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Sustainable chocolate company helps the rainforest

Producing gourmet chocolates, this bean-to-bar confectionery business uses forest-friendly cocoa beans from the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone.

Founder Esther Olojugba is driven by a passion to empower, inspire and transform communities. Esther, a member of the Mende tribe, grew up in Sierra Leone between the ages of four and 14; the word `Gola’ comes from the tribe and means “we from the rainforest.” Aged nine, Esther witnessed the outbreak of the country’s civil war and in 1996 made the heart-breaking decision to leave her family and start a new life in the UK.

Her subsequent studies and career included nursing before completing a degree in business and marketing in 2018. Identifying the need to create jobs in the industry, Esther launched a nursing agency in 2011. She also completed many chocolate-making courses and taught herself how to perfect the skill while setting up her company, which is under a year old. A percentage of profit goes to support the rainforests; the company’s vision is to help others in parts of the world where they are unable to fulfil their potential. Through her own experience, Esther recognised that being given a lifeline in challenging times can open up possibilities and allow dreams to become reality.

The company has strong ethics and places emphasis on its sustainably-sourced raw cocoa beans from the Gola Rainforest, a national park which operates in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in a project designed to promote biodiversity.

Business fundamentals

Esther wanted to set up her business correctly and was keen to access expertise offered by the Business Growth Programme (BGP) to take her vision forward successfully.

Production and branding support

On joining the BGP in February 2020, on the back of a referral from the Business Growth Hub, technical and analytical support from the NoWFOOD team helped Esther refine and produce a range of chocolates via one-to-one interaction and workshops. During lockdown, Esther benefited from online masterclasses including: `How to write a strategic marketing plan,’ `How to build a strong brand’, `Effective pitching and numerous Lunch and Learn sessions.’ These workshops helped her with business strategy.

Successful product launch

A highlight of the year has been launching Gola Treasures chocolate in February at one of Europe’s biggest chocolate festivals, Chocoa 2020 in Amsterdam. Esther also featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s `Takeaway’ show in March.

Esther commented: “The Business Growth Programme helped me bring my product to life. It has given me a huge confidence-boost to move further and continuously perfect my craft knowing that there are facilities like The NoWFOOD Centre that can help me grow.

“It has helped me with business focus and it is good to know that such support exists should I decide to develop a new product.”

The Cheshire and Warrington Business Growth Programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Entrepreneurs, SMEs and pre-start businesses registered or trading in Cheshire and Warrington, meeting the eligibility criteria, can apply for support. Help is available from our team of Business Engagement Managers and access is also available to facilities at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science ParkRiverside Innovation Centre and the NoWFOOD Centre

If you are a business seeking access to facilities and expert growth support, contact the University of Chester’s Business Growth Team by emailing businessgrowth@chester.ac.uk.