In this in-depth interview, clarity coach and business consultant Katja Navarra talks about the psychological…
The Story of the Swedish Financial Expert Who Became A Successful Chocolatier in Switzerland
Kadri Eek, certified chocolatier, founder of Nopra Chocolate
On a sunny weekday at one o’clock in the afternoon, we meet in the heart of Zurich, in front of the famous Swiss chocolate shop. Kadri has a captivating, broad smile and a friendly manner. This is her third meeting of the day, but she is full of energy and positivity. It’s hard to believe that this charming young lady has moved between several countries, made a courageous decision to radically change her profession, started a business while having a small child, and became very successful despite the doubts and disbeliefs of others. We sit on the cozy café terrace, order tea, and start a warm conversation as if we had known each other for many years.
In this interview, Kadri talks about why she decided to start a chocolate events company, how she developed her business through networking, how she was driven by competition as well as the revolutions taking place in the chocolate industry.
Tell a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you study? What has your career been like?
I was born in Estonia, but when I was 10, my family moved to Sweden, where I grew up, then studied economics and started my career in finance. Later on, my company sent me to London where I worked for several years, and then from London to Switzerland. That’s how I moved here 13 years ago.
Although I had a quite normal career in the financial sector, I’ve always been kind of a foody. I love good food, especially good sweets. When I was in London, I started to write my food blog, which was mainly devoted to Nordic dishes and ingredients.
How did your love to food turn into a new professional path?
Well, I felt increasingly bored in my job and didn’t have any more enthusiasm. Although I was still working in the financial sector, I was constantly trying to find something new in my spare time that I would be passionate about. Swiss chocolate gave me a special kind of feeling that captured my heart and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I loved its taste, texture, and diversity so much that I felt the inner urge to find out what made it so special. That was when I decided to take my first chocolate class which was a 3-day introductory chocolate course in Zurich.
It was an absolutely mind-blowing class, after which I was sold! I discovered how amazing of a product the chocolate is. You can do savory or cook with it, you can make ice cream or sweet treats, and you can even drink it! Additionally, if you put a little bit salt on the top, it can taste very different, or you can combine dark and white chocolate, or experiment with the taste and aroma by adding extra ingredients. It’s just so amazing.
I would often work late into the night because I truly wanted to know everything and master my skills. It was my passion.
Which education in this field have you received?
After attending numerous hobby classes, I decided to get a professional education as a chocolatier. There is an academy in Zurich that offers special programs for people who want to work with chocolate, and I found it really great that you can jump in at any stage of your career.
This educational program was half a year long and was very intense. We learned everything from the basics to the combination of ingredients and the application of modern techniques in chocolate making process. I would go home every evening and practice with different types of chocolate and create my own recipes. I would often work late into the night because I truly wanted to know everything and master my skills. It was my passion.
How did you come up with the idea to start your own chocolate project?
I had been thinking of it since I moved to Switzerland, but I started the company much later in 2014. It took me time to materialize the idea and to make steps towards it. To tell the truth, the first time that I started, I very quickly cancelled the whole thing. It was very overwhelming because I wanted to be perfect and have the perfect company. I made all the business plans and analyses, but when I looked at these papers, I thought, “No way, it’s not going to work”. Out of this uncertainty, I left the whole idea behind, locked my papers in the cupboard, and decided to forget them.
What made you think it was not possible?
I think I was afraid to take the step from paper to reality. At that time, I still had my regular job and wasn’t ready to change everything. The turning point was after the birth of my son. I stayed at home for a year, so of course I had a lot of things to go through and think about. That was when, I got my papers out of the cupboard. The more I went through them, the more I realized that I should stop putting so much pressure on myself about the whole analysis. So, I decided: Now it’s over with the paperwork, now I’m actually doing it.
Why did you decide to offer chocolate courses and master classes and not produce your own line?
