Born in Australia and now available at all our Frame studios, Pana Chocolate is raw, organic, handmade and vegan, it is free of gluten, soy and added sugar, but most importantly it is totes delish.
We tracked down founder Pana Barbounis to talk chocolate and how his amazing brand has grown from a one man operation in Melbourne, Australia to a multinational business in just a few years.
How important is social media to your business?
Very. Our product is unique and visually stunning, so social media is a really strong focus for our team. Instagram and Facebook are Pana Chocolate’s largest communication channels, and for us are a great way to share ideas and new recipes, and keep various communities connected. Instagram has been such an important part of our growth for both elevating our chocolate bars but to also introduce our cakes and raw desserts to the world. It’s also a really important tool to engage with and to listen to what our friends are saying, and we’re amazed every day by the positivity exchanged. Nothing beats seeing someone snap a photo of themselves with a bar or cake slice.
When you first began, did you realise it would be such an important part of your brand?
I used to hand deliver the chocolate bars to our retailers on my Vespa and as orders grew, very quickly realised that it was no longer possible to do that. Social media became a perfect way to stay in touch with these customers as we expanded, and as we launched the raw dessert arm of the business was essential to conveying how beautiful they really are. We ensure our brand is consistently represented globally, and this means our ethos, appearance and message is carried through all our activities.
And what was key to growing the brand in the beginning?
The key part was to develop a product that I felt confident was right, so I played with ingredients from all over the world until it was. It was a fun process which included doing research at friends gatherings to get people’s feedback. These friends were highly valued as their contribution has made Pana Chocolate what it is today.
Tell us about the beginning? How has the company grown to a $5million dollar business in a few short years?
I grew up in a migrant family in the western suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. After I started working in hospitality at a young age, I was driven to learn and establish a business I had real passion for. A close friend of mine asked me to try some raw chocolate and when I did I thought “I can do this”. It just felt right, like it was meant to be. So from there I worked really hard on developing a chocolate I felt had the perfect taste balanced with the right texture, regardless of it being raw and vegan. There were a few non-negotiables – some of them making sure the product was made from organic ingredients with no refined sugar, and produced using minimal heat to ensure all the goodness is retained. I wanted to make a chocolate that loves your insides, and loves the Earth, and so Pana Chocolate was born in July 2012.
You’re hoping Pana will be the number one raw chocolate company in the world by 2017. How are you tracking?
We’re doing great! We’re now stocked in over 3,000 independent retailers in over 25 countries, covering all corners of the world from Finland, Iceland and France, to Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and New Zealand, the United Kingdom and a plan to launch in the North American market in 2017.
Any plans to open a cafe in London?
At this stage anything’s is possible! Alongside our cafes we’ve been growing our raw dessert model in Australia to include working with some absolutely amazing cafés and wholesale partners to bring the raw desserts to new, and more geographically spread, customers.
Which are your most popular products?
Universally speaking Coconut & Goji and Mint are the most popular products, but we love how the popular choices vary from country to country. We’re introducing two new flavours this year and we can’t wait to see where these sit this time next year.
And your personal favourite?
Don’t ask me to pick a favourite – I can’t differentiate between my kids. I do have a soft spot though for Sour Cherry & Vanilla.
Has the product been received the same in the UK as in Australia?
We’re so excited and blessed with the response in the UK since we launched in June last year. Independent retailers have been really supportive in stocking the product, we’ve been lucky to have had great response in the media, through events we’ve been able to connect with the vegan and health and wellbeing communities, and of course, we owe so much to our friends on social media who have been celebrating because we’re now easier to find on home soil.
Differences in flavour preferences between markets?
We love the small variances between each country, keeps us guessing! You guys are definitely Mint and Orange fanatics, in any form, including the Fig & Wild Orange bar.
Any food / wellness trends that are big in Australia that are yet to make it to the UK and vice versa?
Australians are certainly shifting to higher awareness of product makeup and origin, opting for a minimalist approach to food they buy – purchasing fewer goods but higher quality, sustainably sourced and without additives, preservatives and unknown ingredients.
We love seeing unique and interesting fitness trends coming out of other parts of the world, particularly places like London and New York, before they hit our shores. We’re quick to try anything, but we need to see it in action first! Remember disco yoga, morning raves, Beyoncé dance… I’m looking forward to seeing live streaming fitness grow plus I’ve heard about a mobile gym bus for the London commute… I’d love that!
How do you see the relationship between food and exercise?
Pana Chocolate advocates for a healthy lifestyle – loving your insides as well as the earth. We are certified organic and vegan, and our products are free from soy, refined sugar and gluten. A balanced diet sourced from the very best quality organic ingredients is key to eating healthily, alongside regular movement and exercise. It’s a growing trend in Australia, and I hope the world soon, where people are knowledgeable on how their food is produced and they become more conscious and selective of what they choose to eat. Our understanding of food and how it can nourish us is constantly evolving, so as people begin to respect and appreciate their bodies more, our view of healthy eating and exercise evolves with it.
Do you find that even though your product is vegan, your customer is varied?
Definitely. We have strong presence in the vegan community but also with those who have allergies to lactose, gluten and low or low/no sugar diets. As the brand has grown so has our audience, with a large portion of consumers now just looking for a quality chocolate that tastes great and is without any nasties. Everyone loves chocolate, and we created a chocolate that is suitable for everyone.