The Kyya Chocolate story was born in 2012 when a nonprofit group traveled to a Uganda orphanage with the idea of building relationships and a chicken farm for a local orphanage.
For Northwest Arkansas resident Rick Boosey, the trip inspired bigger ideas that would lead to starting a company that would help grow communities, support orphans, and create chocolate that offers a unique flavor and story. He wanted to do something that would create a lasting impact on the children and their nation’s economy, which is supported by natural resources such as cotton, cocoa and coffee.
“I thought at first, ‘Why another chocolate company?’ Is it really needed?,” Boosey said.
CHOCOLATE AND COMMUNITIES
The answer? Chocolate is a tool that supports local farmers and drives support to orphanages and communities. It also provides the opportunity to bring bean-to-bar, high-quality chocolate to Northwest Arkansas and beyond while giving users a different chocolate experience and exposing them to stories from across the world.
“Our chocolate is about storytelling,” Boosey said.
When they returned to the United States, Rick and his wife Cindy set out to learn the art of chocolate making. They founded Kyya with savings. The company has gone through several changes including a change in name and branding, and the dissolution of an early partnership. The Booseys now partner with Ben Butler, who joined the team in May 2014 and is largely responsible for the sales and marketing functions while Rick focuses on the production side. They’ve added another new employee every couple of months since that time.
They also moved their production from Fayetteville to Elm Springs where they create all of their products. Kyya offers the bars, which are 2.8 ounces and have a suggested retail value of $5.95 each. In late 2014 they introduced baker’s chocolate, chocolate powders and chocolate syrups based on high customer demand.
“We’re able to reach different people in different ways,” Butler said. “People consume product lines very differently.”
Kyya is the only chocolate maker in Arkansas to own a chocolate press, which means they can extract their own cocoa butter. Only about 10% of the chocolatiers in the country have their own press, Boosey said.
“There’s only a handful in the country who can make their chocolate from start to finish, from bean to bar,” he said.
Now that Kyya has its process perfected, they are ready to tell stories.
“In 2013 we spent the time learning how to make the chocolate, in 2014 we focused on roasting our own beans and all the front-end processes to getting the cocoa ready to make chocolate and building our shop,” Boosey said. “This is the year of the farmer.”
Boosey and two of his daughters left for Guatemala and Ecuador Jan. 9 on what they call a “bean hunt.” The bean hunts will take Boosey and various family members to various parts of the world to meet individual cocoa bean farmers. Kyya already purchases some of their beans from small farmers and the rest are purchased in bulk from a fair trade, organic bean distributor in the United States.
The hope is to eventually have relationships with at least 40 farmers and create single source chocolates from all over the world. That means that each kind of chocolate would come from the same cocoa plantation, giving it a more consistent and better quality.
Kyya already donates at least 10% of its profits to orphan care and as relationships with farmers grow, they will utilize some of their profits to invest in the farmers’ individual communities. The projects will vary based on need. The company is funded through sales and a bank line of credit.
While Kyya chooses to not be certified as a “fair trade” company, they offer better than fair trade prices to their farmers, according to Boosey and Butler.
According to FairTrade International, there are 1.4 million farmers and workers in 74 countries who participate in fair trade (2013-2014 report). FairTrade is one of several organizations that promote the fair trade movement. Fair trade generally refers to the idea of paying farmers a fair rate for their goods and also paying that rate directly. Small farmers in developing countries are often paid a low rate for their goods which are then resold for a much higher rate to developed countries. Fair trade items include gold, cocoa, coffee, textiles and many other agriculture products.
As Kyya moves into 2015, it will grow in several ways. For one, it will expand the number of farmers from which the company purchases beans. It is also poised to boost production with last year averaging 2,500 bars sold a month to a capability of 18,000 bars monthly in 2015.
Kyya is already in more than 20 retail locations throughout Northwest Arkansas and in larger markets such as Kansas City, Tulsa and Little Rock. They will expand their geographic reach to include more locations where their products are used or sold. Their locations include: Arsagas, Mama Carmens, Fresh Market in Rogers and Little Rock, Kennedy Coffee, Onyx Coffee Lab (Fayetteville and Springdale locations), Ozark Natural Foods, White Oak Station in Pinnacle Station, Pressroom, Hillcrest Artisan Meats in Little Rock, Andina Coffee Roastery in Little Rock, Stratton’s Market in Little Rock, Double Shot Coffee in Tulsa, and All About the Coffee in Kansas City.
“We want to get into distribution channels that appreciate quality bean-to-bar chocolate,” Butler said.
The company focuses on small batch, hand-crafted chocolate. Butler said they also focus on their business model which includes four main ideas: Controlling production quality; consistency in sourcing of the cocoa; maintaining a competitive edge; and international diversity of its sources.
Kyya will also collaborate with more partners to find ways to incorporate their product with other food and drink products.