June sure has gotten off to a very sweet start with graduation celebrations and eating lots of treats during this Northern California heatwave. This week is no different when it comes to sweet treats!
I have been dying to share with all of you my favorite dairy free, gluten free, organic, non-GMO, kosher and of course vegan, caramel company, JJ’s Sweets Cocomels for quite some time. I discovered them at one of my local health food stores here in Grass Valley last year and I barely go a week without making a purchase. Not to mention, these sweet coconut caramels were gifted to many of my family and friends and were a hit in stockings during the holidays! Hint, hint, these make incredible gifts that anyone would love (including all those dad’s out there this Father’s Day weekend!).
Without giving away too much information about Cocomels, I’d first like to introduce JJ Rademaekers the Founder and Chief Candyman at Cocomels. JJ and I met in March in Anaheim, California at Natural Products Expo West trade show where I likely overwhelmed him with my zest for his company. That’s when he agreed to do an interview so saddle up folks, you’re about to learn about all there is to know about my favorite little caramel company out of Boulder, Colorado. Take it away JJ!
CCG: I love the personal story behind Cocomels and how the idea came to you in a Willy Wonka type dream, etc. Can you share that with us?
JJ: In the summer of 2009 I found myself unemployed in a tough job market. I had been a scientist, a musician, the director of operations for a company trying to save the world from climate change, and a home cooking geek – but none of those were hiring at the time. I was at a cross roads when I had a dream one night. In the dream I found myself in the fantastical laboratory of a mad scientist candy maker like Willy Wonka. In it he had all sorts puffing and steaming things, lights and gizmos…but on his desk he had a simple, vibrant creation that really stood out. A delicious and innovative treat that artfully blended natural ingredients from all over the world with old an style candy making ethos. Traditional sweets made in delicious new ways that can be better for our bodies, healthier for the planet and relatively simple. I woke up the next morning and thought that kooky candy king had created something special…and then I realized I had dreamt it and wanted to see it come to life! I went for it. It began as a random longshot, taken almost out desperation, urged on by the overwhelming positive feedback I received along the way, but quickly evolved into what I was clearly meant to do, marrying science, creativity, operations and my love of food, to become a “Chief Candyman”.
CCG: Because your products are coconut milk based and are popular with plant based foodies like me, do you or anyone in your family or the company live a vegan lifestyle?
JJ: I at this time am not vegan, although I was for a stage in my life and can completely appreciate and want to support the vegan lifestyle. With my body type (intolerant of gluten and dairy) and because of where I live, I am currently to eat a wide variety of foods that are organic and ethically and sustainably grown and sourced.
CCG: After meeting you at Natural Products Expo West in March, it appeared that you are expanding the Cocomels product line. Can you talk about your original products? What is the latest in terms of new products, and how would you say the company is growing/expanding?
About 9 months into our 1st farmers market season I teamed up with a chocolatier and covered our Cocomels in chocolate. It was amazing. Since then we’ve been hand dipping a small amount of these for our local market or online customers. It wasn’t until late 2013 when we were able to get a loan that enabled our purchase of equipment necessary to cover LOTS of Cocomels in chocolate and launch our new 2 packs. We’re very proud of these and think we have hit on a winning combination: offering a high-quality organic vegan confection at a moderate price (our 2 packs will be between $1.99 and $2.49).
CCG: Where can folks find Cocomels products? When are the new products hitting grocery store shelves?
JJ: Our distribution is growing quickly. Currently Cocomels are available the following regions: Rocky Mountain, Southwest, California and the North East. We are found in these retailers: Whole Foods, Sprouts, Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers, Fresh Markets and many other co-ops and independent markets, as well as our website: www.cocomel.com and other online stores.
CCG: If you had to choose one Cocomels product to eat for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
JJ: My favorite is the Espresso chocolate-covered Cocomel. The deep coffee flavor of the Cocomel, made with a locally roasted organic espresso, covered with our 66% dark chocolate and topped with a espresso bean??!! Ridiculous. The long chew of the Cocomel, the chocolate melting in my mouth and the crunch of the coffee bean all combine to send me into orbit. I can really find my bliss with that one…although the Sea Salt is a close second 🙂
CCG: Thanks for sharing JJ! Next time I’m in my old stopping ground of Boulder, Colorado I plan to pay you a visit! I can only imagine what Cocomels tastes like fresh out of the pot!
And now onward to my review of Cocomels…
If you didn’t get a hint from my introduction above, perhaps you were asleep. I love, love, love Cocomels. They are the perfect vegan alternative to the caramels I grew up eating, only these don’t stick to your teeth! Cocomels are artisan-made in copper kettles using both quality and simple ingredients. They offer a wide variety of flavors too — Original, Sea Salt, Vanilla and for the coffee lovers, Espresso. Each caramel is individually wrapped and either comes in a Pocket Pack (1.5 ounce packs that include 5 caramels) or in a 3.75 ounce box which contains 12 caramels each and in my opinion, is the prettier packaging. If I had to choose a favorite flavor, I’d have to say the Sea Salt, although they are all great!
And most recently launched, Cocomels just started making Chocolate Covered caramels in three tasty flavors: Sea Salt, Vanilla and Espresso. These offer the same great taste, but are covered in silky dark chocolate and are available in 1 ounce packages that include two caramels each. Check them out. They are simply decadent.
I wish that I could gift all of my readers a sample of each of the Cocomels flavors, but since I can’t, I strongly encourage you to try these sweet treats at your very first opportunity. You will be so glad that you did.
All Cocomel photos taken by Faye White