Sustainable and Delectable: The Story of Wild Blue Chocolate with Mike Sever

Sustainable and Delectable: The Story of Wild Blue Chocolate with Mike Sever

Americans love all food, from all regions, and they want what they want when they want it. The questions many craft food brands wrestle with is how can you be a GOOD FOOD brand when your product is something exotic? What do you do when you make a product every American loves, but you can’t possibly source it locally? 

Wild Blue Chocolate started their business by answering that question first - diving knee-deep into the chocolate production process to make sure that each step of their process is rooted in sustainable, beneficial, and profitable decisions all the way from the harvested cacao bean to the final chocolate bar.

In this episode, we have one-half of the dynamic duo and artists at heart behind this award-winning brand. Mike Sever talks about the origin of Wild Blue and how he and his wife strive to apply their best practices and successfully use cacao, an ingredient that’s not locally grown and requires specific climate conditions, to have a healthy living lifestyle and be sustainably grown.

Wild Blue’s product, 75% Guatemala San Juan Chevite bar, was among the winners of the Good Food Awards for 2022, beating out about 2,000 other entries. This is a true testament to how they continue to help support the sustainability efforts around chocolate in providing an alternative to mass-produced chocolate. 

Listen and learn the keys to GOOD FOOD success:

  • Know your providers and understand their practices

  • Source your other ingredients from as near as possible

  • Craft the highest quality product possible, even if that limits batch sizes to extremely small production runs

Virginia Foodie Essentials:

  • We work from a transparent standpoint. We don't work directly with farmers. However, we do work through transparent networks that ensure that it's not a commodity. Chocolate should not be viewed as a commodity. It should be viewed with direct impact to farmers. - Mike Sever

  • What Good Food looks for is how you're going above and beyond fair trade practices. How are you helping to ensure that the communities that you're partnering with are uplifted so that there are sustainable efforts in place, so that there's longevity with the farming communities, and maybe expansion as well to continue this movement for doing something that's fair,  but helping uplift the communities within food? - Mike Sever

  • There's very much of a science and a craft to what you're doing.  And it's really labor-intensive. - Georgiana Dearing

  • All of this fine quality and craftsmanship - it does lead to a product that is at a higher price point.  - Georgiana Dearing

  • Taste is very personal and very different.  So what I may view as something that's more floral,  more nutty, more earthy, more woody,   somebody could say it's on the spectrum, maybe, somewhere else. We still have a lot of learning to do as well in that neighborhood.  - Mike Sever

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Why it’s important to put quality in every step of your production process

  • What working with transparency and partnering with small, out of country suppliers looks like

  • How Mike and Jesse intend to keep Wild Blue Chocolate small but maintain its presence in Virginia

  • Seeing your product and ingredient (chocolate and cacao) not merely as a commodity but a driver of change in its community 

  • Choosing maple sugar over cane as a mindful choice as well as a taste preference

  • Balancing simple ingredients with expansions through partnerships as a path to innovation

More About the Guest:

Mike and Jesse Sever are the founders of Wild Blue Chocolate, as a result of loving the art of chocolate-making from two ingredients – eliminating the need for emulsifiers, oils, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

They strive to make chocolate in its simplest form by using transparently sourced organic cacao and choose to use maple sugar, which has a lower environmental footprint than cane sugar.

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Click Here for Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Mike Sever: How are you going above and beyond Fairtrade practices? How are you helping to ensure that the communities that you're partnering with are uplifted so that there are sustainable efforts in place, so that there's longevity with the farming communities, and maybe expansion as well to continue this movement?

[00:00:20] Georgiana Dearing: Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, “How did they do that? How do they turn that recipe into a successful business?” Then we've got some stories for you.