This idea had been growing in me for quite some time. First of all, I have always loved working with people, even within finances, I regularly worked with customers. Additionally, during the time when I was taking and observing chocolate courses myself, I realized that many of them were (somehow) boring – everything was ready-made and over-structured. You came there, got your bag of ganache and already tempered chocolate, followed the simple instructions, and just covered your pieces.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it – it was like the voice in your head saying, “You can make it better, more interesting, more joyful”. These thoughts grew bigger and bigger until I finally started writing down all my ideas. I thought about how great it would be to go to a class where everyone is creative, where you can paint with cocoa butter, and use colors and different ingredients. I also wanted to use some Nordic ingredients because there are some really great combinations of flavors that aren’t well known.
Were you not afraid of the high competition within the Swiss chocolate market?
That was one of the things that actually drove me; even my friends warned me about it. For example, one of my Italian friends told me, “You making chocolate in Switzerland is just like you moving to Italy and offering pizza to the locals”. People hesitated when I shared my ideas with them because they weren’t sure if it would work. So, they reacted with skepticism.
But even then, you didn’t give up?
No, I never thought of giving up! I was totally into chocolate and just followed my inner desire. Of course, it took some time to set the program. Since everything was so new, I had to handle every little detail such as: Where to get ingredients, what activities to include in the class, how to plan this 3 to 4-hour master class, and so on. I wanted everything to be clear so that people could understand every step while making it interesting and complex.
How did your first master class go? How did you feel?
The participants of my very first master class were mainly my friends who thought it might be fun to come. I was really nervous because I had no idea how they would find it. I remember explaining how to temper the chocolate, something that I had actually learned by heart before the class because I was afraid to forget something. The class was scheduled for 4 hours and I was very worried. Would that be enough time for them to temper the chocolate and make their own ganache? Or vice versa – what if it was too easy? In spite of my concerns, it went pretty well, and I was proud of myself! I thought: Yes, I can do it!
What happened after the official project launch? How did you promote your business?
I believe that this is one of the most important topics for all small business owners which I didn’t realize before. You know, it took about a year to finish the program and the website and I was so proud that now everything is there. Then it was published and I had expected to receive orders – but absolutely nothing happened, my phone was quiet. I tried to advertise on the Facebook page, but it didn’t help either. With the days and weeks coming by, I became more and more upset: I invested so much time and energy and it didn’t bring any customers. Nobody really saw it.
Networking is essential as it helps you to meet other people in the same situation.
Did you change the marketing strategy?
Yes, I was thinking: Ok, now I have to find out what else I can do to get people to sign up for my courses. One day, I realized that I couldn’t really do it all by myself because it doesn’t work that way. It became clear to me that I needed to cooperate with other experts. So, I went to various networking events to meet new people, introduce my project, and find those who wanted to do something together. Once I began actively looking for new contacts and became a regular member of some networking groups, everything got better.
How did networking help you develop your project?
It was like a boost. From struggling to find customers by myself, it turned to cooperation and partnerships. I met some amazing women with whom I still continue to work together. Networking is essential as it helps you to meet other people in the same situation. Thus, I mainly participated in networking events for women because I felt that we had similar needs and issues. Many of them also had children at home, budding business projects, worries about making mistakes, etc.
I went to a few exhibitions and presented my brand at the Women Expo in Zurich and Basel. This helped me to attract the right people who also wanted to cooperate. There, two interesting collaborations emerged: Chocolate tours with a professional tour guide and chocolate production for creative events for children. So, I really believe that personal contacts are extremely important.
What services does Nopra Chocolate currently offer?
First, we have a four-hour chocolate master class where you can make chocolates like a professional. There, we do everything step by step from the selection of flavors and chocolate tempering, to the production of ganache and decoration. The second option is our bestselling 2.5-hour truffle course. It is not so intense, is easier to organize, and can be held almost anywhere. Therefore, it is a very popular option for corporate events.
We also have a truffle master class specially designed for children where the most complicated parts are already prepared, while still allowing children to get their hands full of chocolate, cover the truffles, decorate, and package them. Afterwards, they proudly go home with their own chocolates.
