In December 2019, Boise State alum Eric Torres-Garcia bought the ingredients to make an alternative to traditional hot chocolate mix. The Cocoa Bomb, inspired by the chocolate Kinder Eggs he encountered when he was studying in Italy, was born. Torres-Garcia filmed the unveiling of his creation – a chocolate orb filled with marshmallows that explodes and becomes cocoa as soon as it hits hot milk. He posted the video on TikTok. It went viral.
Torres-Garcia saw an opportunity. He took the video down and created a Shopify store so he could accept orders. He reposted the video. Later that same night, he had $7,000 worth of orders. That meant he had nearly 1,000 Cocoa Bombs to make, package, and ship to customers.
He marked the product sold out online and tried to figure out his next steps. He sought advice from Kent Neupert, chair of the management department at Boise State. To show the urgency of the situation, Torres-Garcia removed the sold-out status from his website while sitting in Neupert’s office. Orders immediately started coming in again as they watched. Neupert recommended an attorney with expertise in food and beverages.
“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,” Torres-Garcia said.
Torres-Garcia also connected with TechHelp, an Idaho company that specializes in food manufacturing and processing and has its headquarters at Boise State’s College of Business and Economics. TechHelp helped Torres-Garcia get several food certifications and more.
Torres-Garcia filed for an LLC, applied for a trademark, and began searching for a kitchen to make 1,000 Cocoa Bombs. He found a commercial kitchen to rent in his hometown of Blackfoot, Idaho. His family pitched in to help him fulfill that first order.
Inheriting an entrepreneurial spirit
Torres-Garcia grew up in an entrepreneurial family. His parents, Gerardo and Pilar Torres, worked while maintaining proverbial side-hustles including running a photo/video company and renting out bounce houses, water slides, and other party equipment. As a fifth-grader, Torres-Garcia bought bags of suckers wholesale and resold them to his classmates. He is a self-taught photographer who took senior photos for his high school peers. This led him to the visual services office at Boise State where he worked while earning his degree.
“I’ve always had a drive to become an entrepreneur and do my own thing,” Torres-Garcia said. “The fact that it was in chocolate came as kind of a surprise, but it was a really fun surprise.”
Bill Mullane, marketing manager at TechHelp, said he and his colleagues felt privileged to work with an entrepreneur like Torres-Garcia “with the courage, adventurousness, and passion to follow his dreams.”
“Who couldn’t find joy working with a modern Willy Wonka who is building a real chocolate factory right here in Idaho?” Mullane said.
How does a chocolate business grow?
Fast forward to 2021, and Torres-Garcia has released a cookbook featuring over 40 Cocoa Bomb recipes through Simon & Schuster, and recently won second place in the food competition during Boise Entrepreneur Week. In addition to his direct-to-consumer business model, Torres-Garcia is selling to distributors, private labeling, and selling wholesale.
He’s preparing to launch Cocoa Bombs in Kroger grocery stores and other chains and has opened a 6,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Blackfoot. He hopes to bring jobs and a new industry to the traditionally agricultural area.
The Washington Post featured Torres-Garcia in a story, “Hot cocoa bombs are the perfect storm of viral food trends.”
Many at Boise State have watched his success
“Launching a business is a tremendous challenge, especially in the consumer-packaged goods industry. Entrepreneurs have to be fearless and Eric meets challenging situations with confidence that he can succeed,” said Nic Miller, director of the Venture College at Boise State.
Torres-Garcia credits his parents and his siblings for helping him get to where he is. His father still works on a farm in Blackfoot.
“I would like to grow this into a company that can provide full-time jobs for my mom and dad. My parents have sacrificed a lot,” Torres-Garcia said. “It’s time for me to take over and take care of them.”