[00:00:45] Hello, Foodies, Happy Valentine's Day, and welcome back to the podcast. February is National Chocolate Month. And during this season of love and all things indulgent, when you're thinking of sweet gifts for your sweetie, who doesn't love chocolate? And that was part of my inspiration for today's guest. I'm speaking with Mike Seaver from Wild Blue Chocolate in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mike and his company first came onto my radar because they were listed as one of the Good Food Awards finalists from Virginia in the fall of 2021. If you don't know the Good Food Foundation yet, it's an organization that celebrates and connects the growers, ranchers makers, and merchants who are committed to making and sharing the kind of food we all want to eat. Tasty, authentic, and responsible. Each year, they host a blind tasting of good foods from all across the country. With rigorous testing guidelines for just about every category imaginable, they announced the yearly winners in January. I reached out to Mike early in the year, but by the time we booked our call, I was happy to hear that his 75% Guatemala San Juan Chevy day bar was a winner for 2022.

I thought it was very intriguing to be a chocolate company in Virginia, of all places, this creating confections from single-source beans. So I brought Mike on to talk about what it's like to be making a product as sustainably as possible. Making something that not only follows the standards of the Good Food Foundation, but it's also a category winner to boot. Listen in as Mike shares the story of there being the bar confection company.

Well, I'm here with Mike from Wild Blue Chocolate today. Hi Mike. I'm glad you could join me.

[00:02:38] Mike Sever: Georgiana, it is wonderful to have a chance to meet you and to be a part of this podcast today.

[00:02:45] Georgiana Dearing: Well, I'm so glad you could join me. Thank you because I found you all through the Good Food Foundation. And I thought that before we get into that, could you introduce our listeners to yourself and your company and tell us a little bit about what you do? Sure, I would love to. So myself and my wife, Mike and Jesse Sever, started Wild Blue Chocolate about four years ago around 2018- 2017.

[00:02:58] Mike Sever: Sure, I would love to. So this is our fourth year. We are a small-batch craft chocolate company that focuses on premium cacao sourcing transparent cacao through the value chain and using very simple ingredients. And when we say simple ingredients, our base chocolate is only two ingredients. It is fine cacao as well as maple sugar. We will, at times, introduce coffee-flavored chocolate from a local coffee company here in Charlottesville that will be finally roasted, ground, and ingratiated into the chocolate. We'll use freeze-dried raspberries and blueberries. In the end, we look to help support the sustainability efforts around chocolate in providing an alternative to mass-produced chocolate.

[00:03:59] Georgiana Dearing: Well, it sounds really delightful. And I specifically wanted to talk to you about your products and your product line, because I ran across you in a list of finalists from the Good Food Awards. And the first thing I want to say is we're recording in January and I booked you as a finalist and you've actually won an award, so congratulations on that.

[00:04:24] Mike Sever: Thank you so much. We were extremely grateful and humbled to have that level of recognition. That it's some may say or call it the Olympics of, not only chocolate but across the food landscape, of the Olympics of food quality from a taste standpoint and food quality from a sustainability aspect. So we are extremely grateful to have that recognition.

[00:04:48] Georgiana Dearing: So just for the benefit of our listeners, can you talk a little bit about the Good Food Foundation and what propelled you to join that?

[00:04:56] Mike Sever: Sure. As a small maker, it's important to have understanding and recognition from consumers and customers. But to help further across the value chain sustainability efforts whether it's a fine cheese made in Virginia or made within Wisconsin, or chocolate that's made here in Charlottesville, Virginia, or chocolate that's made in Florida, the Good Food Awards really vets purchasing practices, your sustainability practices on both sides of the coin. So not just how you make something but what do those partnerships look like from the standpoint of working with suppliers, working with your vendor base for materials. So in our case, we work from a transparent standpoint. We don't work directly with farmers. However, we do work through transparent networks that ensure that it's not a commodity. Chocolate should not be viewed as a commodity. It should be viewed with a direct impact on farmers. Helping uplift their livelihoods, helping uplift their communities, and helping uplift their sustainability efforts within their country and their farming practices. That's number one.

