In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Alberto and Carolina, founders of Lök Foods. Lök Foods sells dark chocolates made of fine flavor cacao, is based in Bogota, Colombia as well as Miami, USA, and has been in business for six years. Shop chocolate here.
Abound: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Carolina: We decided to start this business because we were convinced that Colombia could not continue to export only raw materials, and that added value should be given to Colombian cacao.
Why Colombian cacao? Because the cacao that Colombia produces is fine flavor and is only 8% of world production, therefore there was immense potential in this product. When we started this business we began to realize that the world of chocolate is a sweet world. If we comply with fair prices and choose high quality raw materials, our chocolate will be one of the best in the world.
We firmly believe in the importance of committing our company with social development in our country, by creating a long term relationship with cacao farmers throughout Colombia.
Abound: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
Alberto: The important thing about having a good partner is that Carolina is a master chocolatier. When we developed the first prototype, Carolina developed a delicious 70% cacao recipe.
We started working on perfecting the recipe with the right ingredients, the level of cacao roasting, and the process in the production plant. Today we have more than 20 different types of chocolate, including 100%, 85%, 70%, 60% and barks such as pineapple and mango, pistachio, almonds & peanuts, sea salt and caramel fudge. Since the first recipe there have been very little changes, however packaging is what has had more substantial changes over time.
Abound: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
Carolina: We buy cacao in two regions of Colombia: Arauca and Tumaco. These two regions have been one of the most affected by violence in Colombia over the last 50 years.
The incredible thing about these regions is that they have the best cacao genetics in the world. 100% of the cacao produced in these regions is fine flavor. Our chocolates are made in the best production plants; however this would not be possible if we did not use the best ingredients to achieve the fruity and floral notes that Lök chocolates have.
Later we bring the cacao to Bogota and process it in our plants to transform it into fine flavor chocolates. These are sent daily to more than 1,800 retailers in Colombia. Our purpose for 2020 is to bring the best Colombian chocolate to the United States.
Abound: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
Alberto: The initial investment was $2,500 USD each partner, the first thing we needed was to rent the production plant machinery. So far, it has not been necessary to seek investment funds or strategic partners; however we are open to considering these alternatives in the future.
Abound: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
Carolina: The first place we started selling our chocolates was at Gastronomy Market, one of the biggest independent retailers in Colombia for healthy products. It was a process, we started looking for premium places to sell our chocolates such as the delicatessen, gyms, and healthy food supermarkets.
We always believed in the potential of independent retailers, so our strategy at the beginning was to start selling our products in these types of places. Years later we entered major retailers nationwide. Today we replicate this same strategy in the United States, with the firm belief that with independent vendors there is always a better opportunity to build trustworthy and beneficial relationships.
Abound: Where do you sell your product now?
Alberto: Today we sell our products in the biggest retailers in Colombia and France. We also export to over eight countries, such as Italy, Australia, Austria, and the United Kingdom.
Abound: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
Carolina: Our purpose is to sell not only in the North American market, but in every corner of the world where there are people who are willing to try the best fine flavor chocolate.
Abound: Do you have a favorite product? If so, which one?
Alberto: Yes, for me it is the pineapple & mango bark. For Carolina, the 85% cacao bar. For Camilo, the cranberry & pink salt bark.
Abound: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
Carolina: Our marketing consists of informing the consumer about the many benefits obtained from consuming our chocolate made with fine flavor cacao. Likewise, it is very important for us to tell people the great social benefit that is generated by acquiring a Lök chocolate bar, since through our alliances we benefit more than 1,300 cocoa farmers around the country.
Social media is a pillar and a great ally in our business, since it allows us to make known to the world what we do, how we do it and why we do it. It is also a way of transmitting to others the passion we feel for developing and selling a product that is beneficial in every way and for all parties involved.
Abound: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
Alberto: During these 6 years of operation we have had different moments of frustration. The first was in the second year of operation, when it was necessary to grow in machinery and equipment but there was no growth in sales, so we did not have sufficient cash flow.
The second was when we established our brand in the North American market. After hard work registering as a brand in the United States, exporting inventory and seeking new clients, the world is facing a global pandemic: COVID-19, which represents a challenge and a moment of uncertainty for Lök Foods USA. However, we are certain that with much effort, passion and dedication we will emerge from this situation stronger than ever.
Abound: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
Carolina: One of the biggest achievements was to go from having only 3 employees to 25, and that we have involved in our supply chain more than 1,300 cocoa farmers that we support in the purchasing process. Likewise, another of the achievements that has made us most proud has been expanding internationally, France in 2019 and the United States in 2020.
Abound: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
Alberto: The best advice that an entrepreneur can give to another entrepreneur is to take risks, because if you are convinced that the product is good, and you are able to understand the market in which you intend to sell, there is no way that one fails.
Abound: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
Carolina: “All things are more difficult than what they seem to be.”
Abound: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
Alberto: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is that you understand the general responsibility of a company, you learn accounting, taxes, sales, payroll, production, distribution, you learn from all areas. It is a very dynamic job because you get to have knowledge of all areas, and in all of them it is necessary to become an expert.