Motivation Monday Double Feature! To wrap up the mini-series of interviews with fabulous power ladies, today we talk about things everybody loves: flowers and chocolate.
Adventurers, you could’ve had this awesome read about chocolate, fabulous business lessons, and quality of food last week, but you chose to keep your cool and not come out to play. *mulling over the fact that my excellent audience refused to play with me*
But anyway, today we’re having a Motivation Monday BLAST with a double feature. Now, I know what you’re thinking:
“Why would a beauty Quest, however dorky or geeky, lead us to chocolate? Isn’t it supposed to give you zits!?”
Adventurers. Chocolate doesn’t give you zits.
Keep calm and read on 😉 I promise you’ll get your time’s worth of revelations on why pure chocolate is actually a really healthy, coffeine-free treat.
MEET THE BEAN QUEEN
We begin with the fabulous Bean Queen, Miss Lyss from BLYSS, Alyssa Jade McDonald.
Besides from having a very cool name, Alyssa is an epitome of an old school enterpreneur: energetic, positive, down-to-earth, focussed, generous and supportive. She happens to also be an epitome of a start-up enterpreneur: she’s a web 2.0-savvy, sought-after speaker and columnist.
IMPORTANT: If you think this interview is a long read, you’re right. It is 🙂 If you have only little time but want to know NOW what Blyss is about, I totally recommend Alyssa’s great YouTube channel where she explains most of the facts you’ll find I’m referring to in this article. Or you can watch and then read. Or read and then watch. You’ll figure it out.
FACTS ABOUT BLYSS CHOCOLATE: Named cleverly after the founder and the feeling of joy we connect with chocolate, BLYSS Chocolate produces pure, single bean chocolate made solely from the exquisite Arriba Nacionale bean. BLYSS is virgin, which means it’s cold-ground, and so the powerful natural antioxidants of cocoa beans are preserved for our tasting pleasure. Each BLYSS vintage comes from a terroir and is sold directly to an Inner Circle of chefs, chocolate lovers, and passionate ‘foodies’.
Alyssa has shown me how little appreciation for chocolate we really have, even those of us who consider ourselves gourmets! Chocolate today comes with child labor and exploitation issues; the end product often being made with cheaper fat substitutes instead of cocoa butter. Fine bean varietiess (like Arriba Nacionale) make under 5% of the world production, and cocoa for just one bar of chocolate is most probably from mixed sources; grounding and aromas and sugar create a unified taste we recognise as ‘chocolate’.
To make her point, Alyssa then drew a parallel between chocolate and wine. And I figured, if chocolate was wine, we would sheepishly order “white wine from France” instead of a confident “Sancerre Blanc AOC 2011 Vintage”.
So the revelation came with an ‘OM actual G’. My love for bitter chocolate was based on lies!
– Alyssa, you are quite a reformer in the chocolate business, going back to the farming and connoisseurship roots and at the same time forward – technologically. Now, would you say that pretty much every “big industry” or “big production” suffers at some point from same illnesses, illnesses that all affect environment, society, and ultimately our health?
– Our strategy is to be a trojan horse for the bigger picture about environment and nutrition, to prove, that “even with chocolate” one can make a beautiful contribution to health and the world. It’s a matter of deciding how you do it. Technically, we went back to the earliest recipes for chocolate, before industrialisation, and modeled the process of growing, picking and grinding. It’s new, but old ;).
It’s innovative because it throws back the shackles of mass production and embraces the essence of vintage, terroir and authenticity. That’s what my previous two generations did in Papua New Guinea, and I believe, the key to unlock future connoisseurship and sustainable living.
The illness of big industry or big company is the race for profitability at the cost of quality. To do more, bigger, faster, cheaper. The german retail food scene is a classic example of this – polarisation of cheap food via discount retailers, that we do not see in other countries. The race for cheap can ONLY come by reducing standards of how we treat nature and people.
