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A chocolatey invention gone viral leads Boise State graduate to entrepreneurial success

Eric Torres-Garcia (right), founder of Cocoa Bombs, with his mother Pilar Torres (left), the company’s operations manager.

An idea and $15 dollars are all it took for Eric Torres-Garcia to change his life. In December 2019, Torres-Garcia went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients to make a fun alternative to traditional hot chocolate mix, and the “Cocoa Bomb” was born. He filmed the unveiling of his creation – a chocolate blob filled with marshmallows that explodes into hot cocoa as soon as hot milk is poured on top – and posted the video on TikTok where it became an instant hit (it has since been viewed 2.5 million times). Views started racking up immediately and he saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He took the video down, quickly created a Shopify store so he could accept orders and reposted the video. By 11 p.m. that night, he had $6,000 in orders and nearly 1,000 Cocoa Bombs to make, package and ship to his eager customers. Meanwhile, he’d still only ever made just one.

Torres-Garcia grew up surrounded by an entrepreneurial family in Blackfoot, Idaho. His parents managed to work and maintain the proverbial side-hustle, which instilled a certain drive and desire for him to work for himself. As a fifth grader, Torres-Garcia would get wholesale bags of suckers from his parents and sell them individually to his classmates. He was a self-taught photographer taking senior photos for his peers by the time he entered high school. This led him to the photographic services department at Boise State, where he worked while earning his degree in international business.

“I’ve always had this drive to become an entrepreneur and do my own thing,” said Torres-Garcia. “The fact that it was in chocolate came as kind of a surprise, but it was a really fun surprise.”

Torres-Garcia is releasing his own cookbook featuring over 40 Cocoa Bomb recipes through major publisher Simon & Schuster this year.

The inspiration for the Cocoa Bomb invention came while he was living in Italy, where he experienced new types of candy and chocolate, eventually finding the European version of Kinder Eggs. He liked the idea of having a surprise inside a piece of chocolate, but he knew it would have to be an edible surprise due to choking hazard restrictions in the U.S. He kept the idea in the back of his head until one day, about a year after graduation, he decided it was time to give it a try.

A day after the initial launch of his chocolatey invention, Torres-Garcia marked his products as sold-out and began trying to figure out how he was going to fulfill $6,000 worth of orders for a product he created just hours earlier. So he sought advice from one of his professors Kent Neupert, the chair of the management department at Boise State. To show the urgency of the situation, he removed the sold-out status from his website briefly while sitting in Neupert’s office. Sure enough, orders immediately started coming in again, one after another. Neupert recommended an attorney who specializes in food and beverage businesses, as well as TechHelp, Idaho’s manufacturing and food processing specialists.

“TechHelp helped Eric get several food certifications and helped with other aspects of the business,” Neupert said.

Within 24 hours Torres-Garcia filed for an LLC, applied for a trademark and began searching for a kitchen to create his Cocoa Bombs. He still owned just a single mold, half a bag of chocolate chips and other various ingredients he used to make one Cocoa Bomb in his kitchen.

“I owe Dr. Neupert a lot, and Boise State for giving me that connection. None of this would have been possible had I not been at Boise State,” he said.

He visited commercial kitchens and candy makers in the Boise area looking to rent enough space to make nearly 1,000 Cocoa Bombs to fulfill his first round of orders. He came across a commercial kitchen to rent in his hometown of Blackfoot, which turned out to be the best decision he could have made because it allowed him to be surrounded by the support of his family. His mom and family helped him create the Cocoa Bombs and figure out how to package and send them in a short time. Through his search for a kitchen, he was introduced to Dave Wagers, the president of Idaho Candy Co., who’s been a mentor to Torres-Garcia ever since.

“Dave helped us figure out how to produce and package our product, as well as navigate the business aspects of running a candy business and dealing with distributors and wholesalers,” added Torres-Garcia.

Ultimately, he was able to fulfill all of the original orders while setting his business up to take on more.

Fast forward to 2021, and Torres-Garcia is fresh off a year that saw Cocoa Bombs do over $100,000 in revenue. He’s been featured in The Washington Post. He’s releasing a cookbook soon through a major publisher to teach people how to make a variety of different Cocoa Bomb recipes. In addition to his direct-to-consumer business model, he’s selling to distributors, private labeling and selling wholesale. He signed a deal with Kroger, the second largest grocery chain in America, which will see his Cocoa Bombs soon hit the shelves at Fred Meyer.

Cocoa Bombs will soon operate from a 6,000-square-foot production facility in Blackfoot, Idaho, the hometown of Eric Torres-Garcia.

Construction for a 6,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Blackfoot is underway. Torres-Garcia is hopeful the new faculty will provide the proper food safety certifications to sell his product in even larger stores like Costco, who he’s already been in close contact with. He’s planning on hiring a few employees to help once the facility is complete, but for now it’s still just him and his family making cocoa bombs manually.

Torres-Garcia’s story is one of pure inspiration and innovation, and shows that the best ideas are often reiterations, or new ways of thinking about everyday things. He plans to continue growing his Cocoa Bomb empire but is keeping his strategies and secrets closely guarded. He would eventually like to source his own ingredients straight from the growers.

“Just go for it,” he said when asked what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs. “There’s never really a right time. Just start somewhere, build yourself a website, build a prototype of your product. The only way you can fail is if you give up. I’d also strongly encourage you to find a mentor.”

Visit the Cocoa Bombs website to learn more.

–by Sam Pence, a Career Track MBA student and graduate assistant