Sweet treats: Ann Rudden of Áine Hand Made Chocolate discusses all things chocolate

This month we spoke to Ann Rudden of Áine Hand Made Chocolate providing Simply Better Dunnes Shops with a range of chocolate products all year round as well as artisan Easter eggs at this time of year.

Master chocolatier Ann Rudden always knew she wanted to start her own business and that’s exactly what she did in 1999 when she started Áine Hand Made Chocolate in Co Cavan. At first they mainly worked in the corporate world, but within a few years they also developed a range of retail products. “We realized we had to create a brand and get into retail,” says Ann, “so we launched our own brand in 2001.”

A long-standing relationship with the Dunnes Stores Simply Better collection soon followed. “We’ve worked with Dunnes Stores for a long time now – almost since the very beginning of the Simply Better collection,” says Ann. “It started with chocolate bars and it worked all the way up to hot chocolate sticks and we’ve also been making Simply Better Easter Eggs for the past three years.”

Áine Hand Made Chocolate produces a range of products for Simply Better all year round. “We make a variety of great Belgian chocolate bars, including a 38% cocoa milk bar and a 70% cocoa plain dark bar, as well as a mint and orange bar,” says Ann. There is also a range of hot chocolate sticks which you can add to a cup of milk and stir. “They’re very popular,” says Ann.

Of particular note is the range of single-origin chocolates which includes a 38% cocoa Colombian milk chocolate bar, an 80% plain dark cocoa bar and a dark raspberry bar.

“I went to Colombia four years ago and met all the farmers. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on,” says Ann. “It’s so interesting because of the flavors that come out of the different beans. Sometimes you have beans mixed into a specific chocolate whereas with a single origin the flavor profile is more distinct. She also notes that the cocoa used in Simply Better products is more sustainable, with money flowing back to farmers’ local areas. “It goes into projects to teach farmers how to grow better crops and it also goes into things like schools in areas around cocoa plantations.”

It’s hard to talk about chocolate at this time of year and not mention Easter eggs. Luckily, Ann and the team also supply a handcrafted range of Easter eggs to the Simply Better collection. “We make a handmade 38% cocoa single origin Colombian milk chocolate egg with salted caramel chocolates, then we have a 70% cocoa single origin Colombian dark chocolate egg with salted dark caramel,” says Ann.

“Each of the Easter eggs we make for Simply Better are hand poured and have a thick chocolate shell. Then they are spun and cooled and we foil them by hand. And then the chocolates that accompany them are molded by hand, passed by hand with the salted caramel and packed in small boxes. So everything we make is handmade – they’re made in small batches and they’re super fresh too.

The relationship between Áine Hand Made Chocolate and Dunnes Stores has been fruitful, says Ann. “Dunnes Stores has been very good to us from the start. They give us good deadlines and they also work with us. They understand that we are a small company, but there are also great opportunities for us to grow with them.

“We are looking to expand our business this year, so Simply Better will also be part of this expansion plan. We are already developing new products with them. We are a small business in a rural village so it is great to work with Simply Better as it gives us that volume and hopefully we can grow our business as well.

As the business evolves and grows, Ann is careful to balance the demands of being a business owner with the joy of her first love: chocolate. “From an early age, I always wanted to work with chocolate and I love what I do,” she says. “It’s not just me now – we have a team here and as the business grows the team grows. I like that we get bigger and it’s still the same staff.

“I still have this love for chocolate and product development,” she hastens to add. “I’m on the floor working with chocolate every day, I still have a passion for it too.” And his favorite from the Simply Better range? “Dark chocolate is very popular but I have to say I love orange chocolate,” she laughs. “That’s very nice.”

Presented in partnership with Simply Better Dunnes Shops

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