From making New Zealand’s first certified Fairtrade organic chocolate bar to collaborating with Kiwi icons like Karen Walker, Wellington Chocolate Factory is celebrating a decade of sweet success as it turns 10.
Co-founders Gabe Davidson and Rochelle Alagar first opened the doors to Wellington Chocolate Factory’s Eva Street factory in December 2013. At the time, it had been three years since Rochelle had created the country’s first fairtrade and organic chocolate bar, and Gabe had not long returned home to Wellington after starting a coffee company in Melbourne.
The pair say they were initially nervous about how Kiwis would embrace single-origin premium chocolate - and while Eva Street is now known as a renowned foodie destination, the laneway didn’t have the best reputation at the time.
“We initially focused on creating a brand that would be at home in high-end retail stores,” says Gabe Davidson. “Now we have a fast-growing business with an incredible range reaching more people than we ever dreamed possible. I’m amazed and proud at what our team has achieved,” he says.
WCF released its new Hero Range a few months ago, a significant milestone for the business as it looks to grow.
“From day one, I wanted to ensure that chocolate of this calibre was available to people transparently and equitably. Now, with our new Hero range, my original vision is beginning to come to fruition,” Rochelle says.
WCF has released many high-profile collaborations since 2013, working with Karen Walker, Havana Coffee, the Interislander, and Wellington’s Cable Car. They even created a bar for Bill Murray in 2018. It has also worked closely with many renowned New Zealand artists to create artwork for its bars, an aspect Gabe names as one of the most special elements in releasing a new flavour.
In 2022, WCF launched its Grower Partner Programme, a brand new initiative that’s unique within the local industry. WCF sources its beans directly from Pacific growers, paying them well above market price, ensuring local industry can grow and the families it supports thrive.
Gabe and Rochelle sailed by vaka from Wellington to Bougainville in 2015 to collect cocoa beans from growers. They’ve also travelled to Samoa, Fiji and Papa New Guinea. Last year, Gabe and Matt Williams, WCF’s General Manager, visited Vanuatu to meet local growers who produce the cocoa beans, which are a staple in the award-winning chocolate maker’s range.
“Travelling to the origin and seeing firsthand the good that comes from paying a fair price for cacao and hanging out with the people who farm it is one of the highlights of my chocolate career; the more chocolate we sell, the more beans we can buy, and the more good stuff happens for more great people,” says Gabe.
As well as supporting local Pacific cocoa farming and building strong regional networks, Gabe and Rochelle have also judged the Solomon Islands Annual Chocolate Festival.
Looking ahead, WCF wants to expand its production capability with a new factory on the cards in the near future, which, as well as increasing production, will also increase its positive impact in the Pacific.
“As well as putting more of our delicious chocolate into the hands of new fans, scaling up allows us to work with our growers in a more meaningful way. As we expand and grow, so does our social impact, which remains an important part of our mission,” he says.
WCF has released a brand new Christmas range to celebrate its tenth birthday. It features limited-edition chocolate-covered hazelnuts, two new husk tea products and a new bar that pays homage to Wellington, the birthplace of WCF - a Milk & Honey bar that features vibrant artwork capturing the essence of the city’s landmarks.