The Candy Men
by Katherine Hansen '88
When Scott Barnum tells someone to have a sweet
day, he means it.
As the “chief chocolatier” for Cocoa
Pete’s Chocolate Adventures in Campbell, Calif., Barnum
’78 has made it his mission put premium chocolate into the
mouths of the masses.
“Traditionally, most good chocolate is
given away as a gift or consumed on special occasions,” Barnum
said. “We’re making good chocolate for people to eat
on a regular basis. We want to show that you can have high-quality
chocolate, but you don’t have to be pretentious. You don’t
have to go European to get good chocolate.”
Cocoa Pete’s is the brainchild of Pete
Slosberg, the entrepreneur behind the Pete’s Brewing Company
and creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale. Barnum has spent most of
his career in food and beverage marketing, sales and general management,
including tenure as president of Pete’s beer company. He also
worked for eBay and had his own marketing and strategy consulting
firm. When the offer to work again with Slosberg came up, he jumped
at it. “I wanted to do rather than advise,” Barnum said.
Slosberg is the face behind the product, and
Barnum is the man behind the scenes, overseeing daily operations.
Barnum recruited Jason Wing ’02 to work on marketing in the
Barnum, who lives in Atherton, Calif., with
his wife, Debby, and 7-year-old son Walker, has remained active
in PLU since graduation, planning events like
an alumni breakfast at his home when the Lutes played Menlo College.
And when it came time to expand the Cocoa Pete’s staff,
he called Don Bell, dean of the School
of Business at the time, for some prospects. That led him
to MBA grad Wing ’02, who now oversees the Tacoma operations
and works to get the products on store shelves in the Northwest.
Wing spent eight years in the Army before returning
to PLU for his master’s degree. He’s thrilled to have
landed at Cocoa Pete’s.
“It is absolutely an adventure,”
Wing said. “It’s fun to see something grow and snowball.
It’s every MBA’s dream to get in on something from the
start and see it become a success.”
Slosberg, often photographed wearing a bright
Hawaiian shirt and a wide grin, says beer and chocolate are two
of the five major food groups. An engineer by trade, he is also
an international beer judge and a certified barbecue judge with
a palate and nose for the finer tastes.
“He’s very passionate about good
food and drink,” Barnum said.
After selling his successful beer line in 1998,
Slosberg worked for the company he sold to and a nonprofit for a
while. But a 2001 trip to Belgium, home to some of the world’s
best chocolate, inspired him to get back into business.
“He saw great chocolate available on
every street corner and in every store,” Barnum said. “He
thought, ‘Why can’t America have chocolate this good
on a widely available basis?’”
Slosberg studied the market and saw there was
a niche for a fuller-flavored chocolate. After cooking up confections
in his own kitchen and attending the Culinary Institute of America
in New York, he dug up decades old recipes, tasted, tested, and
eventually came up with four mouth-watering nuggets to offer customers.
The raw products – and the secret recipes – are sent
to Tacoma’s Brown and Haley, home of the legendary Almond
Roca, which produces Cocoa Pete’s at its downtown factory.
Cocoa Pete’s candy has a higher percentage
of cacao than other American chocolate, giving it a fuller flavor,
Barnum said. Four varieties are available at 150 stores in the San
Francisco Bay area. This summer, they will go on sale at specialty
grocery stores and other shops in the Puget Sound area. Each flavor
is aimed at a different kind of chocoholic.
“Some people like it gooey,” Barnum
said. “Some people like it crunchy. As we say, different styles
for different smiles.” Available are Maltimus Maximus, a crisp
crunch of real brewers malt in luscious milk chocolate; Nuts So
Serious, velvety milk chocolate surrounding roasted hazelnut paste
and pistachio pieces; Berry, Berry Dangerous, rich, dark chocolate
melded with chewy dried California strawberries; Hallowed Grounds,
dark chocolate with a soft coffee-caramel center.
All four are selling well, but the Hallowed
Grounds seems to be a favorite, Barnum said. And Slosberg is still
cooking things up, so the company plans to launch an additional
Nuts So Serious could also apply to the demeanor
around Cocoa Pete’s. The employees take their jobs –
and their confections – seriously, but they aim to have fun
doing it. The seven-employee firm doesn’t conform to a conventional
hierarchy, have traditional titles or standard business cards.
“It’s a little zany,” Wing
said. “The people are phenomenal, and the whole atmosphere
Barnum acknowledges there may be more important
things in life than creating a better candy bar, but he’s
pleased to be involved in this tasty venture.
“Even in crazy times, good ideas can
prevail, by taking chances and having fun in the process,”
Barnum said. “If we can make other people happy and help them
along the way, we’re doing our part.”
Next Feature: Club
Sports - Competition and camaraderie attract athletes to lacrosse
and Ultimate Football teams
“It’s fun to see something grow and snowball. It’s
every MBA’s dream to get in on something from the start and
see it become a success.”
-Jason Wing ’02. (Photo by Jordan Hartman)
For more information visit: www.cocoapetes.com
By: Jordan Hartman ’02