“Sad is an understatement,” described Sofia who was laid off from her job at an international oil and gas company last year. Worldwide lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 had caused a downturn in demands for oil, which led to Sofia’s fate as a former Field Engineer.
“I was committed to my work and spent longer days working (even on weekends) rather than spending time at home. For someone who was career oriented, it was not easy to face the reality of being unemployed,” she added.
In the back of her mind though, the 27-year-old always knew that fieldwork wasn’t for her. Despite working a STEM graduate’s dream job, the sun’s scorching heat and the laborious tasks of handling 60-inch sledgehammers became too much for her.
Now unemployed with some downtime to reflect, she concluded that losing her job was likely a blessing, as it was the only way she saw out of fieldwork. At the same time, Sofia had been born into an entrepreneurial family, so she believed that that starting a business was an eventuality for her.
With a new perspective on life, Sofia realised that she could turn an old hobby of hers into a confectionary business. Pooling her and her husband’s savings of RM3,000 together, Cocoa Bells was launched in February 2021.
From Scorching Heat To Frozen Hands
The name was taken from cocoa beans and her favourite place on earth, Maroon Bells in Aspen, USA where she studied, when Sofia would often make chocolate bombs to enjoy during the cold winters. The idea to commercialise her hobby just made sense, as she wanted to bring the excitement of having hot chocolate to Malaysians.
Before she launched the business though, Sofia wanted to make them more presentable, with a surprise on the inside when melted in hot milk, like a bath bomb. With her sister, who Sofia credited as her biggest supporter, they spent over 2 months on R&D to determine the best possible ingredients and ratios to create the products.
Tempered chocolate is also difficult to make in Malaysia’s hot and humid climate. To get its crisp, smooth, and glossy finish, moulding the chocolate is highly dependent on its surrounding temperature and must be shaped quickly before it hardens.
Sofia told Vulcan Post that prior to installing an air conditioner in her kitchen, she would submerge her hands in an ice bath prior to assembling the chocolate bombs. This was to avoid any finger or glove prints that would be marked on the chocolate shell.
A Party Beverage
All of Sofia’s labour likely paid off too, as the bombs made for a simple and pleasant hot chocolate-making experience for consumers. Before the recent MCO, my colleagues’ tried Sofia’s confectionaries and shared that their unanimous favourite was So Mocha Love.
Taste-wise, the team found some of the flavours a little too sweet for their liking because they made each cup with less milk for better Instagram shots. Making it with a fuller glass of hot milk gives the flavour and sweetness more balance, we found out after a second purchase that didn’t require any pictures for the ‘gram. Once submerged in hot milk, it was a charming sight to watch marshmallows break out of their chocolate shell.
These would do well with kids, or as a fun addition to surprise friends and at parties. And, the celebration market is also in line with Sofia’s customer base.
Since Cocoa Bells was launched close to Valentine’s Day, its founder reported that the response was overwhelmingly positive. “People were buying chocolate bombs for wives, partners, friends, and family. We were lucky to find our regular customers who kept supporting us until now,” she recalled.
It’s also worth noting that Cocoa Bells isn’t the only chocolate bomb producer in Malaysia as brands like Choco Bomb and Coco Raw offer their own versions of it. Where Sofia’s business stands out though, is in her lower price points. Cocoa Bells’ box of 4 is RM32 (without promotions), while her competitors sell theirs above RM50.
Thus far, Cocoa Bells has sold more than 2,000 of its chocolate bombs to customers in the Klang Valley. Sofia hopes to one day automate her chocolate bomb production to cater to larger volume orders as she finds making them by hand limiting to the business’s potential.
Not Looking Back
There’s no question that being an entrepreneur and employee are vastly different. Being the latter, there’s the assurance of knowing that your salary will be deposited in your bank account by the end of the month. “As an entrepreneur, some days may be a bit gloomy and that is the risk that we have to be ready for. Nothing comes easy and you just have to have faith,” advised Sofia, who shared that she’s much happier running Cocoa Bells now.
And she has no plans returning to the oil and gas industry either.
After the downturn, I was called back to join my company and I have decided to continue with Cocoa Bells. I love the challenges and excitement that the field offers but nothing beats the feeling of seeing my own parents and family every day and growing old with them.
Sofia, founder of Cocoa Bells.
Featured Image Credit: Sofia, founder of Cocoa Bells