Sarah and Simon Wood of Freedom Chocolate with daughter Megan who are celebrating their family company’s inclusion in the Independent’s Top 11 Vegan Chocolate Bars

AN ARTISAN chocolate maker who got started in business thanks to a life-changing loan for entrepreneurs has won critical acclaim for its vegan products – beating off the big brands.

Freedom Chocolate has made it on to a national list of top vegan chocolate bars tested as part of Veganuary, a huge achievement for the family who’ve overcome a multitude of barriers in their early years of trading.  

The business was created by husband and wife team Simon and Sarah Wood, after the couple and their four children encountered multiple food intolerances and struggled to find great-tasting, good quality treats that the whole family could enjoy regardless of dietary needs. Simon decided to explore what he could make himself and discovered he had a talent for chocolate tempering.

Sarah said: “When he tested it out on us, we all loved it and importantly, nobody had any allergic reactions to it! Then when we shared it with friends, they said we had to find a way of selling it so that’s what we did and that decision has changed our lives.”

The couple worked hard to source high-quality ingredients that are ethically produced and mastered age-old techniques to craft their chocolate by hand. 

They approached Transmit Startups for a loan to buy the essential equipment they needed to turn the hobby into a business and after initially running the company from their home kitchen in Dumfries, Scotland, moved into their own premises to satisfy growing numbers of orders.

Transmit Startups is the UK’s leading provider of Government-backed Start Up Loans, having supported 5,677 entrepreneurs with over £59million. The programme provides fixed-interest loans and high impact mentoring to aspiring business owners across the UK who might be struggling to access other forms of finance.

Sarah said: “We are carers for our children, who have additional needs, and because we are in receipt of benefits, we were not eligible for a bank loan. So, we were really happy to find out there was an alternative route for people in our position – especially as self-employment offered a way of earning a living that suited the unique needs of our family.

“Simon has Aspergers Syndrome, which is a form of autism, and we realised running our own business could be a way to meet his needs as well as being able to work around our caring responsibilities to our children. People with autism often encounter barriers to employment but being his own boss would mean Simon could overcome these issues by being able to control the sensory aspect of his working environments such as sound, light and heat and his level of contact with people.”

Freedom Chocolate is now working with Transmit Startups’ mentor Tony Couch to build on its success, developing a range of flavours that it sells to buyers around the UK via its website, as well as regulars at food markets and festivals.

Sarah added: “The fantastic support we’ve had from Tony has helped us get to where we are today. Neither me or Simon have any background in business so it’s given us a sense of security to know we have someone in our corner with so much experience to draw on. 

“We’ve consulted him many times when we’ve been grappling with a decision and he has helped us to see the bigger picture and suggest alternative solutions. He has made this all so much easier and we can see the potential for our business to grow and employ other people too.” 

Transmit Startups is part of the Transmit group of companies which offer funding, consulting, coaching and mentoring services to entrepreneurs throughout their business journey. 

Damian Baetens, Transmit’s Business Support Director, said: “There are some real big hitters out there in the vegan chocolate arena so for a small company like Freedom Chocolate to be included is incredible, and it’s testament to the hard work of Simon and Sarah.

“This was an especially satisfying Start Up Loan to approve because it has made such a difference to family life for the Woods. Their fantastic success story demonstrates that business ownership can be a smart employment option in all kinds of circumstances, and I hope it serves as an inspiration to others who are considering their options.”

The glowing reviews Freedom Chocolate received from the panel of judges at The Independent were for its dark (80% cocoa) bar.

The Independent commented: “This bar is perfect for chocolate purists and those who prefer a cleaner palate. Our tester was impressed by the beautiful smell of cacao on opening it, and loved the crisp, clean taste of this high-cacao chocolate…”  The review noted that Freedom Chocolate is free from all top 14 allergens, offers a range of flavours and arrives in plastic-free packaging. 

Richard Bearman, Managing Director at Start-Up Loans, said: “Start-Up Loans is here to help people like Sarah and Simon gain access to the funding and support they need to start a business. What they have achieved with Freedom Chocolate is commendable and I’m proud Start Up Loans has played a part in helping them and so many others across the country to realise their ambition of business ownership.”

For more information about Transmit Startups, visit www.transmitstartups.co.ukand for information about Freedom Chocolate, visit www.freedomchocolate.co.uk