Number two, we work also with, hopefully soon, a Virginia sugar maple provider that has the capacity and the ability to make maple sugar. But currently, we work with a provider in Maine where there is a healthy amount of sugar, sugar maples, and a very rooted family that has and operates this farm. So Good Food really does focus on not only fine flavor but also the sustainability efforts for making something, but also throughout the value chain.

[00:06:35] Georgiana Dearing: One of the things that I like about the Good Food Foundation, is they have this phrase on their site, it says, "Do what is right instead of what is easy."

[00:06:44] Mike Sever: That's right. It's fair practices. That's the entry-level. And then how do you uplift and how do you even challenge those fair practices to even be better? The example that they like to vet their participants with is, what does the economic situation look like for the ingredients that you're purchasing? So as I alluded to it before is we should not be treating chocolate as a commodity because the amount of economic, the monies, that goes back to the farm are obviously less. And then you plus that up by Fair Trade. So does that even meet some level of standard of living within that community and building an economic structure, whether it's through education or uplifting farmers. And I think Fair Trade is starting to do that, but that transparent network that we leverage and what Good Food looks for is how are you going above and beyond Fair Trade practices. How are you helping to ensure that the communities that you're partnering with are uplifted so that there are sustainable efforts in place, so that there's longevity with the farming communities, and maybe expansion as well to continue this movement for doing something that's fair, but helping uplift the communities within food?

[00:07:51] Georgiana Dearing: Thank you for telling us that backstory on the Good Food Foundation. And I really asked you for that because being a member really speaks to the principles of your brand. And I think what struck me as unique is that you said you're in Charlottesville and you're making chocolate. And so, I wanted to speak to you about how do you do that? We aren't growing chocolate here in Virginia. So you talked about your suppliers, but can you speak to what you're doing with chocolate like what's your production or your product is like? I'm trying to think of how local can chocolate be, and it really can't. But you need to be doing the best practices that you can. So could you speak to that?

[00:08:35] Mike Sever: That's correct. Cacao, as it is, is a fruit tree that grows 20 degrees north and south of the equator. So it has to have a climate as such that it helps provide a healthy living lifestyle from the seedling to germination and throughout the tree's life cycle. So the best news of the date is chocolate is a fruit. And so that band back to sustainability efforts does ebb and flow. Climate changes impacting where cacao has grown. That is definitely something that the community does need to start to take a harder look at. But let me pivot back to your question specifically to what we are doing and how we're doing it. So we partner with an organization that's based out of California that helps from a transparent sourcing standpoint. And they have partnerships, whether it's through co-ops or whether it's through direct farm relationships, we source for primary locations, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize, and Guatemala.

So from across that standpoint in country, the life cycle of the tree takes anywhere between three and five years from germination until the tree is actually able to bear fruit. That fruit almost looks in some way, shape, or form like a football. It's very colorful in nature. There's some red, there's some green, there's some yellow. It all depends on what type of cacao that you're looking to have from that fruit. Inside that football-type shape pod are seeds. Those are the cocoa beans. Those seeds are encased in almost a white mucilage-type of material that's high in sugar content. And it's just delicious. It's almost like dragon fruit, passionfruit, a combination of a mango together, peeling and husking that out from the fruit, and eating that just by itself is quite delicious. The seeds, that cocoa seeds, that are inside the pod along with the sugary pulp are taken then to a fermentation box, a fermentation central location.

So through fermentation, the intent of that is you're using the natural organisms within the sugar and with the heat and the climate-based off of being stacked inside of a box, or just being put into a pile with banana leaves on top of it. It's starting to help that fermentation process within the bead. The fermentation is very important because number one, unfortunately, kills the germination process of the seed. The second part of that is it helps start to develop its fine flavor of what is ultimately going to become the chocolate. That takes anywhere between 4, 5, 7 days for fermentation.

