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CocoaPlanet entering Sonoma’s orbit

Sonoma resident Anne McKibben’s CocoaPlanet is under creative construction to manufacture and sell her healthy chocolate candy and French delights on Broadway in the building that for decades housed Sonoma Print Shop.

McKibben’s story is a great one, from growing up partly in Paris, London and Tucson, to become Hewlett-Packard’s marketing manager who traveled to 40 countries in her job and eventually developed fabulous chocolate candies that her (now) late mother could enjoy after she developed diabetes. She wanted to avoid fake sugars that often trigger a person’s craving for more sugar and found that the system she devised and her resulting chocolates did not affect her mother’s glucose level. McKibben still enjoys the satisfaction that her mother was able to taste her creations and tell her, “I am so glad you did this.”

With a background in manufacturing as well as marketing, McKibben tells of visiting her Los Angeles chocolate manufacturer in a slow period during the recession and getting them to take apart their machines so she could have them add features to create exactly what she wanted.

She has attracted huge attention with great packaging and now is remodeling the Broadway print shop into a state-of-the-art chocolate plant and tasting room “that will look like a Ferrari plant” with white floors and white marble walls. McKibben expects that her new facility will produce 50,000 chocolate discs a day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the public side of the business will close for those two days weekly.

The entire building will be a gluten-free facility, even the “Paris bistro” area where guests can indulge in quiches, charcuterie, cheeses, cassoulet and other stews, ratatouille and other vegetable dishes, all made without gluten, partly due to her own personal requirements.

McKibben, her husband and children live here in Sonoma and will welcome working close to home. Her CocoaPlanet chocolates are 64 percent cacao dark chocolate, under 100 calories with net carbs of 9 grams or less and only seven or eight grams of sugar. They are all non-GMO, gluten-free, vegan, Kosher, and free-trade certified.

But the best part is what she calls “pearls of flavor,” a concept and method she developed that inserts isolated little filling around each wafer, allowing the fillings to stand out and not merge with the chocolate, so that if you break off a piece to nibble, as I am right now, you get a pearl of flavor in every bite. I haven’t tried it, but McKibben says you can just put one wafer in a cup, add heated milk, and have great hot chocolate.

You can already purchase CocoaPlanet chocolates, which have won two Good Food Sofi Awards, at Sonoma Market, Whole Foods, Oliver’s, Mollie Stone’s Andronico’s, New Leaf Market, some small hotels, and at some wineries and pharmacies.

Her whole operation will move to Sonoma and open, she hopes, in January 2016. Lots of parking, a huge vegetable garden to serve the new café, and a French bistro menu. Can’t wait.

We also have two other chocolate producers in Sonoma Valley whom we shouldn’t ignore.

Wine Country Chocolates has a tasting room and factory in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village and a tasting room in El Paseo off First Street East, and the Chocolate Cow also makes some chocolates, and even sells a good sugar-free collection.

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