Coco Fuel, Paula Charleson Brings Healthy Chocolate to the Local Market
Paula Charleson never set out to create a burgeoning chocolate company. She simply enjoyed making healthy chocolate snacks from pure, whole ingredients.
Instead of sugar, preservatives and artificial flavor, Charleson whipped up sweet and savory chocolates using ingredients like natural cocoa butter, organic almond butter, cocoa powder, organic local cranberries, unsweetened coconut, honey, stevia, vanilla and Himalayan sea salt.
“I don’t eat dairy or sugar, so I started making bars for myself. Then I made some for my friends and my family about a year and a half ago. Right away they said, ‘You have to sell this,’” says Charleson.
The rookie chocolatier began sourcing ingredients she could acquire on a large-quantity scale. Honey and stevia combine to create a sweet flavor, replacing the too-of-tused refined white sugar. For her Cranberry Cashew Coconut chocolate bar, she looked to Fairland Farms in North Attleboro, which gathers its fruit from bogs across Cape Cod.
For Almond Butter chocolate, Charleson chose Providence’s Virginia & Spanish Peanut Co., a family-owned business for more than a century.
In lieu of using milk, she uses cocoa butter, “which is a very good fat,” she explains. It all comes together it the kitchen at Carina e Dolce in Cranston, the borrowed kitchen where Charleson works her magic.
Next was the business end of making Coco-FUEL a reality.
“I had to learn as I went,” she concedes. “I was just researching and learning and at the end of the day, I did all of it myself—the packaging, the marketing materials, the website,” she says. The most challenging part of it all was actually getting the chocolate into the packaging.
“There were very long days for about a year.”
When it was ready to hit shelves, Charleson went right to the top, meeting with management at her local Whole Foods store in Cranston. “Getting into Whole Foods was easy,” she says but finding the right aisle was a different matter. “It’s an unusual product,” she says. Sugar is a predominant ingredient in other chocolate bars but nutritional bars aren’t a good companion for CocoFUEL either, as she says so many are packed with chemicals.
Regardless of where it is displayed, Charleson’s nourishing chocolate is already being picked up by additional Whole Foods stores along with smaller food shops in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. CocoFUEL’s next offerings may include oatmeal raisin and “sinful toffee.”
“Rhode Islanders in general are incredibly supportive,” Charleson says. “Everyone has advice whether they’re in the business or not… I don’t think I could have done this anyplace but here.”