After fermentation, the beans that are taken out of whether it's a box or pile could be turned day over day. They're taken and literally just put flat on the ground, cement ground typically, or raised boxes that have aeration within them and dried out. So now, it's really important that any residual moisture is dried from the bean to help enable chocolate production. That, again, takes anywhere between four or five, seven days, for that process.

[00:11:40] Georgiana Dearing: My goodness. I had no idea.

[00:11:44] Mike Sever: Yes, it's a lengthy process to say the least, especially when you start to consider how long it takes the chocolate, "cacao tree", to bear fruit which again is three to five years. So after the beans are dried, and they've put into what we would think of as the burlap-type of heavy sack, some sacks range from 125 lbs to 150- 160 lbs. And then from a logistic standpoint, they're put in, whether it's a truck or whether in some type of over-the-land vehicle to get to the port to put onto a ship. And then the ship then transports it to the country from which the cocoa is being purchased for.

We will receive it here at our house, again, we are a very small maker of fine craft chocolate. But we'll receive anywhere between six to eight bags at a time where those bags are brought into our garage. And we can then start the process of sorting those beans. As I alluded to from the drying standpoint, and even from the fermentation standpoint, we do want to make sure that the beans are not already cracked. They will have a fine thing skin or a shell on the bean. We want to make sure that there are no cracks. We want to make sure that there's no exposure, that there's no moldiness to the bean. But we're looking for a very aromatic smell. We're looking for something that actually smells a little bit like vinegar but yet still has that floral note to it from whichever country we're purchasing the beans from.

[00:13:15] Georgiana Dearing: You smell every bean?

[00:13:18] Mike Sever: We'll take handfuls of the beans.

[00:13:21] Georgiana Dearing: You're killing me.

[00:13:23] Mike Sever: We'll take handfuls, certainly, when we open up those large 150 lbs sacks can definitely get the sense of the quality of the beam that's contained with it.

[00:13:33] Georgiana Dearing: Okay, good.

[00:13:34] Mike Sever: We will then sort those beads. And yes, that process is one at a time. But in kind of higher quantities. So we have big bowls that we'll dump the beans into and then start to sort them through making sure that from a size standpoint, there's nothing cracked, that there's no moldiness. Sometimes we'll find unique finds in these bags, whether it's a stick or a twig. We'll unique coins from the country from which they're being sourced. But we want to make sure that those foreign materials are obviously not going into our process of chocolate. So we're screening out all those at least.

Now, we'll roast. We'll roast the bean based off of a Belize bean that has a certain roast profile. Guatemala bean has a certain roast profile. So it's identical to coffee. Coffee needs to hit a certain roast profile because you want to, number one, make sure from a kill step standpoint for food quality that it's achieving the right level of temperature. But then also you want to, again, bring through more of that flavor, of what ultimately you were looking for on your chocolate recipe.

So all chocolate makers are roasting beans in different ways, whether it's a Belize bean that Wild Blue Chocolate is using. Or another company is using Belize beans, they may choose a different roast type of profile. So something that you're spiking the temperature with, holding the temperature at, and then starting the temperature on the backend. Choose to just do the hockey stick approach. And it all depends on the sensory analysis of the chocolate maker that's doing the work.

[00:15:03] Georgiana Dearing: So that's like the first step actually of your recipe is that decision you make just over the roasting time.

[00:15:09] Mike Sever: Right. So the delineating factor here is, once we receive those bags of cacao beans, once we received those sacks, now our process starts. The sorting takes about one day. Roasting, based off of our batch quantities, takes about one day. And then we will take those roasted beans, allow them to start to cool, and then that following day we'll do a process called winnowing.

Winnowing is when, as I highlighted earlier, there's a thin shell around the inner workings of that bean. The inner workings of the bean are called a nib, chocolate nib, a cocoa nib. And so in order to take the skin off, some people peel them. And so as I was starting and we started Wild Blue, I didn't have fancy machines. I wasn't able to Frankenstein things together at that point in time. But one by one, we would just crack and remove the husk, remove the shell of that bean.

