"By Regina Hing
Host committee Rishi Ganti (Emory 93), Stacie Sherer (Miami 95), Sarah Endline and Bob McGann (NIU 95)
â€œI donâ€™t really consider myself a chocolatier. Iâ€™m a social entrepreneur. Chocolate just happens to be the vehicle.â€
So says Sarah Endline, the effervescent, fast-talking founder and CEO of Sweetriot, an organic-chocolate company headquartered in NoHo. At the chic downtown Manhattan apartment of Rishi Ganti, over wine and mood lighting, Sarah held court in a roomful of AIESEC members and alumni that included co-hosts Bob McGann and Stacie Sherer.
Hers is another success story that was sparked by AIESEC. In the early 1990s, she had the chance to hear Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus speak on microfinance and social entrepreneurshipâ€”and decided soon after to commit her life to similar causes, long before it was hip to do so.
â€œI realized I wanted to figure out an industry that I could go into and create a social change model out of,â€ Sarah said. She wanted something that mirrored Ben & Jerryâ€™s and The Body Shop, companies that gave employees a sense of ownership and practiced open-book financial management. The vision was simple:
People, Products, and Partnerships.
Sarah Endline holding a cocoa bean.
When Sarah started doing her research, one thing turned her off immediately: manufacturers from the US and Europe take all the cacao beans from third-world countries to process in their own factories, thereby bringing all the value-add into the developed world.
So she took her commitment beyond Fair Trade to â€œequitradeâ€, where her company not only advocates fair pricing and opportunities for its farmers, but also processes the beans into the final product right in the communities where they are grown. The company mostly partners with family farms in Colombiaâ€”a country she started visiting while she was still with AIESEC.
Their first product was chocolate-covered cacao nibs (roasted cocoa beans) in little one-ounce tins: 1-2 calories per piece, filled with antioxidants, made without dairy or gluten, and kosher. The tins feature visually arresting, original artwork from emerging artists on its packaging. Today the company also offers conventionally sized 3.5-oz chocolate bars.
A former Yahoo! executive, Sarah is first to acknowledge how the healthy snack-food movement has benefited from the Internet revolution.
â€œI remember doing a demo in Whole Foods in 2005, and if you had said these things were healthy, consumers would roll their eyes,â€ she recounted. â€œToday, when my team does their demo, people walk up to them and say, we read that dark chocolate is healthy. Whatâ€™s the darkest one youâ€™ve got?â€
Wooing a hip, health-conscious clientele, Sweetriot has been very visible at events such as the Sundance and New York Film festivals, and today the lineâ€™s celebrity fans include Sarah Jessica Parker, Eva Longoria and Gordon Ramsay. It has also become the first food product sold in the Museum of Modern Art Design Store.â€œTo stay small is de-motivating to me. Iâ€™m very motivated by numbers and growth, and on that regard I donâ€™t think I have a misalignment with investor expectations,â€ Sarah said, emphatic.
Ali Raza of LC Baruch (VP Finance) with Andreia Leonard, NY Hub Social Media Chair.
NY Hub Chair Cathy Shelton with Ignacio â€œNachoâ€ Haddad, who first came to the US from Chile in the early 90s on a traineeship at Cathyâ€™s former company, the Economist Intelligence Unit. He has remained in New York ever since, currently a partner in Chile Business.
Justin Hurst (Ireland), Alexandra Radulescu (Romenia) and Christine Weinreich (Germany).
From right: Jason Castro (LCP NYU), Yi Tong (VPOGX NYU), Eliana Feng (VPTM NYU), Jasmine He (VPF NYU).
Special thanks to Rishi Ganti, who hosted the event at his Soho penthouse.
NY Hub Steering Committee member Sarah Sommerfield with Ashley Tagg (Director of PR & Media Management for the Communications National Support Team)
Sarah Endline delivered a passionate presentation about her company.
Jason Castro with Sarah Endline, Rishi Ganti and Samson Peng, ICX for NYU and former member from EB LC Baruch
Sarah Endline explaining the process of drying cocoa beans.
Sarah offered participants a few samples of Sweetriot chocolate.