LOS ANGELES — Chris Young, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a chocolate startup, recently observed a lack of diversity in leadership behind established and even emerging brands in the category. He and his two co-founders “felt like we needed to conceal our Asian heritage for this industry to take us seriously,” Mr. Young recounted in a LinkedIn post.
He described the “uphill battle” the founding team has faced over the past four years since launching Pocket Latte, a brand of chocolate squares infused with coffee, noting, “at candy trade shows, we frequently got asked questions like ‘where do you import this from’ or ‘what part of China’ is this from.”
“Today, that all changes,” he added, revealing a forthcoming launch of chocolate coated almonds featuring Asian-inspired flavors, including black sesame, matcha, Vietnamese coffee and yuzu mango. The expansion marks the brand’s “biggest and boldest move ever” with products that “proudly represent our upbringing and culture,” Mr. Young said.
“For the first time ever, we'll be announcing that we’re Asian-American owned,” he told Food Entrepreneur. “We never once mentioned ‘Asian’ in our packaging, marketing or products, but we couldn’t hide our ethnicity at a trade show or industry event. So now, we’re done hiding, and we’re going to stand proud.”
Pocket Latte’s new Choco Nuts line will be available to order online at pocketlatte.com. Additionally, Mr. Young said he hopes to partner with a major retailer on an exclusive launch to “set an example” and pave the way for increased representation of minority-owned brands. The brand’s core line of coffee-chocolate squares is available in more than 7,500 stores nationwide.
“Chocolate almonds are very much an American thing,” Mr. Young said. “It’s a side of chocolate where consumers are more open to innovation, to trying something new that they may not otherwise try in a standard chocolate bar. We thought it’s a good way to warm up consumers to flavors they have probably never heard of.”
The company manufactures its products and develops the coated almonds line within a few weeks, he said. Mr. Young said he hopes the new product line will inspire a movement among other underrepresented founders and leaders in the food industry.
“I was born and raised in America, but I go to trade shows and that perpetual foreigner stereotype is very abundant,” he said. “If I’m a perpetual foreigner, I want to make Asian-inspired things more American because I can’t make myself more American. That’s kind of our thought process. If they’re going to put us in that box, we’re going to make that box more accessible to any American.”
By Monica Watrous