The part of the bean that's important for chocolate making, that central part, is that nib. That nib holds, number one, all the flavor. And number two, it holds a high percentage depending on the country of origin, depending on how the fermentation process worked, how the drying worked. The nib holds about 50 plus percent natural fat in the chocolate, in the bean, in the nib. Said a different way, that natural fat is cocoa butter.

We're breaking those shells by winnowing. Breaking the shell through a food processor to crack them up and grind them up. The heavier nib falls into a food-safe basket bucket. And then we have a vacuum system then that pulls the lighter shells up into another chamber that keeps the nib separate from the shell. That takes another day. So I think I'm on day number three now. And now, we have the nibs to finally make the chocolate and start the actual chocolate-making process.

[00:17:05] We have a few stone, non-porous grinders. They roll upon themselves, two heavy stones, roll upon a stone base. And those nibs are now able to be added directly into that grinding machine. That grinding machine breaks down that solid into a liquid because of that high-fat content that's found inside that bean. So in about one to two hours, that solid material will break down into chocolate liquor. It's called chocolate liquor. It's a watery substance that will soon become chocolate in a moment. That will grind by itself for the better part of 24 hours. The intent of that is to help exit any volatile senses, smells. Because again, the process is such we're roasting to a certain smell, a certain taste, and what we inevitably know what the final flavor profile is going to be. And now, as we're grinding to make the chocolate, we're smelling and understanding where we're at in that life cycle of that flavor profile. So that takes about a day to just flash off any volatile senses that we still have through the process. And now, it starts to smell like brownies after 24 hours. It's still not chocolate. It's technically called chocolate liquor, but it's not chocolate yet.

The final step occurs now. I think I'm on day four, is when we add the sweetener. So some companies use cane sugar, some companies, we being one of them use maple sugar. So now, we're adding to that mixer based off of the percentage of cocoa, percentage of cacao. We use anything, we have bars that range from 70% cacao to 99% cacao. So based off of that differential, we're adding X amount of sugar to help make that balance of 70% cacao then 30% sweetener. And we're adding that maple sugar. And now that ingratiated into the chocolate batch. We'll grind and refine for another three days to help ensure that all of the fine particles are smooth. And we're looking for a smooth texture for the tongue, the smooth texture for the mouth, in addition to the blending and the refining of the two ingredients together.

So that's day number six or seven which takes us to the final day is removing that batch of chocolate, which is about 130 some odd degrees Fahrenheit into now a machine called a tempering machine. Some chocolate makers will still temper some by hand. But we also, now, we're starting to use a small machine to temper our chocolate which helps speed up the process. It doesn't deteriorate any of the quality. It does help from an efficiency standpoint of reducing the amount of long nights sometimes that we'll have. But the process of tempering chocolate, which is on the final day is pouring in the hot chocolate.

[00:19:59] This machine will now help maintain that high level of temperature while it's mixing. And then start to slowly drop down the temperature step-by-step to a place where the chocolate has about five, as I was highlighting earlier, there's a high amount of fat, natural fat cocoa butter, in chocolate, fifty-plus percent. Because of that high-fat content, and because of the sugar, oil and water don't always... And so there's no moisture in chocolate, but for our chocolate with no moisture and cane sugar, but there's a small percentage of moisture that's found within maple sugar because of the process of it. So oil and water don't mix. Fat and water don't mix. The moisture, so we're making sure that we can drop down the temperature of the chocolate to a low temperature, maybe about 80 degrees or so from that 130. And we want the cocoa butter to bind to itself and make sure it's binding properly with the sugar crystals.

And now, once that happens, we have strong chocolate. We can raise the temperature back up a little bit. So then it's easier for us to pour into our chocolate molds. And then we have the cooling step. And then finally, the packaging step. So end to end, it's about seven days. And I probably talked a little bit in circles there to ultimately make a Wild Blue chocolate bar.

