Finnia Chocolate and Cocoa ramps up production
Lisabeth Flanagan’s love affair with chocolate began when she and her husband were pursuing post graduate studies in France. With her passion ignited, Flanagan started experimenting with chocolate in her kitchen when she returned to Canada, focusing on replicating the quality of fine European chocolate and using only natural ingredients. After moving to Manitoulin Island, Flanagan turned to craft bean-to-bar chocolate making full-time. It is a process that involves sourcing, roasting and grinding cocoa beans into chocolate, and then forming it into bars and confections. In 2009, Flanagan launched what is now known as Finnia Chocolate and Cacao.
For the first nine years, Flanagan created award-winning chocolate out of her home-based commercial kitchen in Gore Bay. In October 2017, she partnered with strategic investor, Trish Moran, to grow the business and achieve her vision of being one of the largest bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Canada.
With a growing clientele, Finnia embarked on its first stage of expansion, aided in part with a loan from Lacloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation (LAMBAC), purchasing some larger equipment and leasing about 700 square feet of commercial space in a building located in downtown Gore Bay.
LAMBAC is one of 24 Northern Ontario Community Futures Development Corporations funded by FedNor. It offers free business advice and workshops, as well as commercial financing to qualifying entrepreneurs and those looking to start a business in its catchment area.
Moran says LAMBAC’s financial assistance was important as was the valuable counsel provided over the years from Carolyn Campbell, Loans and Business Development Officer.
“Carolyn is a true champion of our businesses,” stated Moran. “She calls to alert us whenever there are new programs that may help us and offers critical guidance. Similarly, FedNor has been a great supporter of Finnia with a large booth at the FedNor-supported Northern Ontario Agri-food Pavilion at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.”
“When the pandemic first hit, Carolyn was one of the first people to reach out,” added Flanagan. “We had to layoff staff at first but then suddenly our online sales went crazy. By autumn, we were able to rehire our staff. Whenever we have needed advice, Carolyn has always been there.”
In late March 2021, Finnia Chocolate and Cacao launched the next phase of its growth strategy, opening a new manufacturing and storefront facility close to the marina in Gore Bay. The two-storey, 2,000 square-foot facility is a reflection of how much Finnia’s business has grown.
“The extra space allowed us to purchase the large commercial machines we needed to scale up the business. It also provides us with retail space to display our craft chocolate and better service clientele on Manitoulin,” explained Moran. “Lisabeth’s speciality is research and development and now we have a test kitchen where she can create more award-winning bean-to-bar chocolate products.”
Finnia’s Chocolate Tasting Box
“The uptick in our production is significant,” shared Flanagan. “In my original home commercial kitchen, I might have made 60 chocolate bars a day. When we moved to our second location, I was able to double output. Today, at our new facility, we are producing 250 bars a day and output will only continue to increase from here. Simply put, what I used to produce in a week, I can easily do now in a day without sacrificing quality, which from day one has always been the key to our success.”
Working with numerous clients in the Lacloche Manitoulin region, Campbell attributes the craft chocolate maker’s success to the owners’ ability to overcome obstacles.
“They have the ability to pivot when faced with adversity,” explained Campbell. “While the pandemic has thrown all businesses a curve ball that they were not anticipating, Lisabeth and Trish adapted by updating to an online sales model, offering curbside pick-up, and adopting a top-of-the-line customer-friendly ordering software. Being able to adapt is essential to survival.”
As of April 2021, LAMBAC has funded 732 deals, like Finnia’s, since 2000 with a combined value of $33 million, leveraging more than $10 million from other sources, aiding in the creation of approximately 350 jobs while maintaining an additional 642 jobs.
To find out more about realizing your business dream, contact LAMBAC toll-free at 1-800-461-5131 or your local Community Futures Development Corporation.