OCHO CEO Scott Kucirek, left, with founder Denis Ring at the company’s West Oakland facility. Photo: Benjamin Seto

OCHO Candy positions itself as one of the few national candy brands to make organic chocolate bars, but founder Denis Ring dreams of the day when people look beyond the organic label and just talk about OCHO like any other candy bar.

“One of the things I’d hate to hear someone trying our product say is ‘Yeah, it’s not bad for organic,’” Ring said. “What I need to hear is ‘Oh my God, this is fabulous.’”

That shouldn’t be difficult given that OCHO bars taste much better and their ingredients are superior to the typical Snickers or Three Musketeers.  They aren’t made with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. The chocolate is not only organic, but GMO-free, certified gluten-free and certified fair-trade.

OCHO (O for organic and CHO for chocolate) has been producing candy from its West Oakland factory since 2013, three years after Ring officially started the company with his friend and marketing partner, Scott Kucirek, OCHO’s CEO. The company employs about 40 workers, many of whom live in Oakland.

An OCHO employee scrapes a coconut filling mixture from an industrial mixer. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Nosh recently got a behind-the-scenes tour at OCHO’s factory, three years after our first visit to the company’s 25,000-square-foot facility. The last time we were at OCHO, all the candies were still made by hand. Since then, they’ve automated a lot of their technique, and we got a peek at its unique process of creating perfectly sized chocolate bars with soft, creamy fillings.

Blocks of coconut filling are moved by conveyor belts to their next destination. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Most chocolate bars are made by creating a firm center that’s pushed out in a rectangular shape and cut into bar size, then enrobed in chocolate that’s poured over it as it goes down a conveyor belt. But at OCHO, the process is reversed.

OCHO candy bars are made using an uncommon technique. First chocolate shells are made in molds, then they’re filled before being enclosed with more chocolate. Photo: Benjamin Seto

OCHO begins by pouring tempered chocolate into molds made in Europe of industrial-strength plastic. A cold die is pushed into the center of the mold, pushing out excess chocolate and quickly freezing the sides to form the chocolate shell. Then the chocolate shells are filled with one of OCHO’s made-from-scratch fillings — caramel, coconut, peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly, and peppermint — and finally covered with a layer of chocolate.

A look inside OCHO’s peanut butter and jelly mini chocolate bar, which was introduced earlier this year. Photo: Benjamin Seto

“When you eat an OCHO candy bar, you bite through a thick layer of snappy chocolate of much better quality and the center is soft and creamy,” Kucirek said. “People really love that combination.”

Using the mold process has allowed OCHO in the past year to venture into special holiday candy, starting with egg-shaped chocolates for Easter. Last year the company introduced mini Christmas trees with its popular peanut butter-and-jelly flavor, and this year added caramel-filled trees.

“When you look at organic confections, there aren’t that many that are doing seasonal bars with shapes,” Ring said.

A worker checks freshly made chocolate bars. Photo: Benjamin Seto

When OCHO first started and made candies by hand, from creating the shells to filling them, it produced about 100 bars a day. Due to large investments in machinery, OCHO can now meet higher demands for more retailers (some of OCHO’s large customers include the Kroger grocery chain, Safeway, Walgreens and Target). Today, OCHO has the capacity to produce nearly 100,000 candy bars daily.

OCHO continues to expand its offerings, with new products that are new takes on classic candy bars. Ring revealed that a chocolate-covered wafer bar is in the works, ala Kit Kat.

The OCHO factory has the capacity to produce nearly 100,000 candy bars a day. Photo: Benjamin Seto

While the company is growing — its candy is available in more than 20,000 locations — there are no plans to move its HQ out of West Oakland. From the start of the company, Ring said, OCHO has had the mission of being a part of the community. Along with hiring local residents, OCHO has hired former inmates, working with organizations such as Oakland’s Beyond Emancipation.

You’ll also see OCHO at local community events and schools, often passing out free candy.

“Our company motto is ‘What’s inside counts,’” Ring said. “But that also means what’s inside our company and how we participate in what’s going around us in West Oakland and Oakland at large.”

Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap: Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.

Freelancer Benjamin Seto has worked as a reporter and editor for various newspapers around the country, and is currently a communications professional and food writer based in Oakland. Ben is also the...