Engineering alumnus produces ethically sourced chocolate

Contact: Cindy Wagner
Conner Tierney

Connor Tierney

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Connor Tierney graduated with a degree in engineering management technology in 2015 and launched a successful, growing career, now working as a project engineer at Landscape Forms in Kalamazoo. He married fellow Bronco Madeline Taylor, recently moved back to Kalamazoo, and welcomed a baby into the family in 2021. 

Photo of chocolate thunder products

Chocolate Thunder is now available online and at Kalamazoo's Farmers Market.

And, amidst his busy life, he also started a new business. Chocolate Thunder boasts single origin, small batch, vegan and ethically sourced chocolate. 

Tierney’s entrepreneurial foray into chocolate began when he was off work for three months in 2020 due to the pandemic. “I watched a lot of Netflix and stumbled upon a documentary that informed me of the amount of unpaid labor and child labor that exists in the cacao supply chain, which is responsible for 70% of the chocolate on store shelves,” says Tierney. 

He became committed to improving this plight and decided to try his hand at making chocolate, learning that the process involves a lot of business acumen and science. “It satisfies my manufacturing and management passions while promoting a mission of ethically sourced chocolate,” adds Tierney.

To ensure he fulfills that mission, Tierney works with one primary supplier who provides full transparency in the supply chain and shares Tierney’s commitment to ensuring a living wage for all farmers they work with.

“The farm groups follow the best environmental and social practices and are always seeking to innovate and redefine those principles,” explains Tierney.

The result of his efforts? Delicious chocolate that is now available online and at Kalamazoo’s Farmers Market! 

Each Chocolate Thunder bar is made of the same two ingredients--cacao beans and sugar—and are all about 70% dark. “You will find that 70% dark craft chocolate is much less bitter than larger corporations’ products.”  Tierney sources cacao from farms all over the world, then roasts, cracks, winnows, grinds, adds organic sugar sustainably sourced from Brazil, tempers, and molds. He packages the chocolate in boxes he designed. 

“The flavor of single origin chocolate varies from country to country just like the taste of wine varies,” explains Tierney. “Madagascar has bright red fruity notes whereas Vietnam has dried fig and molasses notes. You have to try it for yourself.”

What does the future hold for Chocolate Thunder? Tierney plans to try some rum infused chocolates along with barrel aged chocolate.

“My plans are to continue to grow locally and eventually get into a rental kitchen so I can sell more online.” 

Tierney hopes to scale the business by employing someone part time at first, possibly a culinary intern. Eventually, he hopes to support someone full time to help produce the chocolate. “I have no intention of quitting my job at Landscape Forms. There are 168 hours in a week and my day job is only 40 of those hours,” says Tierney.

Follow Chocolate Thunder Instagram @Chocolate_Thunder_Official for updates on when Tierney will be at the farmers market.

But if you get a craving for high-end, responsible chocolate, order it online where you can also watch Tierney's entire chocolate process.

Learn more about Tierney and Taylor’s lives and careers by reading their Bronco Love Story.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.