Chocolate with a message

In 2009 chocolate-lovers received a special surprise when they opened their Denman Island Chocolate bars. As part of a creative collaboration between Dogwood Initiative and longtime supporter and Denman Island Chocolate company founder Daniel Terry, 30,000 No Tanker loonie decals were distributed inside the wrappers.

“That was a really fun project,” Daniel says. “It was really interesting because I could go on the website and see on the map where people were getting the decals in their chocolate bars.”

Daniel likes to do things differently. In 1994, he fled the city life of Vancouver with his wife Ruth and their two young boys in search of a simpler life on the Gulf Islands. Daniel thought he’d continue to work as a carpenter. Meanwhile, Ruth started making goodies and selling them at the community hall.

It took just one serendipitous day to set them on a different course.

“Every year there’s a Christmas craft fair on Denman Island,” Daniel says. “Ruth made chocolate truffles and they were gone half way through the first day. After, we thought ‘Well, what can we do with this?’ ”

They didn’t waste any time. Soon they built a small shop and ordered chocolate.

“It was a steep and difficult learning curve. But eventually we got it down pat,” Daniel says.

At first, suppliers couldn’t even source organic chocolate, but by fall 1998, they got their hands on some. With that, Denman Island Chocolate was officially born, becoming Canada’s first certified organic chocolate company.

That first year, they sold 50,000 chocolate bars. By 2004, the company had grown so much that Daniel was looking for land to build a factory on. Like everything else, he went about this differently.

Perched atop a bluff overlooking ocean and mountains, it’s hard to call the tree-surrounded wood and glass building a factory. Built with both beauty and energy efficiency in mind, Daniel has put a conservation covenant on about half of the four-acre lot.

Sadly, Ruth never got to see this custom-made jewel. In late 2003, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away within a few months.

“We try to run Denman Island Chocolate in a way that she would approve and be proud of, remembering every day the importance of doing the right thing,” writes Daniel on the company’s website.

Doing the right thing means making a positive change in the world, from providing a prototype for appropriate small-scale industry on the Gulf Islands to giving back to charity.

“Right from the beginning we decided we wanted to donate one per cent of our gross income to local conservation groups,” Daniel says. “Business has a responsibility to act on some sort of moral basis.” Hence the collaboration with Dogwood’s No Tankers campaign.

Of course, taking a public stand on environmental issues is not without business risks.

“We sell a lot of chocolate in Calgary, but I’m not really worried about the oil executive picking it up and saying they’re never buying it again. I’m much more concerned about connecting with someone and inspiring them,” Daniel says.

He even received a letter from the Canadian Mint asking him to stop distributing the loonie decals, arguing that he was encouraging his customers to deface currency. After checking whether it presented any real legal concerns, Daniel wrote back to the Mint, asking: “Would it be better to put the decals in with the cool mint bars instead?”

That lightheartedness shows up often when chatting with Daniel, who says he feels like he has the best job in the world. He has good reason to be happy. His company remains the largest producer of organic chocolate in Canada, now selling 400,000 chocolate bars a year. That means he donates tens of thousands of dollars to conservation organizations each year. Still, making decisions about what groups to support is tough.

“There’s an endless number of good causes that if I could I would support,” Daniel says. “I appreciate the business-like way Dogwood goes about trying to save the world. Given I have a limited amount of money to spend, I want it to be spent well.”

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