Candy Industry Senior Editor Liz Parker was recently able to talk to Adam Deremo, founder and CEO of Mississauga, Ontario-based AWAKE Chocolate, a functional chocolate brand offering natural energy—as much as a half-cup of coffee per bite. The brand has been continuously positioning itself for the next step in its rapid growth plan, and is starting to see results.

Liz Parker: How did you get the idea for caffeinated chocolate?

Adam Deremo: The idea for AWAKE was purely insights driven. Prior to starting AWAKE, my co-founders and I worked at PepsiCo and learned a lot about consumer needs there. Having worked around the energy drinks category, I saw that there were a lot of consumers looking for an energy boost, but not buying any of the products that were on the market (energy drinks, shots, or coffee). Invariably, the reason that these consumers weren’t buying anything to meet their needs was taste—they weren’t willing to make the trade-off between function and taste.

At the same time, I had seen competitors in the granola bar space adding functional ingredients to their granola bars and thought, why couldn’t we use a food technology to solve this beverage problem? Fast forward several months and countless iterations whipped up in our own kitchens and we had developed the initial formula for AWAKE. Problem solved!

LP: How has the process been to get funding for the brand? Do you have multiple investors or just one?

AD: I think we’ve followed a fairly typical funding trajectory. We used our own money to get the company up and running and then approached family and friends to raise funding for a focused launch. From there we brought in some angel investors and as the business has grown over time, we were able to attract venture capital investment.

It has certainly been a learning experience. When we got started, some of our advisors told us "it will take you twice as long and twice as much money as you think to build the business." That sentiment has definitely turned out to be true, and even understated.

We have multiple investors on our cap table today, including a small group of organized investors. Along the way we’ve heard far more no’s than yesses.  

LP: What are some of AWAKE’s products? Which have been most popular?

AD: Our bite-sized chocolate are, by far, our most popular products. I think consumers love that format because it’s so convenient. Each bite contains ½ cup of coffee (50mg) worth of caffeine, has 70 calories or less, is super portable, and unlike coffee or energy drinks, you can’t spill them. Caramel is definitely our most popular flavor.

LP: What is new or next for the brand in 2023? Any plans for expansion?

AD: We have plans for big growth in 2023. We expect to launch in nearly 5,000 new points of distribution across North America in the Natural, Grocery and Food Service channels. Our Amazon business is also growing quickly.

To help grow awareness, we’re scaling our sampling programs and will distribute over 1M samples in 2023! One program we’re really proud of is our Healthcare Hero program, where we send free bites to healthcare workers across North America. Last year we donated over 127,000 bites to over 250 hospitals, and this year we’re going to blow that number out of the water.