Apply enough heat and machines, and you’ll reduce perfection to something packaged. The price for cheap is health, and that in the end, is much more expensive.
I consult families in the Middle East about decisions made in regulation about food standards and the impact on national health system – we talk openly about the cost of diabetes and heart disease care. The cost of diabetes is infinitely more expensive than better quality food. And here is where our trojan horse can show it.
Literally, we do finger prick diabetes tests at the table of my customers, and they eat my chocolate and “other” chocolate. I can show them, in their own body, the impact of what decisions about ingredients and process can do. We then sit and do the numbers – how many people with diabetes, and how much medical treatment costs. When compared, artisan and healthful products are definitely more valuable. That is before we put the cost of earth care into the picture. Talking to influential families and ministers in countries where fresh water is a valuable resource, we then flip the conversation again.
– What would you say are industries that need a ‘connoisseur revolution’ right now, before it’s too late? And which end-consumer products would benefit the most, maybe coffee?
– Everything. Everything you buy for your family is a place for connoisseurship. We had connoisseurship in our grandparents era, because cash defined discerning purchases. Pre/Post World War Two, the industrialised nations had consumers who were picky because Opportunity Cost was the yard stick. Although that isn’t the basis of connoisseurship, it was a “stop” point during purchase and questions of quality and longevity were asked. Everything is too available now, and the wheat is mixed up in the chard. It takes a discerning buyer to find what they really want.
And that’s where I believe it us up to us, manufactures, to create connoisseurs. We don’t need to advertise our product, we need to inform our buyer. We need to respect their need for truth, and do our best to be transparent about what we do and why. Through this, we give them the information they need to make the best decision for themselves. Not everyone will love my chocolate, because I chose a specific type of cacao that has certain aroma and flavour nuances that doesn’t suit every palette. I can explain this and my beloved connoisseurs will know if it’s for them or not.
That’s where our time is spent, and that’s how a connoisseur revolution will occur. And it needs to happen with everything from A to Z, aubergine to zucchini.
I don’t demand more of my customers, they are busy, hardworking people who are struggling to keep up with their lives and commitments, I cannot expect them to be the expert of everything. I can expect that from my colleagues in distribution though, it’s up to us, who craft products, to explain and share. As craftsmen, we spend our WHOLE lives making and defining our best commitment to the world, so we need to take the same time to explain it’s contribution. Not cock-fight at point-of-sale-pizazz, dumbing down our customers and filling their lungs with smoke from mirrors.
YOU DON’T KNOW THE TASTE OF CHOCOLATE
When I first met Alyssa, she told me “we don’t know the taste of chocolate. What you know as the ‘taste of chocolate’, is not the taste of the cocoa bean.” I was flabbergasted at the simple truth of this thought. The taste I knew was a blend of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, lecithine, sugar, milk and other additives you can throw in.
– I could imagine that your revelations about chocolate (e.g. roasting as covering of poor quality and mould) come as a shock to quite a few people, especially when they realise some of the expensive chocolate they like might have been nothing but clever marketing – or how many similarities there are indeed between chocolate and wine! What are the funniest reactions from your fabulous champagne and cognac Blyss tastings?
– The reactions are all very similar. I get people saying “Your ruined chocolate for me”.
That is, they cannot eat their old chocolate brand anymore for either of two reasons, the story of how chocolate is made, from farm to roast, OR, the sensual experience, in that they love the aroma/flavour of BLYSS more than their old brand.
A lot of our business is conducted over dinner table parties or board rooms, where usually I’m presenting to men in their prime who manage large companies or responsibilities. They often have a deep background of congac or whiskey connoisseurship, and left chocolate “to the ladies”. The best reactions are from these guys, who geek out on the details of the process I share with them, compare the raw beans, and then pair up vintages and terroirs to their favourite extra olds and reserve collections. They are my most favourite connoisseur to convert, because at the beginning, they seem so convinced that “they know everything”. By the end, they are writing notes in their notepad or phone, looking up Wiki and scrambling for my email address to be able to order a series for their second homes, family and even company.
