Saal, a biochemist by training who has worked in software and hardware development in Silicon Valley for 25 years, enlisted San Francisco-based design firm Ammunition (Square cash register, Beats by Dre headphones) to create a cool-looking cylindrical appliance – part white, part clear – with a single silver knob and a small interactive screen to make it completely user friendly.
“The biggest news is that we started taking pre-orders and so now people can actually order a system and be in the queue to be one of the first to be able to make chocolate at home,” said Saal, speaking from his home in San Francisco.
CocoTerra also is also attracting significant interest within the confectionery industy, as the product taps into the same trends of consumers wanting more experiences, more control over the specifics of what's in their chocolate, where it comes from while demanding more ‘dietary precision’ options.
The company says it is part of a virtuous cycle and is not in competition with other companies, and will be marketed as an additive where people buy more chocolate or ingredients to try something cool that they can create at home.
The coronavirus pandemic was, of course, unforeseen and I asked Saal whether he wished he could have launched earlier to tap into the huge surge in home-baking as people were forced to stay at home?
“I go back and forth on whether this was a huge opportunity, or we dodged a bullet. In some sense, the purchase of bread makers, ice cream makers and other appliances really, skyrocketed, as people were at home, not only just wanting to cook and make but also thinking more about health and wellness and now they have time to really think about where their food is coming from, what they're putting in their body and healthyeating ... healthy [as in] good-for-you-foods and good-for-you-chocolate.
“But at the same time, there are huge issues around trying to launch and deal with supply chain and manufacturing and team collaboration in a pandemic. So part of me felt like, oh man, like you know, that this could have killed us and part of me says, this could have been an incredible opportunity but the opportunity is still there.”
As mentioned, in addition to the actual machine, CocoTerra has built a companion app, where users can find recipes and instructions. Importantly, the app will also act as the main monitoring interface for the device.
There isn't a proprietary ingredient system that we force you to purchase from us. So that means that if you go travelling and you end up in the Dominican Republic and or Mexico or somewhere else, you can buy a bag of beans and you can go through the process of roasting them and deshelling them -- Nate Saal, founder CocoTerra
Unlike other home appliances, like Nespresso for example, Saal says CocoTerra is not locking consumers into a specific brand tied to the machine – and customers can customise the chocolate to meet their own dieatary needs, including vegan or plant-based.
“There isn't a proprietary ingredient system that we force you to purchase from us. So that means that if you go travelling and you end up in the Dominican Republic and or Mexico or somewhere else, you can buy a bag of beans and you can go through the process of roasting them and deshelling them … we've modelled this after the coffee experience, where most people are buying roasted coffee beans and putting them into a machine - and the same with us.
“We're starting with roasted cocoa nibs, which are broken up pieces of roasted bean. Typically, if you're finding cacao somewhere in the form of whole beans … there’s actually a little bit of work to get it to pour into our system, and then you have the fun of developing a recipe and really figuring out what is it you want? How do I work with these beans? And so that's the novelty of the system.”
- CocoTerra is offering an early bird special pricing of $799 and the first machines will ship early 2022. See cocoterra.com for more information.
- Listen to our podcast for the full interview with CocoTerra founder Nate Saal