[00:21:16] Georgiana Dearing: No, that was so enlightening. There's very much a science and a craft to what you're doing. And it's really labor-intensive. Particularly, when you're starting out when you don't have those extra machines to help you.

[00:21;30] Mike Sever: There were many times where we were peeling cocoa beans after roasting that I would have little calluses on my fingers because we were peeling so many of them.

[00:21:40] Georgiana Dearing: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So you said you start with six to eight bags of beans when they come to your home. How many bars do you get out of a batch? I'm just curious.

[00:21:50] Mike Sever: Well, from a batch standpoint, when I say we start with that, that's our order quantity. Those six to eight bags should last us about six to eight months. So if I do the math real quick, we're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 3000 chocolate bars for that amount of cacao of cocoa beans. On a weekly basis, we're producing somewhere between, we have the ability to produce close to 100-150 chocolate bars.

[00:22:18] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, okay. That's still a very small batch, more than I was imagining when you're talking about this process, how intensive it is. So the other thing that just amazes me is that I know that you're working full-time and you have children, and your wife is part of the business. I think part of this must be crazy labor of love for you and your family.

[00:22:40] Mike Sever: It is. I have spent many years originally in the chocolate, sweets, and confection industry for a large organization. And in 2006, 2007, and 2008, we had an opportunity with that organization to work directly with an artisan craft chocolate maker in San Francisco for the better part of three years. When that opportunity was over and shifted to the next project, you know, we always looked at that as just a wonderful part of our journey. And I think that's what continues to hearken back to why we continue to spin so many different plates to lift up Wild Blue Chocolate.

[00:23:22] Georgiana Dearing: Where do you see Wild Blue going? I'm just curious.

[00:23:26] Mike Sever: We intend to keep Wild Blue small but maintain its presence in the central Virginia, Virginia landscape, Northern Virginia, that there are retailers that because of the recognition with Good Foods and some previous recognitions that we had received as well, there are a few outsides of the state retailers and wholesalers that are looking to potentially partner with us. At the end of the day, we really want to make sure that wherever Wild Blue ends up, we have the control to make sure that we're working with the partners that have the same values as we do. Both from a sustainability standpoint, community efforts, are very important. That's how we will look to grow. We don't necessarily say to ourselves, this is our three to five-year business plan right now. Making sure that we're doing right by our process. And we're doing right by helping educate on what chocolate should be. That's what we're looking to really focus on in the interim, in the short term, I should say.

[00:24:27] Georgiana Dearing: Well, I want to circle back to one ingredient question. You're using maple sugar, then you alluded that you're going to try and source that in Virginia at some point in the near future. But why did you choose maple sugar as your sweetener?

[00:24:40] Mike Sever: Number one, I think it delivers a taste profile that we prefer. It's almost like having maple syrup on your pancakes in the morning and you'd get a little hint of that in the chocolate and how it pairs with the cacao and the cacao that we sourced. I think there have been beans that we've used as samples from other sources, and it doesn't blend in parallel. It could be because of the fat content and how that is from a moisture standpoint within the maple sugar. It could have something to play with it and it goes back to that art, the science stands. So number one, it's the taste for us and how it blends and folds into the cacao recipes that we used and make. It's a nice little reminder in the back of the notes of when you're trying a Wild Blue chocolate bar, it's not overpowering. So the taste is number one. Number two, the industry of cane has definitely come a long way from a sustainability standpoint. I think there are still a lot of improvements that still need to be made. So we haven't necessarily found the right fit for how cane sugar is manufactured. And from a sustainability standpoint and environmental standpoint, we choose again, maple sugar over a cane.

[00:24:50] Georgiana Dearing: So it's a mindful choice as well as a taste preference?

[00:24:55] Mike Sever: Yes.

