This just in

On Yale & Yale alumni.
Ico print Print | Ico email Email | Facebook | | RSS

Sweet success for fair-trade cocoa entrepreneurs

Back in the spring of 2012, when Diana Lovett ’01 sold Whole Foods on her new product line, she had recipes, samples, and a poster-board presentation—but no actual products.

With a pastry chef, Lovett had developed recipes for baking mixes and hot cocoa mixes made from fair-trade cocoa. But her previous experience was in policy and not-for-profits in Western Africa, not business.

So she scrambled to make and package the products by September 2012—Whole Foods’ deadline, and the launch date for Lovett’s Cissé Trading Company.

By spring 2013, after hiring Rachael Styer ’12 as director of sales and marketing, Cissé (pronounced “See-say”) had products in over 200 stores, with more lined up. Lovett decided she needed help getting to the next level.  

That was when she turned to the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) to help her figure out the best way to expand.

YEI put her in touch with Wes Bray ’74, the group’s “Lead Venture Mentor” and a food industry veteran who had built and sold businesses. And Bray, who usually works with Yale undergraduates, was intrigued.

“She doesn’t have a lot of business experience, but she has a lot of common sense,” Bray says. “And she’s really good at getting people to help her”: people like Bray, who advised Lovett, introduced her to investors, and provided moral support.

By early this month, as Lovett and Styer—the only two full-time employees—celebrated Cissé’s first birthday, their products were available in more than 470 retail outlets.  Styer sounds gleeful about finding Cissé Hot Cocoa ($1.39) next to Land O’Lakes (99 cents) in a Giant store in Springfield, Virginia.  

Lovett imports cocoa from a Fair Trade farmer collective in the Dominican Republic; she liked that the farmers reinvest a substantial amount of their profits in the community. When Lovett was doing her research, the group had already paved a road and put in a well.  

In its first year, Cissé has sold 56,000 units—and in October, Lovett plans to take brownies to the farmers in the collective, along with messages from people who have bought the products.    

“Cissé has passed the early hurdles,” says Bray, “but they will have to continue to make sure the consumers take the product off the shelf.”  

I’ll be one of those repeat customers. My 15-year-old daughter made the brownies over Labor Day weekend, and they were delicious.

Filed under food, Diana Lovett, Rachael Styer, Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, Cissé Trading
The comment period has expired.