Sustainability and ethics ride at the forefront of the bean-to-bar chocolate company.
OmNom Chocolate, the small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate company based out of Reykjavík, Iceland, with their eye-catching geometric branding and unique flavors, has been one of our favorite chocolate brands we carry in-house for a while now.
Surely you’ve seen that rainbow wrapped, unicorn-adorned Caramel + Milk bar they made for Pride all over our social media. Milk chocolate with little pockets of chewy caramel throughout, it’s as delicious as it is pretty. That’s just one of an array of flavors we carry from OmNom, including the Madagascar 66% Dark Chocolate bar, the milk chocolate and Sea Salted Almonds, and the now infamous Coffee + Milk bar, which was featured in the first episode of “Down to Earth with Zac Efron” on Netflix.
Besides their obvious success with creating some seriously mouth-watering chocolate bars, what really makes OmNom special is the thoughtful and sustainable bean-to-bar method that they follow for production.
What is bean-to-bar, anyways?
No chocolate company can label themselves bean-to-bar if they do not specifically start production from the raw cacao bean. Bean-to-bar companies then take on the task of roasting, cracking, winnowing (removing the shell), and grinding the bean down to cocoa mass. This gives companies, like OmNom, full control over what their chocolate will taste like based on origin sourcing and farming oversight.
OmNom not only has high standards for the cacao beans themselves, but also for how they source and buy their ingredients. They source their certified-organic beans from three different regions: Madagascar, Nicaragua, and Tanzania. Specifically in Tanzania, OmNom partners with Kokoa Kamili, a sourcing company that takes the workload of fermenting and drying cocoa off the farmers of the Kilombero Valley, giving the farmers more time to tend to their plants. They also pay a 24% premium price higher than market rates to smallholder farmers, and distribute seedlings to farmers to invest in the future of cacao in Tanzania.
OmNom puts as much emphasis on quality and sustainability for their other main ingredients as they do their cacao. They work with the Native Green Cane Project to ethically and sustainably source their cane sugar. The milk powder used for their bars is sourced from over 700 individual farms in Iceland, which are held to progressively high standards for domestic livestock welfare. Even the sea salt, when used, comes from the Westfjords of Iceland.
You can read all about OmNom’s chocolate making process and their ingredients on their website. There isn’t a single aspect unmentioned, allowing full transparency into their company and products. There’s even a small interview section from the founders, chef Kjartan Gíslason and entrepreneur Óskar Þórðarson, on starting OmNom as a passion project inside a converted gas station in Reykjavík.
With all that information available, we wanted to get a little personal with Kjartan and learn more about the company and its history. Check out our short interview below:
ADDA: After the many experiments you did at the start of the company, what ended up being the first successful bar recipe you came up with?
Kjartan: I would probably have to say Dirty Blonde. It was our first attempt at making white chocolate and was made with caramelised sugar and an organic cocoa butter from the Dominican Republic. It was part of our original line up of bars from 2013 and proved to be our first biggest seller. We unfortunately had to discontinue it two years later, since it became very problematic for us to temper a bar with all that caramelised sugar and I started to modify the recipe, which I finalised this year with the launch of Sea Salted Toffee. And actually while I was working on the new recipe for Sea Salted Toffee, Black n´Burnt Barley came into fruition, so you could say with Dirty Blonde being cancelled, it brought on two new bars.
ADDA: Ethical-sourcing of quality ingredients and sustainability practices are on the rise amongst many smaller businesses hitting the market, in food, clothing, packaging, and so much more. Were these values always at the forefront of your mind when starting OmNom or was it a journey to learn about and incorporate them?
Kjartan: As a chef, I started my research into chocolate-making from an ingredient standpoint and finding out what would be the best quality beans for our chocolate making. It quickly became apparent to me that working with small hold farmers and producers was the way to go for the future of our business if we want chocolate to be sustainable, and we have adopted it since 2016 to have all our main ingredients sourced ethically and organic. In 2017, we published our first Transparency Report and were working on our new one for this year before COVID-19 hit us.
ADDA: Has COVID-19 affected business for you at all? Do you have anything new and exciting in the works for OmNom that you'd be willing to share?
Kjartan: Like every business on this planet we have been severely affected, especially since most of our customers here in Iceland were tourists. But online sales, at the same time, have gone up, so there might be a shift in our focus in where our future sales will come from. We are constantly working on new ideas for chocolate and for the brand and recently we had a pop up event in our factory store as a soft serve ice cream store, it turned out to be a huge success so we might just do it permanently.
ADDA: Where do you see the future of the global chocolate industry going, in regards to sustainability practices? Do you see the food industry following a similar path?
Kjartan: For chocolate I think we have been seeing a shift in recent years, with the big brands turning more to ethical practises and sourcing. My hope with the "bean to bar” companies, that they might start to get more mainstream, and consumers will recognize this sub-genre, within chocolate, as a better quality chocolate. I think the food industry in general is adapting more to what their consumers are calling for.
ADDA: After 6 successful chocolate-making years, what's the best or most important lesson you've learned, related to the industry or not?
Kjartan: Oh wow, so many things I could talk about, but I think for us, as we have grown, the importance of a good staff culture and taking care of your staff has been crucial. When things have been tough for us, it's really comforting to know that you have staff members who are sharing your passion for the company and willing to adapt and learn. I can't speak highly enough about the wonderful people who work here.
At Adda, we believe values like sustainability and ethical sourcing make a company stand out from the rest. The thoughtfulness, care, and desire to make a difference are values we respect and honor in our own company. Special thanks to Kjartan for taking the time to speak with us, and be sure to try an OmNom bar on your next visit to Adda Coffee & Tea House. Have a sweet tooth you need to satisfy? Try a selection of our different chocolate bars with one of our chocolate gift baskets, including OmNom and other brands from around the world!