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From NYC to Sunshine Coast – a Chocolate Story

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It started at a party in New York City. Chocolate was the theme and the host even brought in delights from Paris, but Vancouver artist John Down decided to bring his own creations. The guests loved them and the idea for a chocolate business was born.

With a new creative outlet, John and his partner Joe Guiliano opened a business in Manhattan and quickly grew a reputation for producing decadent and delicious chocolates under the Christopher Norman Chocolates brand. Their success attracted media attention for pairing old world methods with John’s modern artistic flair, that included interviews with Oprah and Martha Stewart, and countless photos in the New York Times.

And then 9/11 happened. For several years, the aftermath continued to negatively affect their lives, so they left the buildings of NYC to seek out the trees of John’s home province of B.C.

In Halfmoon Bay, on the Sunshine Coast, John and Joe have resurrected their chocolate business with the intent of keeping it small, yet sophisticated and inventive. This time, their business model does not include a store front, but instead relies on shipping-only to get product to market.

The Covid pandemic impacted them like so many other B.C. food businesses. John enrolled in the Food Business Refresh program offered by the Small Scale Food Processor Association, and that’s where he met Greg McLaren, Managing Director of Farm Food Drink. Greg led the facilitation of the program and helped direct participants to define and implement their next business move. After the program, John reached out to Greg for help on marketing his business in B.C.

The Project

Even after being in business for so many years, John recognized that he needed outside help to refresh and refine his brand and the elements that go with it. With a focus on online sales versus a brick-and-mortar situation, it was highly important to have a strong visual appeal to support the creativity and quality of his products.

Farm Food Drink got involved to improve and polish the overall brand elements, including website imagery and functionality, and a new label design. With a foundation of existing digital assets to work with, the team planned to tighten up brand guidelines so everything would be consistent and professional across all media.

The Creative

When John and Joe moved from New York, they brought their visual brand with them. As they settled into Halfmoon Bay and adopted the lifestyle of living on the beautiful West Coast, that brand no longer represented who they are now, nor the right tone for B.C. The design didn’t showcase the artistry of John’s carefully handcrafted confections that would attract his new audience.


Our first project was the Christopher Norman Chocolates website which is hosted through Shopify. This platform has limited layout options so we had to be innovative to select a theme and then create graphic elements to fit into that theme’s format.  Working with CN Chocolates’ existing digital assets, we designed the website to reflect John’s artistic flare with splash-style backgrounds and bright colour pops. Copy was written with humour and whimsy to incorporate John’s personality, and many pages were streamlined to improve a site visitor’s experience.

However, after a few weeks of living with the website, which was functioning well, John and Joe felt the branding was not quite right. Their level of sophistication as chocolatiers was not prominent enough. We went back to the drawing board.

The copy and Shopify theme didn’t have to be updated, but we were able to edit the design elements. This time, we zeroed in on the chocolates, and we went dark. Dark, with rich chocolate colours that tease the senses. CN Chocolates had a photoshoot and provided updated product photos that worked perfectly in this darker design theme.

This work elevated the brand to John and Joe’s satisfaction.


With an expanding product line, hot chocolate was the first label we were invited to design. John had an initial creative concept in mind, but let our creative director run with the project. We captured the same rich dark look as the website and its bold strong typography style. To make a statement to honour John’s artistic pursuits, a section of one of his paintings was incorporated into the top of the label. To highlight this project further, we suggested a digital printing technique that could make the label look like a luxury metallic foil, without the high cost.

The Result

Everything came together for the website, the labels, and the brand overall. Elegance and richness enlighten every page and image. This branding and website project helps re-showcase Christopher Norman Chocolates’ world-class status in a boutique and friendly way, and works great in the B.C. marketplace.

The website is ready for shoppers. The eCommerce element is functioning well, and with the new changes, the site is ready for traffic. Campaigns are ready for Google Ads and social media referrals.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure working with John, who is both a visionary and someone open to options,” mentions Greg McLaren, Farm Food Drink Managing Director. “I look forward to many more stimulating conversations to support his business.”

John and Joe’s story has been attracting local media attention from Global TV, CBC Radio, and various print media, just for starters. Their remarkable story will certainly uncover many future tales to share.

Client Reaction

John and Joe are pleased with the new brand elements and their stunning website. They experienced a learning curve in doing this kind of work remotely, having either done it in house in the past, or face to face. Farm Food Drink guided them through each step of each process so they were invested in every decision.

“Greg is so inspirational,” exclaims John Down. “He was more like a coach steering me through different decisions and motivating me to do what I felt was right for me.”

John was also enthusiastic about working with Tammi Hall, Farm Food Drink’s Creative Director, and Sheena Gnos, overall Projects Manager. For everybody involved, it was a truly enjoyable experience.  

What’s Next For Christopher Norman Chocolates?

The business is once again thriving as a boutique enterprise that ships around the world, while immersing themselves in supporting local businesses and community. It’s a terrific story!

As they evolve while cautious not to grow too big, John’s creative powers are constantly developing with and artist’s ideas for new creations. Watch their new website to discover fabulous, chocolate goodness. 

When you need ideas for your food business, contact us to discover what your next moves might be with the Farm Food Drink team.  

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