incredibly supportive; they paid for my first chocolate machine and have always been there when times were tough. Jean-Christophe Novelli has always been a hero of mine. He also suffered at school and did not enjoy it, but found his passion in cooking, so his story really resonated with me. His focus and dedication to quality is inspirational and when I was lucky enough to meet him recently at his academy and home in Hertfordshire he was so humble, and gave me some great tips. I sculpted a chocolate tree for a charity auction and he refused to alter it saying that it was my skill and creation and that he would not put his mark on it just because he could so he very kindly signed my arm in chocolate which was amazing.
The company name Chokolit was spelt that way due to your dyslexia, but what makes your chocolate different from the mass market household brands?
During my research into chocolate I found that almost all chocolate contains palm oil. I was horrified to discover that in order to source palm oil, Indonesian rain forests the size of 10 football pitches are destroyed per minute per day. This is the only natural habitat left for the orang-utan and it will be destroyed within five years if this continues to happen. Not only does my chocolate not contain palm oil, but it inspired me to create a range called Biting Back in which 10p from each bar goes towards animal charities.
What makes you so passionate about chocolate?
Chocolate makes people feel good. It has so many possibilities. It is the perfect medium to donate money to charity as people can give something back at the same time as enjoying the taste.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have had many great moments but I am so proud of the first ever donation I made to a charity involved in tiger awareness. Also when I met the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and David Cameron (at the Houses of Parliament when he was lecturing politicians on the ethics of using palm oil). It just didnt feel real. I am incredibly grateful for the time they have given me. The main highlights of my career have been connected to other people: the relationships I have built; people who have supported me and people who I have supported; its all about making a difference.
With Valentines Day coming up and chocolate considered as an aphrodisiac what would you recommend for a romantic chocolate meal or dessert?
It is widely known that chocolate releases endorphins which relax you and make you feel good. I am currently working on a collection of recipes perfect for a romantic Valentines treat which will be featured on my website from February.
Where will you be on Valentines Day?
This Valentines Day I will be in Mexico. I am travelling there with two aims. The first is to raise awareness of the history of chocolate to both Mexicans and the Western World. The second is to buy cocoa direct from a plantation. I will spend the first four days visiting plantations and factories to taste chocolate in order to source a good quality and ethically traded product.
Why is this important to you?
Many people believe that chocolate originated in Europe when in fact it began as a drink in Mexico and was brought back to Spain by the Aztecs. Once in Europe it was sweetened and developed into the chocolate we know today. I think it is important that people are aware of its origins and how it has become a worldwide pleasure. It is vital to me to find a direct supplier as the chocolate industry is controlled by so many middle men. I want to be able to buy direct and give farmers a really fair price. Therefore my chain will be from the farmer to myself to the consumer.
What do you aim to achieve in the long term?
I want to be able to show the market that we need to change and that it can be done using donations from each product. I also want to show consumers how to raise funds for really worthwhile causes. In 10 years time I want to be able to say that money I have raised paid for an orang-utan orphanage or a rhino sanctuary.
Louis Barnetts Bite Back range consists of a variety of flavoured bars each donating 10p per sale to a different animal charity. They can be purchased at Sainsburys, Waitrose, and selected zoos, or on-line at www.louisbarnett.co.uk