In collaboration with a professional tour guide, we also offer sweet tours that show some really interesting hidden places in Zurich or Basel and combine them with a visit to different chocolate shops. At the end of the program, we make a chocolate tasting or truffle course, according to the participants’ wishes.
Finally, we offer big chocolate tastings, which are very popular among tourists. When the weather is nice, we go to Lindenhof and taste the chocolate there. You not only have a great view of Zurich, but you can feel the history of the city while tasting its chocolate gems. I also like it very much because it gives me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. The tour is called, “Talk About Swiss Chocolate Pioneers”. While on this tour, we try different chocolates from white to dark, talk about their histories, and the reasons why Switzerland became famous as a chocolate country.
Why is that?
This is because the most important innovations were made in Switzerland. In the past, chocolate was a completely different product, and chocolate as we know it today is essentially the result of Swiss innovations. Many sophisticated techniques, machines, and production methods for chocolate were developed here.
What are the most famous and special sorts of Nopra Chocolate?
I love to add Scandinavian ingredients to Swiss chocolate, and there are a few really great combinations. For example, one of the most popular is my caramel chocolate with Icelandic lava sault. What’s also very popular are my vegan chocolates. You can get very creative with these and since I mainly have plant-based products on my courses, vegans are always very welcome.
Photo credit: @nopra_chocolate
Are there interesting trends in the chocolate industry?
There’s a new type of chocolate called “ruby”. It is a pink chocolate with no additives and an absolutely unique taste that is really worth trying. As for the industry in general, I would say that the chocolate revolution is happening right now. There are also more and more small chocolate companies making their own chocolate from bean to bar. From the big industrial producers, the focus is shifting to these small companies that want to participate in every step of chocolate production. They cooperate with cacao farmers to ensure the desired quality of the beans; they create their own taste combinations and make everything themselves. The result is truly amazing and unique chocolates.
In your opinion, do small companies offer better chocolate than famous market giants?
Yes, I think so because their production is carefully controlled at every stage – from the choosing of ingredients to the technology used. This chocolate tastes different because small companies use special cacao beans, not the boring industrial cacao. Of course, as customers, we have all gotten used to the taste of this cacao and find it good, mostly thanks to the high sugar content, but these new, small companies offer genuine chocolate instead of boost of sugar. You should definitely taste it to discover the different, amazing flavors that chocolate can give you.
As a regular customer, where would you recommend going? What should people know to find good chocolate?
I would highly recommend checking out small productions. Of course, you can also find good chocolate in the regular shops, you just should carefully read the description on the package. If the first thing you see in the ingredients is sugar, take it as a warning sign. Another warning is if you see vegetable fat and other fat instead for cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a very expensive fat, so to save costs, it is often replaced by some cheaper fats. Also, because these alternatives don’t taste as good, producers need to add extra sugar. So, if you’re looking for good chocolate, make sure it’s made from real chocolate ingredients: chocolate beans, cacao, and cocoa butter.
My philosophy is: Instead of looking for sugar-free chocolates, take a piece of really good dark chocolate and taste it mindfully.
Do you believe that chocolate brings us positive emotions and makes us happier?
You’re smiling, isn’t that perfect proof? 🙂 Well, I can’t say 100%, but it looks that way, yeah. What I really believe is, as long as it is good chocolate, quality chocolate, then it definitely brings joy and pleasure.
For those on a diet: Are there some good chocolates without sugar?
My philosophy is: Instead of looking for sugar-free chocolates, take a piece of really good dark chocolate and taste it mindfully. Just slow down, enjoy it, and feel all the beautiful flavors that can blow your mind.
What are your future plans? How would you like to develop your project in 5 to 10 year?
My wish is to start a bean-to-bar company where I make my own chocolate from start to finish. That is the ultimate dream, but I haven’t done much in that direction yet. At the moment, I am concentrating on finding new interesting cooperation with other people and developing the services that I already have.
Thank you very much for sharing your story! We wish you all the success with your project!
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