M’sian Brand Making Cocoa & Chocolate Products

Euniece was a buyer at Ben’s Independent Grocer while Jinli was a content creator at Astro.

The two met by chance through Jinli’s husband in March 2019 and discovered that they shared a common passion and frustration:

  • Their love for chocolates;
  • Lack of good quality hot chocolates in local Malaysian cafes.

Two months later, they decided to quit their corporate jobs and start Cocova to provide better and healthier chocolate products to Malaysians.

“Our varied experiences, skills and networks have allowed us to complement each other and bring Cocova to life,” said Jinli.

They started R&D for the products in June 2019 and developed their first product, chocolate buttons.

Their chocolate buttons are melted down and made into cold infused drinks / Image credit: Cocova

“The initial product was in the form of cocoa powder because we wanted to create a good hot chocolate drink for consumers.”

“However, we weren’t happy with the texture of the drinks as they were too powdery so we changed them to chocolate buttons instead, and the feedback was excellent!” she says.

Falsification of the idea

Before embarking on this business, Jinli admitted that they had no idea that there were other local businesses in Malaysia already doing what they were creating.

“When we started, we didn’t know there were already quite a few brands of single-origin bar beans in Malaysia,” she said.

Some of the most well known and established are Seniman Kakao, Chocolate Concierge, and Benns Ethicoa.

Unlike their competitors, their brand does not target the craft market.

Instead, they’re positioning themselves as a younger, fun, and vibrant brand that appeals to millennials.

Smooth and creamy dark chocolate drink / Image credit: Cocova

“We started the business with a modest amount from our own savings because we didn’t want to borrow money from our families or hire investors at such an early stage,” said Jinli.

With limited funding, both had to make adjustments and start small.

They worked from their home kitchen, used their living room for storage, didn’t hire a team, and used social media to market and sell the products.

Keeping costs low worked in their favor because when the pandemic hit they were able to survive without having overhead.

Launch just in time for Christmas

“From the start, we knew we wanted to launch by November 2019, because chocolates make great Christmas gifts,” Jinli said.

“We also knew that buyers would be drawn to the pretty gift boxes, so we put emphasis on our packaging.”

In the first month after Cocova launched in December 2019, they sold around 400 Christmas boxes and generated RM 22,000 in revenue that month.

Despite a delay in R&D and hasty production of their products and packaging, they were able to participate in a bazaar in Publika, Kuala Lumpur.

The duo sell their Christmas boxes in the Publika bazaar / Image credit: Cocova

The responses from customers have been overwhelming as their inventory was swept within the first 4 days.

“We teamed up with friends and family to help us out and spent our days at the bazaar and nights packing and preparing drink samples for the next day. It’s been a very intense month, but it was market validation at its best, ”Jinli said.

Receiving first hand feedback after chatting with customers has also given them confidence on what products to put on their online store.

The bazaar also brought them to their first big order, which came just 2 months after starting the business.

A member of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry had stumbled upon their booth, eager to include Cocova products in remembrance of the 2020 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) delegates.

Cocova’s gift boxes for APEC 2020 / Image credit: Cocova

“We followed up on a proposal and to our surprise and our greatest pleasure, they ordered 500 gift boxes from us!”

“We spent several days during the Chinese New Year wrapping them up, but it was a huge honor for us to represent Malaysia at this event,” said Jinli.

Cocova was due to attend big events like the Riuh Raya and the Craft Coffee Fair this year, but these were unfortunately canceled due to the AGC.

Without the events, Cocova’s sales were affected, but orders started seeping through their social media platforms in April.

Regular sales kept them operational, and once the strict MCO was lifted, they were able to approach cafes to collaborate.

Maximize their income stream

“We are always looking to generate new sources of revenue for the business, whether by providing services such as distribution or expanding into new product categories,” said Jinli.

One possibility is possibly to open a café.

She told Vulcan Post that cafes and restaurants drive the sales volume and that working with gift companies like Bloomthis allows them to maximize exposure by leveraging the floral company’s customer base.

They recently invested savings in opening their first outlet in Kedai KL, Mahsa Avenue.

It’s a small retail space where customers can sample and purchase Cocova products (in bulk or otherwise).

The duo are also experimenting to produce new products for customers and will be launching a few additional products and a vegan version of their cold-infused chocolate drinks.

  • You can read more about Cocova here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Jinli and Euniece, Co-Founders of Cocova

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Jothi Venkat

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