The other group I love to work with is food writers. Food writers have a big job to decipher the marketing fluff from our overtly smokey industry and I try to provide a service to them of monitoring my own industry with my opinion pro/contra based on our philosophy of purity. I love being part of the food writer’s journey to new infos, testing their own recipes and going back to interview ‘the old standards’ against their new infos. It’s really fun to see the results.
The third person I love to work with is kitchen chefs and sommeliers. People with professional noses. These guys don’t read our stuff, they open a bag, close their eyes and tell me what they think happened. Oranges bloomed nearby, longer nuttiness, or a lighter note — I then give them the information about what happened on the terroir during the time and they can piece together the notes and start thinking of pairings or recipes that will work best. A 14 hour lamb roast with cacao bean stuffing, a tuna roll, a pairing with champagne! It is super interesting, as I learn as much as I share. It is like an exchange, where we bring our experiences together about what we’ve learned and piece together more about what the essence of the batch is.
That’s my geek centre, and finally, somewhere I feel like I meet my match for nuances. That’s why we specifically target Foodies Amongst Friends, Food Writers, and Chef/Sommeliers. They are my favourite people to work with because of their interest and skills. There is enough normal chocolate to satisfy the normal eater 😉
– Does it happen that somebody prefers milk chocolate and won’t enjoy Blyss at all?
– Absolutely! Happens about 5% of the time. Typically I find that the person has a sugar addiction, or an emotional tie to milk chocolate (e.g. grandma gave it to me, and there is a psychosomatic link). What is great, to also chat with these people about their nuances, and what they experience. Smokers who have no sense of smell are also boring to work with. People who are sensitive and a developed sense of smell and taste, are the ones who usually light up when they taste my BLYSS. Because they can recognized the difference with the other brands/processes.
I WAS BROUGHT TO MY SENSES
– You were the first to explain to me why pure virgin chocolate – as is Blyss – is in fact coffeine-free and bursting with antioxidants… good news! But you also have to explain the fact that chocolate beans are a natural product and as delicate as great wine regarding weather changes heavily influencing the harvest. So, is it challenging to change people’s perception of a product – and what they think is its proper taste – they think they’ve known for their entire life, to be an innovator on an everyday basis?
– Cacao beans, by nature, have statistically insignificant volumes of caffeine in them. Some more or less than others. What happens “in industry” is that kola nuts get mixed with cacao beans, and that’s where you start to get your caffeine kick.
Antioxidants are well documented in cacao, but like any mineral, the more you process the natural product, the less of the nutrient you have. So normal roasted chocolate will still have antioxidants, but only 10% of what we have in BLYSS because we do not process over 50 degrees centigrade – I call it molecular integrity. Others call it common sense. But you also have to explain the fact that chocolate beans are a natural product and as delicate as great wine regarding weather changes heavily influencing the harvest.
(On the weather challenge bit of the question.)
Well, it is good news because weather is to be celebrated. And that’s what makes our apples and cacao taste different every season.
(On perception changes.)
There are two parts to “experience”. The mind and the body. You probably know the Pepsi/Coca Cola blind taste tests – when blind, and relying just on body, our senses will speak for themselves. But when our eyes are open, we already program our brain to receive the sensory information in a certain way. For example: dark chocolate “should” be bitter, although mine is not bitter (because it’s not roasted), I still have a hard time to show my customers how to truly learn this. Eyes and brain connections are the worst impact on actual experience. That is why, every meeting with anyone – be it a regulator, a CEO, a food writer, a chef, I present two bottles. My cacao beans, and “the normal” cacao bean. With no labels and no discussion, I let my customer look at the beans, smell and taste them. 99.99% of the time, they say my beans are the most delightful to smell, look at and taste. And, my sale is made. No more discussion.
The only way to level the playing field, and cut out pre-programed minds is to turn off anything that can prejudice. And when we do that, we sell out.