[00:24:56] Georgiana Dearing: I feel like I'm speaking with a sommelier or something like this is not what I was thinking or expecting when I invited you. But I'm so happy for the direction, the conversation took. I feel like there's so much more to learn about chocolate.

[00:26:12] Mike Sever: There's so much more still that I have to learn as well. For so many other standpoints and just the taste. I play a good one on TV sometimes. But it is all, in our opinion, it's great to have that what floral notes, what earthy notes, what woody notes. Those are all great. You just don't want any hot flavor notes in your chocolate or any food of that nature. But the taste is personal. And so at the end of the day, for us, it's great to have some guidance from taste mapping and such. But the taste is very personal and very different. So what I may view as something that's more floral, more nutty, more earthy, more woody, somebody could say it's on the spectrum, maybe, somewhere else. We still have a lot of learning to do as well in that neighborhood.

[00:26:59] Georgiana Dearing: I always say, "it tastes great" is like the weakest marketing standpoint to be. Because everyone has what they are familiar with or what they prefer. You're right, it is very personal. And I think that's what I enjoy the most about craft foods is that there are those nuances that happen with these very hands-on choices that are made during every process.

[00:27:25] Mike Sever: We hope that there is an overwhelming intention to the choices that we make and to the process that we maintain.

[00:27:33] Georgiana Dearing: Well, all of this fine quality and craftsmanship, it does lead to a product that is at a higher price point. Right now, I see that your bars are maybe $7.50 for two ounces. And I've always found working with small brands that pricing is kind of a pain point. They're almost afraid to ask for that higher pricing. How do you feel you live in your category, which is really high-end small-batch chocolate? How do you land in there, and do you get resistance for that?

[00:28:04] Mike Sever: I think we get a resistance of what we didn't expect. We are actually on the low-end.

[00:28:11] Georgiana Dearing: I really say, that's what I thought.

[00:28:14] Mike Sever: We were on the low-end of the price calculator. Not only on direct sale to consumers on our website but also what we suggest the retail price is as well as our wholesale price. It goes back to transparency. We choose and we may be looking to help further that choice through online materials at some point in time of, here's how much we paid for these beans. Here's how much we paid for this maple sugar. Here's how much we paid for the materials in our packaging. And here's whatever overhead that is considered in that. And here's why we got to this price. And this goes into maybe your earlier question about where do you see yourselves? We're in right, wrong or indifferent. We may be shortsighted in that way of, we're not looking from an expansion standpoint to necessarily be the next behemoth in the room. And so, in order to be that next behemoth or in order to have a fancy shop and an experience and to grow and have brick and mortar, you do need to have a premium price on your, whatever the product is, in order to have reserves and you can start to build that piggy bank to further that. We are very content right now in the space that we have, in the process that we have, in what we look to from a supply standpoint of what we have. And so we feel that that's a very fair price and that's where I was going to allude to is that sometimes we get feedback on the other side of that saying, well, wait for a second, you guys are a little bit low here. Do you want to come up a little bit? Our answer is no. And we kind of walk our partners through that.

[00:29:53] Georgiana Dearing: What makes me worry is the sustainability of what you're doing. But appreciate so much your transparent approach, and my heart goes for these small brands. You do have to be able to do this for a while to keep all these good practices that you've put in place, paying for all of your partners. I guess that's really the point where I come up that they're on price. Well, one other question I had for you goes with flavors and ingredients. You've talked about your base chocolate and that you have freeze-dried raspberries that you use, and coffees. What's next for your brand for flavors? Do you look to be introducing more things, or are you going to continue honing what you're doing right now?

