Chocolate and healthy are rarely found in the same sentence, but Samuel Chandler is changing all that. Catherine Scott reports.
Samuel Chandler is on a mission. He wants to promote the health benefits of chocolate.
Chocolate is normally associated with an indulgent treat, but Samuel has created chocolate he claims is healthy.
Samuel, who trained as a musician at the Royal College of Music before returning to his native Yorkshire, is passionate about the health potential of chocolate.
“The cacao bean has so many health benefits, it is just chocolate that is unhealthy. The problem is what people add to it most of the time to make chocolate which is what makes it unhealthy so I decided to try to make a healthy chocolate.”
But at the time he was following his first passion of being a professional musician.
“From a very young age I wanted to do something in performance. Initially I wanted to be an actor but that didn’t work out and so I took up music.”
The guitar was his instrument of choice, and when he left school he won a place at the prestigious Royal College of Music. Although he played in bands and was earning a living, he couldn’t see a future in it.
And there was something else Samuel felt he wanted to do and so he returned to Yorkshire to become a chocolatier with a difference.
He started experimenting in his parent’s kitchen at home near York, the home of chocolate to create an organic, dairy free vegan chocolate.
He used different ingredients to come up with a chocolate that defied its reputation as unhealthy using raw cacao beans rather than roasted. Gemini chocolates was born.
“I switched refined ingredients for natural alternatives, using the crystallised nectar from the Palmyra tree blossom and Xylitol for sweetness, and whole dried coconut in place of processed fats,” explains Samuel.
Gemini chocolate uses only the single origin rare Creole cacao beans from Peru, known as the Queen of Cacao. These are the highest grade beans, prized for their complex flavour and aroma.
The beans are then stone ground and moulded into chocolate, which means that all the nutrients and antioxidants are preserved. All of Gemini’s chocolate is vegan and free from dairy, gluten, soya, emulsifiers or anything unnatural.
But, as Samuel explains, it wasn’t a hit from the start.
“I didn’t want to use normal cane sugar as a sweetener but on its own the cocoa bean is quite bitter, it was quite a challenge to get the balance right. The alternatives I use have a low GI Index and are much better for than cane sugar which is what most chocolate is made with.”
Samuel enlisted friends and family as taste testers.
“They were very honest and told me that at the beginning it was pretty bad,” he admits.
“But I didn’t give up. I kept at it and every time it got better and better. It took a couple of months of experimenting to get a chocolate I was happy with.”
He started selling his chocolate on local markets such as the Humber Bridge Market and in Hull.
“It’s hard work,” he admits. “But by doing the markets and food fairs it really helped to develop the brand and helped me develop the direction I wanted it to go in. It was also a great way of getting feedback from people about what they thought about my chocolate.”
That was two and half years ago and now Gemini has 15 products, as well as some that have fallen by the wayside.
From local markets Samuel started to take his chocolate to vegan and food festivals all over the country.
“That further helped to develop the brand and raise awareness of what I was doing.”
The rise in popularity of veganism as a healthy lifestyle choice has no doubt helped the success of Samuel’s business. But he maintains it was not the key driver of his brand.
“In some ways it is a happy coincidence. I had no idea two and a half years ago that veganism would become so popular.
“The trend for veganism isn’t the reason I make a vegan chocolate. But the fact it is becoming more popular and more mainstream has of course helped business. People are finding it’s a great way of life,” says Samuel although he has a mainly vegetarian diet he does occasionally eat fish,
The success of Gemini means he is no longer taking over his mum’s kitchen, instead he has a purpose built kitchen attached to the family home.
And it isn’t just the health conscious that are appreciating Samuel’s chocolates.
His Almond Crunch bar has a two star Great Taste Award and his Eclipse chocolate a one star award.
“Those two are also our best sellers,” says Samuel who also does a range of truffles and chocolate boxes as well as large and small bars with a starting price of £2.50.
All the money he has made in the last two and half years has been invested back into the company. At the moment he is a on man band but has plans to take expand this year as he says he is at his limit. Taking on a member of staff to help make the chocolate will also free Samuel up to do more developmental work.
“I’m always experimenting and developing. I have lots of ideas that I would like to develop this year.”
Developments may include rebranding some of his products to make the most of the popularity in vegan food.