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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Trupo's Treats brings nostalgia to ethically-sourced vegan chocolate

There are other vegan chocolatiers, but startup Trupo Treats is moving forward by looking backward.

Indeed, the Denver-based company is set to offer vegan alternatives to KitKat, Twix, Crunch and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, but in this case, they’re called Vegan Mylk Chocolate Wafer Bar (the ersatz KitKat), Vegan Mylk Chocolate Caramel Cookie Bar (Twix), Vegan Mylk Chocolate Rice Crunch (Crunch), and Vegan Mylk Chocolate Bar (Hershey’s).

The “mylk” spelling, co-founder Brian Trufo explains, is the preferred spelling by some vegan product suppliers “because the dairy industry is pretty well known for making trouble with companies that use ‘milk’ in their marketing if they don’t use cow milk.”

As for the vintage nature of Trupo Treats’ chocolate bars, Trupo, who’s partnered with identical twin brother Charlie in the venture, it’s a major part of the endeavor’s origins.

“It all started after Covid hit,” says Trupo, April of last year, to be exact.

“I was in my second-to-last semester in college at the University of Florida--getting a Masters in science and entrepreneurship--and Charlie was studying environmental science in Scotland. Internships were suspended, so what could I do in my last summer before graduation? I wanted to start a business--and had to for class--so I tried to come up with an idea.”

The idea came during a trip to Whole Foods.

“I was roaming the chocolate aisle looking for something sweet and evaluating the choices: I’m vegan, and it’s nice be able to look at a product and see that it’s vegan, but none of them were clearly labeled as such. It makes my life and other vegans’ lives so much easier!”

Recognizing a problem in the lack of “clear vegan labeling,” Trupo also discovered that the only available vegan chocolates were dark chocolate.

“I wanted something sweeter and creamier--and more nostalgic,” he relates, specifying “something I ate at six-years-old, that I’d get on Halloween. I came to the conclusion that this is ridiculous: I can’t get what I want! So I left the store and and called my brother and said, ‘Let’s do some research and figure out if anything is on the market, and if it’s limited, let’s solve the problem and create something ourselves.”

Calling themselves the Veggie Brothers, the Trupo twins launched a Kickstarter campaign two months later and raised $27,000 for their Rice Crunch bar.

“I thought, ‘This is easy enough--not too complicated a product,’ and we went for it and started selling throughout last semester, always partnering with animal sanctuaries.”

Trupo Treats has now worked with 75-plus sanctuaries--“a huge part of our business”--and is glad to be able to “give back” at least 10 percent of their annual profits to sanctuary organizations.

But the brothers have long been animal- and vegan-conscious.

“We were seven and at a family friend’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and were curious as to where our friend’s father was and they told us he was out hunting for turkey. And we were like, ‘What does that mean?’ It just turned something on that clicked in our heads, and my brother immediately went vegetarian, and I took a couple months to adjust. As for vegans, I always thought they were crazy! I didn’t understand how you hurt animals by eating dairy, but I eventually did some research and went vegan at 19. But my brother did it at 15.”

Since then, the Veggie Brothers have documented their vegan lives via their Instagram account.

“We realized that not a lot vegan guys are trying to be influential in the world,” notes Trupo. “So we started our own channel and now have 28,000 followers or so.”

It’s all “evolved” to where vegan “is what we do,” from manufacturing chocolate to working with animal sanctuaries.

After their successful initial Kickstarter campaign of last July, the Trupos sold their Crunch bars through last February, when “we needed something more exciting to hype things up.”

“I started working full-time in January,” says Trupo, “and we launched a new Kickstarter for the four bars, raising $47,000 the first day! In 36 hours we had $50,000, which was our first goal, so we doubled it when we reached it so quickly.”

Currently, then, the Trupos are in the preorder phase of their Treats.

“Since it’s crowdfunding, we’re raising money and buying molds and ingredients and wrappers--all the things that go into making a chocolate company,” says Trupo.

“We want to be accessible with lower prices, so we contacted a co-packer/manufacturer: You supply them with the ingredients and packaging and they put everything together for you. I’d never worked in the food industry, so we figured we wouldn’t make it all ourselves, even though I know how to.”

The initial Crunch bars were sold in 10 small stores. The Trupos now look to finalize their wholesale prices and get the newly reformulated Crunch bars (“we’ve made them more milk chocolate-y”), along with the three additional bars, in stores by July.

“Our biggest goal is Whole Foods, since they’re in enough of the country--but it’s still a vegan niche group that goes there,” says Trupo. But a bigger problem in the overall chocolate industry, he adds, is ethically sourcing the ingredients, and packaging accordingly.

“We make sure to use fairly-traded cacao, which means staying away from slave labor or inadequate wages for cacao workers. Then we use 100 percent compostable or recyclable packaging--instead of the plastic-coated wrapping material that’s historically used and can’t be recycled.”

Trupo Treats’ chocolate is fairly traded from Mother Jungle Herbs, a Food Empowerment Project-recommended supplier (FEP is a non-profit vegan food justice organization) that sources cacao from a collective of 70 Peruvian families. This ensures that its chocolate is not a product of exploitation of humans and animals.

For Trupo, then, what separates Trupo Treats from other companies is its ethos.

“Our goal is to create the most ethical, sustainable, and delicious chocolate possible,” he says. “We have a slogan: ‘We are the chocolate company for the people, animals, and planet!’”

Incidentally, the Nestlé food company, which originated the crispy Crunch bar in 1928, is launching its own vegan KitKat chocolate later in the year. But unlike Trupo Treats, the corporate food giant remains controversial due to longstanding ethical issues over its global practices.

Charlie, left, and Brian Trupo




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