by Dwain Hebda
Carmen Portillo is a Little Rock entrepreneur who became the state’s first certified professional chocolatier. Her company, Cocoa Belle Chocolates, has developed a national reputation for her luxury creations, produced out of a nondescript manufacturing space in Bryant. Not long ago, CBD entrepreneur and Cocoa Belle fan Jason Martin reached out to Portillo with an idea.
“I knew the quality of Carmen’s products and the care and craftsmanship she puts into her work,” says Martin, CEO of Little Rock’s Tree of Life Seeds, a CBD products manufacturer. “We’d wanted to add a chocolate product to our line for a while now and when we reached out, Carmen was open to the idea of collaborating.”
Unless you’ve been on the moon the last few years, you’ve seen the explosion of products containing CBD, a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive compound found in the oil of industrial hemp. There are plenty of ways to take your CBD – straight oil, capsules, vape, balms – which manufacturers suggest hold various health and wellness properties. But arguably none of these options are as tasty as the new edible, CB-Dulce, the first premium chocolate to be infused with Tree of Life-brand CBD oil. The product hit shelves May 15 and has done well in the time since.
“I knew of the CBD industry a little bit,” Portillo says. “I have a family member who benefits medically from CBD. I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen testimony of how it works in their life. So, it definitely piqued my interest in not only building a brand and being a good business move but knowing how important it is to those who utilize CBD every day.”
CB-Dulce was in development for about five months and resulted in CBD-infused fudge in two varieties, German chocolate and dark chocolate. Made from premium ingredients, the fudge bites deliver five milligrams of CBD per dose, 60 milligrams per bag.
“A lot of people don’t know that CBD actually contains omega fatty acids,” Portillo says. “The super omega bar is dark chocolate, which is high in antioxidants, and also has walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and cranberries. It’s not only the omega that you get from the CBD, but we’re cramming it full of omegas from all the natural nuts and berries, too.”
Chocolate bars soon followed the release of the fudge in plain dark chocolate and super omega varieties, both carrying 100 milligrams (five milligrams per dose) of the company’s high-quality proprietary CBD oil. The products represent a new direction for the chocolate company, with no drop-off in quality.
“What I do with Cocoa Belle is more the gift luxury item; I’m known for my truffles, handmade delicacies,” she says. “For CBD people who would consume this on a daily basis to get their CBD intake, I really wanted this to come off as more relatable. I didn’t want it be just a gift, holiday or luxury kind of thing. That’s why I chose fudge for the first product. I wanted to do something that was different in the market.”
Portillo relied on other food science to create the products. She says adding CBD oil didn’t affect the consistency of the chocolate because the oil is highly concentrated, thus it didn’t take much to deliver the intended dose of CBD’s beneficial properties. And, because chocolate cooks at a lower temperature than other tempting edibles such as baked goods, the CBD doesn’t break down like it can do in cookies.
“The CB-Dulce cannabidiol infused chocolate brand is doing well just seven months into the market,” Portillo says. “Tree of Life Seeds, as the main distributor of the brand, continues to add more stores and clinics to the list of retailers carrying the products. The recent expansion of the Tree of Life Seeds sales office and development of an onsite laboratory in North Little Rock is a good indication of the potential growth for CB-Dulce.”