Natural Foods Merchandiser

Industry Innovator Award: Timothy Childs of TCHO

For serial innovator Childs, there’s not much of a leap between bytes of information and bites of chocolate. A former machine-vision-system developer for NASA’s space shuttle program, Childs founded several Internet and computer graphics start-ups before launching Cabaret Chocolates—a pioneer of single-origin chocolate distribution in mass markets—in 2004. Two years later, he started TCHO to further his vision of how Americans should buy chocolate. The company recently opened a manufacturing facility near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but Childs’ plans extend beyond that. One of his new innovations is TCHOSource, a fair-trade program that builds Flavor Labs where cacao-bean producers around the world can make their own chocolate.

Starting a business is still starting a business, no matter what you do.

There’s a huge unseen world of chocolate that’s much more complex than working on a space shuttle. I thought NASA was a challenge in bureaucracy, but it’s nothing compared to the chocolate bureaucracy.

TCHO used to stand for Timothy Childs’ Happy Obsession, but it’s kind of evolved since then.

Innovation is like art—creating something from nothing.

Wine is positioned by flavor first—like Beaujolais or cabernet—and then by terroir, but chocolate is positioned by terroir and then flavor. I flipped that chocolate concept on its head and said, ‘Let’s do flavor first.’

I’m trying to use single origin to show people that there is so much diversity in a single bean.

After working with digital media for so long, it’s really great to make physical objects, especially physical objects that people love so much that they’re willing to pay for them.

I have a genetically blessed mouth with an overabundance of taste buds.

The people in the natural products industry are very supportive. They’re the kind of people you want to hang out with.

When I envisioned TCHOSource, I tried to come up with a model anyone can use. That’s why we use hair dryers, turkey roasters, Indian daal and curry makers—basically anything people have nearby—in our Flavor Labs to make chocolate.

I take things someone has probably done somewhere else and just reapply them. I’m more like a DJ than a classical composer.

Diet Coke is poison.

I love Numi tea. Not only do they push the envelope of reinventing very old styles and fermentations of tea, but they tell the best story.

We need to make a shift from “buy this because it’s a great product” to “buy this because it’s great—oh, and of course it’s organic.”

How can we save the planet? Nothing’s going to happen to the planet—the planet will exist without us after we all kill ourselves. A better question is how can we save ourselves.

I wish that right now I was hanging out on a desert island paragliding with my girlfriend and my friends.

–Interview by Vicky Uhland

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