That is why you’ll never find BLYSS in a chocolate store. That’s a game of marketing. Not an experience of cacao.
– Are connoisseurs more loyal customers?
– Connoisseurs – be them foodies, writers or chefs are the MOST loyal customers. We sell out consistently, because of them. We pick and grind for them. When I present my chocolate, and someone just takes a piece and throws it in their mouth – before looking or sniffing, I just walk away. They are not “my” kind of connoisseur. You need 5 senses. Not just snarf. I cannot convert a slob, I can evolve and help someone who is gastronomy affine.
BUSINESS LESSONS for EXCELLENCE
– You’re a highly inspirational speaker as well as a very creative entrepreneur, and I’ve heard (and read) you share willingly the treasures of your enterpreneurial experience with startups and top managers alike. What are your Blyss lessons that have surprised them the most – so far – caused the most smiles, or disbelief, or big eyes? 🙂
– The lessons learned change every day, as more and more add to the list! So far, I have a few:
1. Innovation and responsibility are outdated models. That means, that innovation (which is creativity) I believe is NOT a differentiator in the market. We demand creativity since industrialisation, and is nothing new to bring something “new” to a market. It has to be more. Same with responsibility, the world of CSR and ethics via green washing is also outdated. It is over 20 years since the green revolution and I believe we need to just take it as a “given”. Ethics are also inherent to humanity, and not something to differentiate a company by. Thus, innovation and ethics are standards to expect amongst companies and products, the new business models belong to those who herald the customer as the hero, e.g. in my case, connoisseurship. I have a 15 step system for connoisseurship and train this to my corporate customers via BLYSS. It took me some time to learn, after exiting the corporate world, and is our basis.
2. Heritage is EVERYTHING. Who you are, and where you come from is the DNA for your contribution to the world. The reason for making a company has to be linked 100% to who you are and what you’re here to give. Anything else, like profit, market share, position is fluff. The only truth for an entrepreneur is their Big Reason, and that is the life raft that will hold you back from bankruptcy, bad decisions, bad luck and other “normal” things that happen in founding a company.
3. Kindness is the currency that will make the business work. Simple respect, kindness and doing your best. It means that things will go wrong, they always do, and you will end up doing things you never wanted to do, but with kindness, and showing up every day with your heart on your sleeve, the best and worst times will blend together. The worst experiences I had was losing entire vintages, and not having my product because of massive climate changes. For importing incorrectly and having my product destroyed at customs. For relying on people who let me down. For being exploited. For being held with a gun to my head. For all sorts of things that are pat of life. Each experience made me stronger, and my BLYSS stronger too. I often find myself “thanking” the universum for the challenges that come, because I see that afterwards, we learned a mega lesson which will inevitable save us from a greater challenge in the future.
The best experiences I had is being invited to weddings from people who work for me.
For being embraced as member of the family.
For being asked opinion.
For having an opportunity to present to some of the most influential families and companies in the world, and see them making a small change.
For being given a second chance by some people I’ve let down.
For being able to continue the family tradition, and feel 100 years behind me as the strong foundation for the future, and being confident from it.
For being loved. For being given a chance to love.
– You’ve lived for years in Ecuador prior to establishing the Blyss plantage, you’ve travelled the world to be where you are today. And you speak of a lot of lessons learned. What kept and keeps you going!? 😉
– The parts above 😉
I’ve always been a traveler. It’s in my family. We are rolling stones and I often think, you just need to put a comfortable pillow on the ground and I’ll be happy. Growing up, South East Asia was my backyard and the wonderment of Asia-Pacific was my home.
These days, it is North Africa and Middle East that buzz my soul, because the combination of politics and change is so present, and I love being a tiny little part of it.
THANK YOU, ALYSSA! ❤
Now you could visit Alyssa’s blog, chat with her on Twitter and check out the BLYSS website with the shop (now open for everybody, not just the Inner Circle) or check out other Motivation Monday interviews 😉