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Base Camp Expands For Cocoa Mountain

Submitted by Highlands & Islands Enterprise

27th August 2008

Basing its business at Durness, Sutherland, in the most north westerly corner of the UK has proved to be no drawback for luxury chocolate manufacturer, Cocoa Mountain.

Rather, business is flourishing to such an extent that the company has outgrown its old premises at 19a Balnakeil Craft Village and has just moved into a more spacious and better sited new unit at 8 Balnakeil which has been completely renovated and reconfigured to make it fit for purpose.

The move will allow the firm, which also supplies other retail outlets in the Highlands and UK, to substantially increase its production of hand-made, quality chocolates and enable it to further grow its already healthy sales.

It has also led to an employment boost in the area with the expected creation of an extra five jobs over the next three years. The firm presently has a 6-strong staff who work flexible hours.

Cocoa Mountain has been helped with the cost of upgrading their new premises by a grant from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). The business was established two years ago with the support of HIE start-up funding.

HIE development manager Keith Muir is delighted at the firm's success and pleased to be able to support them again. He said the move had the added benefit of bringing back into circulation a unit at Balnakeil that had become virtually derelict.

The village was built in 1955 as a Cold War RAF early warning base but was never used as such. It was turned into a craft village in the 1960s by the local authority and now accommodates a bookshop, bistro, print makers, soap manufacturer, painters and woodworkers as well as the chocolatiers.

Mr Muir said: "It has long been recognised that the North-West of Sutherland is a particularly vulnerable community in a fragile area. Cocoa Mountain is contributing significantly to the local economy. We're also pleased that an abandoned building on a prime site at Balnakeil has been brought back into use. The ongoing redevelopment of the village has been identified as a strategic project for HIE's local area team."

Cocoa Mountain was established a little over two years ago by chocolatiers Paul Maden and James Findlay.

Paul said: "We'd no sooner started up in business than we realised we were going to need a lot more space. We had people wanting to buy chocolates locally and the on-line side of the business was just taking off, but without working 24 hours a day, we just couldn't produce enough to meet the demand."

The new unit, which had previously housed a caf as well as other businesses, had to be gutted and all the floors, walls, ceilings and windows have been replaced. Paul is absolutely delighted with the finished premises and is full of praise for the high quality of work carried out by local tradesmen.

The unit also contains a dedicated packing room and posting room from where the on-line orders for chocolates are sent. So far this year in excess of 2,500 boxes have been sent out to customers all over the world.

Paul said: "The bulk of our customers are in the UK but we are also sending out chocolates to customers in the United States, Germany and central Europe and even as far as New Zealand. We're becoming a global business, largely because the visitors who come through our front door during the summer hail from all over the world. They then go back home and tell others about our chocolates. It emphasises how tourism can really help indigenous businesses."

Paul is grateful to Highlands and Islands Enterprise for its part it has played in helping the firm firstly to establish itself and now to evolve.

"We have nothing but praise for HIE and completely support their vision for a Modern Scotland," he said.

Paul and his business partner, James, are planning to hold an official opening for the new premises but have yet to set a date. They hope to have a 'very high profile' personality to perform the honours.

And they also have even bigger plans for the future with the prospect of branches of Cocoa Mountain around the North.

Said Paul: "The move into our new building gives us the chance to show prospective franchisees the Cocoa Mountain concept. We have had a number of requests to open a Cocoa Mountain that we haven't followed up because we saw our previous premises as a pilot that preceded the real thing.

"We're now actively seeking interest from investors and entrepreneurs looking for a recession proof popular and innovative business concept. Preferably, we would most welcome offers from mountainous regions - Cairngorms, Fort William, Loch Lomond or the Lake District would be ideal."

Meanwhile Cocoa Mountain was recently paid a visit by Channel 4 food reporter Andrew Webb and is now featured in the 'Big British Food Map,' on the Channel 4 website.


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