The growing climate in far-north Queensland has historically been associated with tropical fruits such as banana and mango.

But there’s a production hub at Mission Beach (around 140km south of Cairns), and what it’s making may catch some by surprise: chocolate.

The concept is the brainchild of husband and wife team Chris and Lynn Jahnke, who planted their first cocoa seeds at Mt Edna in 2013.

Less than two years later they harvested their first cocoa pods, and in 2016 founded Charley’s Chocolate Factory, a company which now produces an award-winning range of locally produced, gourmet chocolate products.

Charley’s is now reaching out to its sweet-toothed investor base with a crowd-sourced funding raise on the Birchal platform.

The company set a minimum raise target of $150k up to a maximum of $600k, with shares priced at $1.50 at a pre-money valuation of around $3.5m. At the time of publishing, it was tracking towards a $300k funding round ahead of the close this Thursday.

Speaking with Stockhead, company chair Ruth Medd said that like other consumer-facing businesses, Charley’s was attracted by the opportunity to use crowd-sourced funding as a means to further engage with its customer base — by giving them an opportunity to invest.

The company wants to deploy the funds to build out a three-pronged strategy for growth, starting with the tourism opportunity (Queensland and cocoa is a unique combination) from its production facility and the surrounding Mission Beach area.

Charley’s also wants to strengthen its distribution footprint through existing wholesale channels — “high-end hotels and coffee shops, and gourmet food vendors”, Medd said.

“The other undeveloped channel for us is online — we’ve mastered how to distribute chocolate-based products (without melting), and that’s an area we think is a great opportunity to drive growth for the business.”

Charley’s core products are single origin 70 per cent dark chocolates and milk chocolates, with some unique far-north Queensland flavour combos including chocolate and pineapple. The company’s product was named best overall chocolate at the Australian food awards in 2016 and 2017.

And it’s also benefited from some early research carried out by government-backed AgriFutures (formerly RIRDC), which assessed the viability of growing cocoa in Australia back in the early 2000s.

As part of that process it purchased a cocoa-splitting machine — one of only a few in the world — which Charley’s subsequently purchased.

“We’re a high-cost country, and we need to get a competitive advantage,” Medd said.

“The way to do it is by automatically splitting the cocoa pods. It’s a conveyer-belt structure that splits the seeds from the pod. That’s plant and equipment that we own now and to build a new one would be quite expensive.”

The company also grows its cocoa plants on trellises — a bit of innovation to protect against unpredictable tropical weather patterns.

All in all, Medd said the company was pitching its business as a longer-term investment, which gives the investing crowd an opportunity to join the journey and “have some fun along the way”.

“It’s about supporting a great bit of innovation in North Queensland, generating manufacturing jobs and helping build up a head of steam in the region,” she said.