Port St Mary based Cocoa Red has just returned from two major food shows in the UK – the Ideal Home Show and the BBC Good Food Show – with great interest shown in their chocolate and Christmas pudding. There are potential contracts with a major supermarket and high end London food halls, but because owner Karl Berrie can’t find suitable premises to expand the business in the island, he is considering relocating to the UK.
‘I like the Isle of Man,’ said Mr Berrie, whose parents run the award-winning Victorian Aaron guest house. ‘It’s a shame. But it [new premises] has got to be in the right location, not in an industrial estate which would not suit our clientele.
‘I want the building to have the right ambience where people can see us making our chocolate. We are high end.’
The perfect premises would have been the railway station in Port St Mary, he said, but last month the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure sold the Victorian building to a firm of accountants because they offered more than the asking price of £395,000.
They outbid Cocoa Red, which hoped to run a chocolate factory from the 19th century building that has been empty for several years. ‘We put in a really good offer for the sheds and building,’ said Mr Berrie. He added there was no negotiation with the department about Cocoa Red increasing its bid.
Mr Berrie hoped to create a chocolate making facility, museum, coffee shop and small retail area to cater for tourists and locals alike in a style sympathetic to the building’s heritage.
Cocoa Red already has had a contract with Fortnum & Mason, and is in discussion with Selfridges and Harrods, plus the major supermarket contract meaning the business is expanding, leading to employment opportunities.
Mr Berrie said he has lost valuable time over his failed bid to buy the railway station.
‘It’s been a year on the railway station, trying to buy it. Business was on hold for a year, before that we approached different departments [about suitable locations for the business]. It’s a shame there is little support for a Manx producer to grow. Next year we are talking a lot of export market. We are talking to MHKs, and Laurence Skelly (Rushen MHK) has been trying hard but it’s taking far too long. I did have a look at property across, we are keeping our options open. You try and create jobs and want to put something nice in Port St Mary. It beats me ... I want actions rather than words.’
‘It is frustrating. I came back here [after the food shows] and I want to get going. We cannot employ more people until we find suitable premises, then we can get the supermarket contracts in.
‘It’s been a year slowing the business down and waiting for a decision I’m going to be losing business. People are interested in us now if they wait for a year. I do not know.’
• Laurence Skelly MHK said it would be a ‘great disappointment and loss’ if Cocoa Red left the island. ‘We have been trying and Phil Gawne has also to help Karl for his business to flourish. I’m trying to explore one or two alternative locations in the new year.’
Food Minister Phil Gawne, also a Rushen MHK, said: ‘There were a few sites I was suggesting, but everything was not suitable. We are very keen to find a site.
‘All we can do is try, if there is anywhere Karl can identify I am more than happy to work with him.’