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How a boutique chocolate brand proved that people will choose good, when given the choice.

brands that love people...#01

©Somewhere Else
…So shines a good deed in a weary world...

It’s one of the most iconic scenes in a well-loved film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Charlie, a poor nobody, has just proven himself the worthy heir to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory through a simple but profound act.

Despite being cheated by Willy Wonka of his rightful prize (a year’s supply of chocolates), Charlie refuses to yield trade secrets to Willy Wonka’s chief competitor, quietly returning a candy to Mr Wonka’s desk. The candy (an Everlasting Gobstopper), was worth an enormous sum of money and could have ensured Charlie and his impoverished parents and grandparents a comfortable life for decades.

Charlie’s quiet honesty, humility and kindness to a (seemingly) undeserving man gives him not just a year’s supply of chocolate, but the keys to the factory itself.

“So shines a good deed in a weary world.” Sighs Willy Wonka with relief, having found the boy who will continue where he left off.

Those are the first words you see emblazoned on the front window of Mr Bucket, a charming chocolatier in an unexpected neighbourhood that’s quietly adding sweetness to people’s lives in Singapore and beyond.

We spoke to Jerome Penafort about the cost of doing the right thing, going through a painful pivot, and his ambitions to change the face of chocolate in Asia.

1) Continuing Charlie’s story
We were inspired by the ending of the novel ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’, where Charlie is given the factory by Willy Wonka because he’s the purest of heart and kind.

The name ‘Mr Bucket’ is Charlie grown up and it’s our interpretation of how the story continues, our take on how the chocolate can, and should be, in this day and age.

2) Improving quality of life through chocolate.
Chocolate does make people happy in the short-term, but it’s so much more: it comes from the wonderful produce of our farmers.

We have a direct impact on their quality of life by improving the dignity and livelihoods of our cacao farmers and their villages. But we want the impact and scale to serve these communities so we can ultimately change the whole face of the cacao industry in Asia.

Chocolate is also a very good way to convey your intentions. That’s why we’re quite gifting-centric, so we can help brighten up someone’s day. For example, recently a few people ordered chocolates to send as condolences, to make their loves ones feel cared for.

Beautifully-made chocolate is a powerful medium to convey intentions and show kindness to people anywhere anytime.

3) When ‘doing good’ is not enough.
We learned the hard way that we can’t help anyone if your product is irrelevant. With our earlier projects, even though we knew we were doing something good and trying to change the industry, the brand wasn’t doing well because the product was not relatable.

The local market simply wasn’t ready for bean-to-bar chocolate and we knew we couldn’t keep doing things the same way. I spent alot of long nights thinking about how to make our chocolate interesting enough for people to try.

4) People will choose good… if the product is relevant
I believe everyone intrinsically wants to do good. Everyone responds to kindness. Given the option, people will choose good. All we had to do was create conversations and pique people’s curiosity.

With Mr Bucket, we are intentionally doing something novel because we want to BE THE CHANGE. Now we’ve hit a “bittersweet spot” where we’ve achieved that balance of product relevance and goodness in the way every single bonbon is conceptualised and crafted by hand.

5) People discover good products through good branding
Branding is extremely important. That first impression, conscious or subconscious, is what makes people interested enough to walk into the shop and discover more.

But although branding might get people through the door, the product itself (the flavours, the taste, the quality) is ultimately what makes people come back for more.

We learned alot from earlier projects about the necessity of appealing to consumers on first impression. It’s a very delicate balance, you must make your product as attractive as possible, whilst staying true to your values, vision and mission.

6) Make every moment count.
There is a quote in the book “Neither Civil Nor Servant: The Philip Yeo Story” where Goh Keng Swee (Philip Yeo’s mentor) told him.

“It’s easier to burn down an organisation and rebuild it than to try to change it”

That is, it takes a long time to change years of thinking and doing things a certain way. I had to ask myself, was it worth my time trying to change people who don’t want to change? My conclusion was… probably not.

If you choose to stay and change a business, stay by all means, but find your niche. Carve out your own piece where it’s yours and you can steer your own direction. I decided to choose the one I have more control over, because life’s short.

7) Doing good requires scale.
We want to be the number 1 chocolatier in South East Asia and the authority when it comes to Asian chocolate. The whole industry is going sustainable, if you’re not sustainable you won’t have a place in the future. Mr Bucket is not just creating sustainable chocolate for marketing’s sake, it’s truly what we believe. We also plan to grow aggressively in the next 5-10 years so we have the resources to have an impact. If we can’t scale up our team and revenue, how can we do outreach projects to our cacao farmers’ communities?

And so shines a good deed in a weary world.

More than 50 years later, our world is wearier than ever. Roald Dahl memorably captures an inescapable business lesson: kindness speak loudest. It reminds us that doing good isn’t always easy, and usually comes at great short-term cost. But it almost always results in long-term reward.

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