We Speak To The Founder of The Cheaky Co. – The Chickpea Expert

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

We spoke to Lucas R. Adams, the founder behind Cheaky Co. – the company that brings you Orbs, chocolate-coated roasted-chickpeas, and D’öh Chickpeas, the plant-based cookie “dough” that can be eaten right out of the tub. We talk to him about the mind-set behind the brand, changing the perception of chickpeas in SA, and where you can buy their products during lockdown.

Cheaky Co chickeas covered in chocolate

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What were you doing before you founded Cheaky Co.?

To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with giving myself any one particular title, mostly because I like to get my hands dirty in so many aspects of whatever business I’m building, it’s hard to say “I’m xxx” and feel okay with that. All that said, I studied as an industrial designer, and I do have a penchant for product design, packaging and branding.

Looking back over the last few years, I’ve got a small  history of building brands from scratch, with my last business being in the tech startup space (totally far from food/confectionery) called Nifty250 – quite simply, it was the easiest way to have your Instagram pictures printed and delivered to your door. I sold it in late 2017 (it has since been sold again), after feeling that it was time to move on, took a sabbatical, and slowly started getting my hands dirty until Cheaky Co was born.

What inspired you to go ahead and take the plunge to start the Cheaky Co?

Cheaky Co. was as much the birth child of the idea that the “chickpea could be a brandable thing” as it was a byproduct of a long process of kitchen experiments for a totally different product – Let’s just say I needed to make a healthier nougat, and after discovering aquafaba, things went full on legume, and in a completely different direction!

Cheaky Co
Cheaky Co chocolate covered chickpeas

Tell us a little bit about the name of the company ‘Cheaky Co.’

I truly believe having a great brand name (and visual identity) is underrated by so many wanting to just jump into entrepreneurial waters. I can’t stress it enough: a brand name should have the power to evoke an (emotional) reaction, and it should be something as unique.

I’ve always enjoyed brand names that express a human quality or mannerism, and in the case of Cheaky Co, well, it’s a little cheeky. Jokes aside, I used the incorrect “ea” spelling as a tiny ode to the “ea” in chickp(ea).

Generally, I like something (a brand name, design etc) to float around for a few days after cooking it up, to see if it has the strength to carry an impact over time, but there’s an exception for when one particular option stands out strongly from the get go, and that option was the first to have been conceived – Cheaky Co was one of my first iterations, but after jotting down (and registering far too many domains), it still came back upon reflection as the strongest.

Dark chocolate and chickpeas is not a combination that most people would put together, what made you think that these two ingredients would work harmoniously?

Like I mentioned earlier, this was all a process of experimentation in wanting to develop a totally different product (which I won’t mention because I actually still want to do it). After realizing how adaptable the mighty legume could be, I noticed that roasted chickpeas were quite a thing overseas. I was already trying to develop a confectionary based product, so making use of this traditionally savoury ingredient and making the connection with dark chocolate wasn’t far out at all.

We were drawn to your unique packaging, was there a specific mind-set behind that?

Indeed, I get a real kick from good packaging design (designing it and experiencing it) and I have a firm belief that the user experience of almost anything has the highest impact on an individual when looking back: whether that was a taste experience, a interactive experience (read, packaging), and brand experience, or all of the above, you’ve simply got to move past just having a good product (what’s inside), and focus on the whole.

I was inspired by the classic cardboard milk packaging where you’d pull out the top corner to create a spout – this quite neatly served as an opening, as well as a mechanism or easy pouring and storing. Good things emerge where function and form blend together.

From the ratio of width to length, to scale and “hand-heldness”, the 65g Orbs box was designed to be cute, functional with a high-degree of user involvement by means of having the tear-off the corner (reference the classic mill package) in order to “pour out some Orbs”, as you would milk. The whole idea was trying to create a connection with customers from past experiences.

Cheaky Co

Without telling us any industry secrets could you tell us what goes into making these tasty treats?

