Remember the decadent chocolate of your childhood? Thanks to Lisette Armstrong and her chocolate shop Treat Dreams, you can experience these favourites with a vegan twist: egg, dairy and cruelty-free. Elizabeth Usher reports.
Any local vegan with a sweet tooth knows of Lisette Armstrong’s Treat Dreams creations: imaginative and world-class decadent vegan chocolate with shine, snap, and ethics to boot, crafted lovingly by hand in Sydney since November 2015.
It’s been a learning curve for Armstrong. Apart from the regular struggles of building up a new small business, Lisette has had to educate herself and her customers about the issues surrounding ethical chocolate, and choose how to use her platform strategically to support a multitude of issues close to her heart.
The impetus to begin moving away from her corporate career came primarily because she felt the best contribution she could make to the vegan cause was through food. After being vegan for around eighteen months, she had started to crave certain items but also of course didn’t want to consume the ‘traditional’ versions.
Armstrong decided to develop vegan options that would match up to expectations of looks, texture, taste, mouthfeel, and so on – yet were also going to be ethical.
She explains: “For me, the driving force behind what the product would be is that it had to be something that was fun and brought joy and whimsy and nostalgia and childhood and all of that emotional connection that we tie in with food.
“And the original concept that I had in mind – the sentiment that kept coming to me – was ‘breaking bread with the people you love’.”
Right from the start of her new role as a chocolatier, Armstrong knew she had to be stringent about sourcing her chocolate, and she talks passionately about the ‘greenwashing’ that is rife in the industry.
“People will say ‘ethical chocolate’ but you dig and it can often not be the case,” she tells the Sentinel.
“There are in-house certification programs and then there are external certification bodies … but you know when we grade our own paper, it’s going to come out a bit differently than if it was graded externally!”
In carving out a space in the market, Armstrong was also keenly aware that she had to distance her brand from expectations that the term ‘vegan dessert’ is synonymous with being refined sugar-free and/or raw.
Instead, the Treat Dreams range features very decadent, sweet, sugar-filled treats – and it was a very intentional choice to use the word ‘treat’ in the brand name right from the start.
When people ask about sugar-free options, her approach is to “be really upfront and say, ‘[We] appreciate that you’re looking for something healthy, we’re not the right fit for you!’ But then we refer them on to a brand that’s going to be a better fit for them. Because if you try to be all things to all people, you won’t make anybody happy.”
This clarity in communicating what Treat Dreams is and isn’t about extends to the causes Lisette supports and amplifies, like choosing monthly themes to align with campaigns such as last month’s Wear it Purple initiative, LGBT History Month coming up in October, and the upcoming World Vegan Day in November.
And with Armstrong at the helm, there’s no risk of tokenism – deep thought and commitment runs across all the ethical pillars of her enterprise, the first of which is of course veganism.
“We have a big sign at the threshold that ‘no animal products [are permitted] beyond this point’,” she says.
She also states emphatically: “We’re definitely a rainbow business, and celebrating and affirming our team is a really important part of that … one of the most awesome things about being self-employed is being able to support causes I believe in.
“The more crystal clear our message is about who we are and what we stand for, the more we actually attract the people to us that align with that … and that means that people we’re interacting with day to day, I really like them!
“We’re really aligned in what we’re about, and that makes customer service a lot easier.”
Treat Dreams: hitting the sweet spot by merging ethics, enterprise and extravagant desserts!
For more information on Treat Dreams, including products, online orders, delivery and stockists, visit www.treatdreams.com.au.
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