Salt Lake City, Utah
Talk about creating a buzz.
When Wentworth started the company in 2009, The Chocolate Conspiracy was the only commercial manufacturer making chocolate bars using honey as the main source of sweetness. The company is now one of only "two or three chocolate makers in the nation that uses honey as a primary sweetener" instead of sugar, he says.
Further reflecting Wentworth's "fascination with bees," his company's bars -- with flavors like Gingerbread Rooibos, Wild Spice, Raspberry, and Americano Chai with Milk (his only dairy-containing product) -- are often molded into the shape of a honeycomb.
Unlike most chocolate makers, Wentworth doesn't use roasted cacao, either. "It's really hard to make chocolate with raw beans, because roasting really is the key to developing flavor in the chocolate bar," notes Wentworth.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule: "We found this raw bean that just tastes delicious!" he gushes. The Chocolate Conspiracy employs a blend of non-GMO cacao nibs sourced from a co-op in Peru, which he cycles through his stone mill grinder for four days, after first adding the batch's cocoa butter to help lubricate the machinery.
Wentworth then places the results in a chocolate melter, along with the honey and any additional spices. Then the mixture is placed in a tempering machine, which, through heating and cooling, will form the crystals which give fine chocolate its sheen and snap. The chocolate is then hand-poured into molds.
If he used cane sugar and more traditional machinery, Wentworth would be able to produce 600 bars an hour, not 150, he estimates. The tempering takes a lot longer as well.
"It's a tricky process -- and it's really hard to make really good chocolate with honey," says Wentworth. "I've chosen the hardest way to make chocolate -- and I've just stuck with it."
That's because, compared with most other chocolatiers, Wentworth came from a very different background, which has informed his business decisions. He studied integrative nutrition prior to working as a chef in a kitchen which "focused on raw cuisine and vegan cuisine." He points out that "raw cacao, before it's roasted, has one of the highest antioxidant profiles of any food on the planet" -- more than acai or blueberries. Wentworth wanted to bring that raw nutritional consciousness to chocolate making.
Not that Wentworth found immediate success in his endeavors. He admits that his initial results tasted like a "Flintstone vitamin," and says, "It took me, honestly, five years to actually have a really good product." He learned more about the craft from other local chocolate devotees as they formed the nucleus of the Utah Chocolate Society together.
Wentworth attributes the state's esteemed chocolate-making reputation (which his business shares in) to a couple of factors: one, Utah's altitude and dryness -- which also bestows Switzerland with an ideal chocolate-making climate. And the second being the state's LDS heritage, which eschews items like coffee and alcohol, but has a fondness for well-crafted, artisanal baked goods and sweets.
Wentworth grew up in Roosevelt, Utah, sharing a fondness for chocolate with his mother. He stated in a Harmons Grocery video that one of his goals in forming his company was to provide his mother -- and others -- with a healthier dessert option. (And after learning from health expert Dr. Andrew Weil at a school lecture that the original meaning of "conspiracy" is "to breathe together," he incorporated that word into his future company's name.)
Today, his chocolate bars are sold in at least 16 states and 250 outlets, including Harmons Grocery stores in Utah and in Whole Foods throughout the Rocky Mountain region. He also produces truffles (using maple syrup), peanut butter cups, and drinking chocolate (incorporating coconut sugar). In its first few years, the company grew 20 to 30 percent annually, before settling down to a yearly 5 percent increase, with annual revenue averaging around $225,000.
The company also manufactures chocolates for other businesses on a contract basis. In addition to a couple of local coffee shops, Wentworth white-labels products for such customers as Fisher Beer, Kiitos Brewing, Aseda raw honey from Africa, specialty cacao bean producer Tranquilidad, and California-based Lover Raw Chocolate. "That's what's kept us real busy -- doing a lot of manufacturing for other companies," says Wentworth.
In addition to cacao nibs from Peru, Wentworth also obtains maca -- an adaptogenic root which lends a "maltiness" to one of his bars -- from that South American nation as well. But all his honey comes from the Beehive State's own White Lake Farms. And he sources aged blackberry balsamic vinegar from Mill Creek Olive Oil for another bar. "It's my bestseller," he says.
And given that chocolate also contains high levels of phenylethylamine -- a chemical associated with love -- it's little wonder that it's a treat often associated with Valentine's Day.
"I love chocolate," says Wentworth, who's as fond of it as a food as he is of making the manufacturing of it his life's vocation. "I've been making chocolate for 11 years and I don't want to do anything else."
Challenges: Wentworth says it's "how to grow" and "mass-market efficiently," given his use of honey as a sweetener. With bars selling respectively for around $7 and $12 in shops, he adds, "We are definitely a commodity."
Opportunities: Expanding distribution. Wentworth says, "I want to get into more specialty markets, cheese shops, coffee shops, really high-end grocers. That's really where my market is." He says present distributor A Priori is "killing it," but sees the advantage of adding another one.
And while The Chocolate Conspiracy used to run its own shop attached to its former production space, a move into a new shared kitchen has ended retail sales. Wentworth considers it "a blessing in disguise," allowing him to focus more time, energy, and resources on the chocolate-making itself.
Needs: "I need more financing," says Wentworth. "I need more distribution [into] those specialty stores that I'm talking about."