From soaking the dry chickpea overnight (we definitely don’t use the canned type!) to cooking it, to dry-roasting (we don’t use any oils or additives unlike other roasted chickpea derivatives) it, to painstakingly coating these beloved legumes with the finest single-origin 70% dark chocolate (sourced locally and sustainably), there’s a lot of love and work that goes into this seemingly simple product.

From the outside, it’s just a “chocolate coated…”, but believe me, from the plant-based inks used in our packaging to the origin of our chickpeas, every detail has been considered to produce the highest quality treat, with as little guilt as possible.

This product is vegan and gluten-free, can you tell us a little bit behind making sure that your ingredients are plant-based?

I decided early on, for personal, professional and global responsibility reasons that this was going to be a food brand that would only produce food products using plant-based ingredients. Once you’ve set out what you’re definitely not going to do, it’s much easier to draw a road map for the future.

On a personal level, animal-agriculture (and its by-industries) is arguably the biggest contributor to everything from disease and suffering, to global warming (better termed, global volatility) and deforestation, and I want no part in contributing to its obvious toll on our planet. All that said, my small part is choosing not to use ingredients derived from animals in my business, and on a personal level.

cheaky co

D’öh is a new product you released last month, tell us a little bit about it.

So it’s a funny thing actually because it’s not new at all. Before Cheaky Co. officially launched, and due to some delays and a fair amount of frustration, I decided to start “getting the brand out there” by showing our tiny audience (and future customers) what tasty things could be made from chickpeas – ie.. #ChickpeaConfectionery.

I’d already played around with a recipe for a plant-based cookie dough earlier in the year, but it only struck me later that there wasn’t yet a market for such a thing in SA (as compared to the US where cookie dough is MASSIVE). In many ways more than one, the initial chickpea cookie dough offering back in June 2019 (which we lovingly named D’öh!) would be the initial push to get the brand prepped for when we launched the “actual product” which was Orbs.

Back then I was making D’öh! in my kitchen and selling it on the Sea Point Promenade, while pretty much insta-storying the whole thing. I wasn’t scared and didn’t care what people thought. I was just excited to make something out of nothing – a phrase I use to describe the process of entrepreneurship.

Once we’d officially launched our actual product (Orbs), we dropped the cookie dough, as it was really hard to make and it wasn’t as easily “retailable” as a dry-goods product with a decent shelf life. After many months and messages on Instagram from craving customers, we decided to offer it again, albeit a little quietly, as it’s still very hard to produce, and like Orbs, we do it all ourselves, with spoonfuls of love.

Will we see Orbs being stocked in stores across South Africa or is the focus just on Cape Town/online?

It seems like just yesterday that we opened our doors, but we’re already 8 months in, and there’s so much to do for our tiny team. Cheaky Co. is currently stocked across SA at Wellness Warehouse with another national retailer coming on board soon, but we are stocked across various smaller shops, cafés and eateries, including many Spar’s.

Apart from wanting to stock larger retailers in order to grow and expand our market, we love stocking the smaller, more niche stockists, as each of these have their own unique micro-communities which share similar values as our own, so we’re open to anyone wanting to stock our treats.

Are there any future plans to branch out and create other products for Cheaky Co.?

100%. We’re definitely planning on bringing out more Orbs variants to extend this line as time and cash flow allows, and we’ve also got plans to create a new range later this year, including a savoury one. There’s too much to do, and way too little time to do it. Best we show you what Cheaky Co. is cooking when it’s done.

Where can consumers find Orbs and D’öh during lockdown? Is Cheaky Co. delivering products during the pandemic?

We do have a growing list of retailers and stockists which can be found on our website, but many of them are closed with the exception of places like Wellness Warehouse and select Spars. Given the limitations of lockdown, and the push to have things delivered, we decided to slowly start testing out direct sales on our website, where anyone can order our Cheaky Co. treats to have them delivered during lockdown, and beyond.

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