CocoTerra has built the world’s first tabletop chocolate maker, a single system that can go from roasted cacao nibs to solid chocolate in about two hours. Based in Palo Alto, the company just recently started providing details of how its machine works, but has been an FCIA member for several years. Information about Cocoterra is available on the web, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Q: Tell us how you started your company and your motivation for working in fine chocolate.
A: Nate Saal and Karen Alter have known each other for years, both personally and professionally. They came to working in the chocolate world from different paths.
Nate founded CocoTerra after a eureka moment sparked by a conversation with his brother-in-law Mark while at a chocolate tasting. As recounted here, at this event Nate, Mark, and the host wondered why people know much more about fine coffee than about fine chocolate, and one speculation was that consumers could easily make and experiment with coffee at home, whereas they couldn’t readily do so with chocolate. So Nate, a long-time food “maker” and trained biochemist, decided to figure out a way to solve this problem.
In the meantime, after years at Intel and a number of startups, Karen was partnering with founders of early-stage companies, figuring out their overall business and go-to-market strategies. She began consulting to CocoTerra part-time, but rapidly joined full-time as the scope and excitement of the opportunity became evident.
While neither Nate nor Karen set out to work in fine chocolate per se, they both have enjoyed meeting so many dedicated people and craftsmen along the way. In addition, they both see how more education and technology in the hands of consumers, commercial makers, artisans and farmers can be a powerful tool in improving quality and value throughout the chocolate supply chain.
Q: What have been the high points in your professional journey over the years?
A: For both Nate and Karen, high points have involved bringing new technology solutions to market over the years. For Karen, this involved microprocessors, electric vehicle services, and online educational content, among other areas. For Nate, his journey included simplifying software updates over the internet, home audio and touch-screen technology. These might seem very different, but the common thread is finding a way to create something that solves a real customer problem, or brings new capabilities to consumers and other market segments.
Q: Why do you believe it is important to work collaboratively with others in industry associations such as FCIA?
A: Anyone who has spent time in the computer industry knows how important industry associations (and standards) are to moving things forward. Thus, it’s really natural for the CocoTerra team to engage with the FCIA and its members as part of building our business. Obviously, we can learn a lot from all FCIA members and organizations! But also, the FCIA provides a forum for us to meet experts in the field of chocolate, who can validate (and provide feedback about) what we are doing (include the quality of our chocolate), partner with us in making it easy for consumers to buy ingredients and accessories, and work with us to raise the awareness of and delight from fine- flavored cacao and fine chocolate overall. We also recognize that we are newcomers in this field, and have deep respect for the individuals and companies that have spent decades working with chocolate. We are truly grateful for the time and energy many FCIA members have provided us as we launch the CocoTerra company.
Q: What advice would you give to a company starting out in the industry?
A: Listen and learn! The fine chocolate industry includes many people who switched careers or industries mid-stream: it’s a very welcoming place for someone just starting out. The people we’ve met have been helpful, open and incredibly knowledgeable. But the industry also has a long, fascinating history, with many established players, and taking the time to meet, learn from and respect them seems so important as you move from newcomer to fellow-traveler.
Previous post about CocoTerra: https://www.finechocolateindustry.org/FCIA-Member-Happenings/7331694