What Kelowna export recently melted in the mouth of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and turned the heads of Google executives?
Knights Chocolates is the delicious answer to that question.
The Kelowna-based chocolate company is the pet project of Collin McMeeken.
He’s a local orchardist, turned investment advisor, turned part-time chocolatier who brought his tasty chocolate cherries to the TED—Technology, Entertainment, Design— conference in Vancouver last month where, for the first time ever, they had a Taste of B.C. event.
“They wanted to have companies come in to give an exceptional sensory experience, from B.C. food products,” McMeeken said.
“(TED) had a sweet food, a savoury food and a beverage. The beverage was tea or coffee as they weren’t allowed to serve alcohol at the venue, which was the Vancouver Convention Centre.”
The first day at the event was registration, and McMeeken didn’t feel as though he was able to build many connections as people rushed through. But on the second day he was transferred to Whistler for the TED X conference, and things went much better.
There were about 700 people in attendance, and he estimates he spoke to nearly 600 of them.
“It went well. It didn’t generate a huge amount of sales, but people enjoyed eating our chocolates when we were there,” he said.
Beyond that, he also made some high profile contacts. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen took their business card, one of the Dragons from the CBC program, the Dragons Den, had two to three visits to the table, and senior people from Microsoft, Twitter and Google also made contact.
Those connections have yet to amount to any new leads, but business is pretty brisk anyway.
Already Knights Chocolate can be found in Jim Pattison stores, from Save-On-Foods to Urban Fare. And now they’re starting to get into IGAs.
“We’re registered with HY Louie, and that has opened a few more stores for us,” he said.
While his chocolate bars have recently started to make money, he’s still not quitting his day job as a stock broker.
All in all, pretty impressive for a cherry orchardist who was driven out of farming when fruit values went into the tank in the ‘90s.
“That’s when I became an investment advisor,” he said. “Then in 2000, it was an early spring like we have now, and Oregon and Washington froze out, but we were still warm enough and we were fine.”
McMeeken then was contacted by a grower across the line who supplied dried cherries to Starbucks, and had been ruined by the weather.
“He didn’t want to lose the contract so we sent our cherries to him,” he said.
Once they were dried, he sent some back to McMeeken and a delicious idea was born.
“I went to a chocolate company in Vancouver and they made the bark on a cookie sheet,” he said.
It was wrapped up in big chunks, and that’s when he got into the big chocolate bar business.
“I ran it as a hobby, and made no money for several years…but a year and a half ago it started making money,” he said. “The more we push it the more we make. We’re going in the right direction now.”
So much so that his son, who lives in Saskatchewan, is thinking of taking it over—although McMeeken wants him to wait until it’s a real profit powerhouse.
As for him, he still enjoys being a stock broker and he still enjoys farming.
“Chocolate is fun on weekends but in summer I enjoy it (full-time) and you meet lots of fun people,” he said. “Plus, it’s way easier to sell someone a chocolate bar than it is to sell a mutual fund.”