[00:30:36] Mike Sever: I think it's twofold. Number one, we have to simplify. We do have everything but the kitchen sink right now. And that comes from when we started, it was very friend and family-based of, can you make this and can you make that? And we did. And what we think we made and came up with was wonderful. So we are looking maybe go back to the roots of just the "plain cacao" percentages, number one. Number two, we will continue with our espresso and with our coffee artists. We partner within the Charlottesville community with a local coffee roaster. And so we love that partnership and we'll definitely be going to continue with that as they continue to expand as well. So simple but yet some flavor expansions. Raspberry is a huge one for us all through the year. But certainly, especially around the Valentine period of time. And then to further that from an innovation side is what I had said earlier about the cacao pulp. Is there a way, there is and we have some samples of cacao pulp sugars so that this helps again from a sustainability standpoint is typically when the pulp is helping in the fermentation process, it's leaking out of boxes. And it's a byproduct or waste, or it was traditionally a waste product. Now, there are organizations taking a look at reclaiming that pulp and harnessing that sugar that's naturally from the cacao fruit. Number one, not only maple sugar may be local, but also then from the standpoint of, what would that look like to have a true cacao bar that's sweetened with cacao pulp sugar?

[00:32:16] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, wow. When you were describing the process earlier, I was thinking, oh, do you get to scoop some of that out? But all of that fermenting and everything is sort of to think of a better word is like the value add at the farming side to get you those beans for shipping. So instead of shipping footballs around, you're shipping sacks of much smaller beans. That makes sense. So that's really intriguing, and it sounds like there's a whole other piece of science that's going to have to come into that like how is that sugar going to behave when it's heated, and all of those things.

[00:32:47] Mike Sever: The last innovation part, and this is when we originally started Wild Blue. The code that I've always tried to crack back to the moisture standpoint is Virginia wild bee pollen or honey to use that in some way, shape, or form. Pollen is an easy one. During the summer, we do use pollen from the standpoint of putting that and ingratiated that into our chocolate. And that's a favorite during the summer, spring, and summer period of time. But I'd love to use local honey from a wildflower Virginia standpoint. But I just have not been able to get that dry enough to make honey sugar out of it just yet.

[00:33:23] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, that's funny. I just saw honey sugar somewhere in the last couple of weeks and I went, oh, okay. Somebody's working on that. Well, this is all very interesting. And there are so many more flavors now to try. This is just a marketing question, but do you have a subscription service that someone could get and just get sent bars as they are available seasonally?

[00:33:44] Mike Sever: We haven't. And why we haven't is since earlier in 2021, when we were recognized on the world stage, since then it's been very hard for us to just keep up. So we would look to go to a subscription model here soon enough. And there might be more news on that to come soon.

[00:34:06] Georgiana Dearing: Okay, so I jumped again.

[00:34:09] Mike Sever: No, I love the question. It's a good teaser.

[00:34:13] Georgiana Dearing: Well, before we go, I'll let you go. Honestly, I could keep talking to you about the whole craft and mystery of chocolate, but I want to let you have your day back. But before we close, can you share how our listeners can find you?

[00:34:28] Mike Sever: Sure. You can find us at We participate in a little forum on social media for Instagram, and that handle is @wildbluechocolate as well. Those are the two avenues, at this point in time where consumers or those interested in Wild Blue chocolate can come find us and learn about our process. We'll be updating soon enough. Our Find Us page as well. Updating our store with some of the things that we talked about here today.

[00:34:56] Georgiana Dearing: And what stores are you carrying? Regionally, you're in Charlottesville. Where else?

[00:35:02] Mike Sever: We're in Charlottesville. We are in Stanton, Virginia, Harrisonburg, Virginia. And so that's the nucleus. Oh, and Richmond as well. That's the nucleus. So on our Find Us page, you'll be able to see who those retailers are, probably in February.

[00:35:16] Georgiana Dearing: Okay, great. Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking to you. I'm so glad that you were able to make time to connect. And I just look forward to good things to come now that you've got this wonderful award from the Good Food Foundation.

[00:35:30] Mike Sever: Thank you, Georgiana. And thank you for what you're moving forward with on The Virginia Foodie network. And just making sure that small craft makers and artisans have a forum to highlight what we are doing. So thank you.

[00:35:44] Georgiana Dearing: Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We are at @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.