By Deepthi Nair Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Dubai chocolate entrepreneur Dana Ashkar says she wanted to bring more awareness about making healthy choices. So, she decided to create vegan, sugar-free chocolates without any preservatives where all the ingredients are ethically sourced.
UAE residents are increasingly realizing the benefits of a healthy/vegan lifestyle and making dietary alterations accordingly.
This increase in awareness was one of the reasons that prompted Lebanese expat Dana Ashkar to turn into a chocolatier, offering vegan and sugar-free chocolates in Dubai. She was also responding to a health concern in the family.
"My family has a history of diabetes, thyroid and other inherited diseases. Also, consuming milk and other dairy products triggered an asthma attack in my daughter. Most products in the market did not taste good, were expensive and contained preservatives. I wanted to bring more awareness about making healthy choices. So, I decided to create vegan, sugar-free chocolates without any preservatives where all the ingredients are ethically sourced," says Dana, who was born in Dubai.
This decision led Dana to establish Caho Chocolate on December 25, 2017.
"Chocolate in our region looks and tastes extremely boring. Chocolatiers and chocolate retailers are mainly focused on lavish presentation of chocolate, rather than focusing on taste and quality. At Caho, we focus on sustainable ingredients and intense flavours for our chocolate, by infusing our products with wellness-promoting ingredients such as high-quality cocoa and freeze-dried fruits. Some of our products are sugar and dairy-free, meaning it's not only healthier, but also suitable for diabetics, vegans and those with good intolerances," observes the founder and creative director of Caho Chocolate.
Dana is a certified life coach and Theta healer and has earlier worked in the digital and e-commerce sector. She has also dabbled in e-consultancy for digital platforms. This helped her set up the e-commerce platform for Caho Chocolate, which delivers the products to your doorstep.
Where did funds come from?
She initially used personal funding to set up the venture. Recently, the brand and business model attracted new investors. Her clients are mostly health-conscious customers and the Dubai vegan community.
"Our team is small and young. We create every product from scratch. We are passionate -- from testing new recipes in the kitchen to hand-delivering the final product. Last year, we opened our chocolate business and retail shop in Dubai Silicon Oasis," adds Dana.
The entrepreneur plans to grow her business and expand to domestic and regional markets through franchising or partnership. "We are exploring new retail options and e-commerce innovation to ensure sustainable growth. We want to cater to the rising demand of vegan, healthy and super foods. The future plan definitely lies in hospitality -- watch this space for Caho hotels and resorts," she divulges.
Attributing her success to God and a combination of passion and determination, Dana is all praise for the UAE's startup ecosystem. "It's the perfect environment so far, with its ease of set up and flexibility, making it a fantastic enabler for us entrepreneurs. Let's not forget, the UAE's strategic location makes it a hub for startups and a solid platform for neighboring markets. Caho is a home-grown, UAE brand that aims to reach international markets."
Aiming to make Caho Chocolate one of Dubai's startup success stories, Dana has this piece of advice for other entrepreneurs: "If you aren't passionate about what you are doing, you won't have the drive to get through. It is not always a simple and straight road to success, but with the right tools, passion and mindset, you can get there."
She believes that it is in the UAE's DNA to be entrepreneurial and commercial. "As a startup, we experienced government support, which made the processes easy and flexible. This healthy ecosystem is helping us grow our business, and most of all, attract new investors."
Caho Chocolate has an Instagram and Facebook page but has not resorted to heavy advertising as yet. Dana is relying more on word of mouth referrals and the product quality to get new and repeat customers.
"Technology has proven very important in reaching our business goals quickly and efficiently. At Caho, it's reflected in our presence digitally through our online e-commerce store that helps us reach more customers outside our geographical area, resolving inefficiencies such as accessibility and logistics," informs Dana.
She regards Apple among the most inspiring brands since it accommodates people's needs and aspirations. "At Caho, we take daily inspirations from our customer's joy. We are small enough to listen to every customer's feedback and to cater to their unique needs. We aim to be the benchmark for artisan, healthy chocolate production in the region," she concludes.