BIJA Organic Direct Trade Chocolates – Start-up Story

Sep 14, 2016 | Innovative Businesses

Name of inventor/product developer: Paul Newman / Ariana Lee-Newman

Product: BIJA Organic Direct Trade Chocolates

How to buy (stores or website): Community Food Co-op, Elizabeth Station, Haggen, Market of

Choice, Main and Vine, Metropolitan Market, Paper Dreams, Terra, Town & Country, Whole Foods Market

Contact information (can include a phone number or website): 877-342- 2452

BIJA works directly with women’s cooperatives and small cacao farmers to produce the finest chocolate

that supports families, community and culture. We reside in Bellingham and are proud to be partnering with over 80 fine

retail establishments throughout the Pacific Northwest.



1. What was the problem you were trying to solve (or niche to fill) and how did you come up with the idea?

We set out to create a product that reflected our desire to facilitate change and to create a chocolate of the

highest quality with the purest ingredients. We knew that indigenous communities around the world who work

with crops like cocoa and coffee are the most vulnerable to market exploitation. We decided to make a product

using one of the most consumed ingredients on the planet to raise awareness of two key issues: One, we believe

that women who work for their families are also deeply committed to their communities. Two, if we can raise the

awareness of the true cost of chocolate, and consumers can understand the human stories behind the chocolate

that they eat, they will make different choices in how they purchase brands moving forward.


2. What made you decide you wanted to take this idea to market?

We realized that there’s room in this world for convicted companies to make products that can actually make a

difference. Having collectively worked in the natural products industry for over 25 years, we understand that

consumers want to buy products with purpose while not compromising on quality. We felt we could help

consumers align their needs to participate in a social cause by making conscious choices in the products they

purchase while maintaining the highest quality, purest products.


3. What has it taken in terms of time, effort or expense to get the business up and running (or product on the


We began this journey over two years ago with the intention to create a company where everyone throughout

the supply-chain could benefit and flourish by doing what they love. We focused on finding ways to create a

business that truly honors our partners, those that work tirelessly to carefully grow and meticulously process the

cocoa beans that make BIJA everything it is today.


4. What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process?

Sourcing and organic certification. We decided early on to try and re-write the way chocolate is sourced,

manufactured and sold. We realized that most of the women’s cooperatives we identified in the field were not

certified organic, and that was an important to us. So instead of moving on, we made a decision to organize the

certification for each of the groups we wanted to work with by financing their organic certification and then gift

that certificate back to each of the groups. So far we have done this with our women’s association in the

Dominican Republic and are working towards it with a farmer’s cooperative. We have replicated this model in

Peru and have set our sights next on Ghana, Haiti and Honduras.


5. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

First start with a concept or idea that wakes you up in the morning…actually, something that keeps you inspired

to stay awake at night. Then unpack the whole process from start to finish and find the areas that are unclear

then seek out counsel from those that have done it before. Learn from their wisdom and also from their mistakes.

Understand that the process of stabilizing your brand in market usually takes 3x longer than you anticipate.

Lastly, challenge yourself to do something that potentially scares you, because that is where the greatest

personal growth can happen and where you will most likely find the greatest strength to follow a passion that

will grow into a flourishing business.


This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.

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