Sustainable chocolate brand emerges as Cadbury exits Dunedin

Dunedin manufacturers are wasting no time lamenting Cadbury's departure from their region, with plans to launch their own chocolate brand next year.

Operating under the existing boutique Otago Chocolate Company banner, it would promote sustainability as one of its core values, sourcing cocoa from the Pacific Islands and tying the chief executive's salary to that of the company's lowest-paid worker.

"The CEO can't be paid more than 4.5 times higher than the lowest-paid worker," Dunedin city councillor Dr Jim O'Malley told The AM Show.

"If they want to up their salary, then they've got to make the lowest-paid worker go up too."

Dunedin Manufacturing Holding (DMH) is about to launch a PledgeMe crowdfunding bid for $2 million to buy specialist chocolate-making equipment from Italy for the enterprise.

"We've got a site in the city that's not too far from the old Cadbury factory," said Dr O'Malley. "We'll incorporate Ocho chocolate into our company and operate under that name.

"We've still got to get a CEO in place, but we've been interviewing the board and the directors are almost in place. We'll announce that soon and that's when we'll go out to raise the money."

Dr O'Malley previously led the campaign to keep Cadbury manufacturing in Dunedin, but conceded that battle about two months ago. That means some of New Zealand iconic confectionary brands, like Jaffas, Pineapple Lumps and Pinky Bars, will now be made in Australia.

The new initiative will see DMH combine with craft chocolate maker and former artist/journalist Liz Rowe, who founded her Ocho label after a visit to South America in 2011.

"Liz and I have sat down for the last couple of months to figure out how we're going to do this," said Dr O'Malley.

"Liz has been to Italy and looked at the equipment and said this is the stuff we want, so we've got that pencilled in place. 

"Once we've got the money, we'll call them up and say 'start making it'. Hopefully, it will be on a ship, and here in March or April."

The new company already enjoys strong relationships with Pacific cocoa growers through Ocho.

"It's very important for us that the farmers get good pay for what they're making," said Dr O'Malley.

But the merger will not be able to simply re-employ the workers losing jobs with Cadbury's departure.

"Eventually, but unfortunately, we can only start out with 10, because we've only been able to raise $2m," he said. "We're a lot bigger than a small craft factory, but still not at the size of Whittaker's.

"Our whole intention is growth and we're going into a building that will allow us to be quite large in about 4-5 years. We'll capture as many as we can."

Dr O'Malley hinted there may be a place in the company's marketing department for NZ First leader Winston Peters.

"We could use Winston for our product announcements," he quipped. "He could promise new products, but we'd new know when they are coming."