Mike and Jen’s Hot Cocoa is Turning Sips Into Smiles

Mike and Jen’s Cocoa
Turning Sips Into Smiles
One cup at a time

Once upon a time in the beautiful northern city of Duluth, Minnesota, there lived a little girl named Jen who loved to play outside, even in the snowiest and coldest of weather. Every day, when she came inside, she wanted a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Her dad Dean would go to the cupboard and bring out a can of a well-known big-brand cocoa mix to make hot chocolate for Jen and her brother Mike.

One wintry day, he happened to look at the label of ingredients on the back of the cocoa can. “Dipotassium Phosphate? Acesulfame? Polysorbate? What are all these chemicals that I am serving to my children?” he said.

He exclaimed to Mike and Jen, “What if we make our own cocoa mix, and make it the best cocoa in the entire world?”

“Yay!” the Packingham siblings replied.

And the rest is history . . .

Born and raised in Duluth, Dean Packingham was a long-time meteorologist at the Duluth National Weather Service. In 2012, the scientist in him kicked in as he set off on his quest to make cocoa for his kids, and he started ordering 65 varieties of cocoa powders from all over the world.

Amanda Cunningham and Dean Packingham, co-owners of Mike and Jen's Cocoa

“I spent a year of my life, becoming the ‘mad scientist’ of cocoa mix. We discovered that all cocoa powders are not created equal. We did, however, find one from Italy that we loved that had been made for over 170 years,” Dean explained.

After much experimentation, taste testing and refining of the recipe, they landed on their special blend of Mike and Jen’s Cocoa, combining whole milk powder, pure cane sugar, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder and sea salt.

They started sharing it with friends and Dean’s colleagues at the National Weather Service, and everyone loved it and wanted more.

Starting with six bags, and working out of several area kitchens, with sales to local shops, restaurants and stores, the business took off. From experimenting in their own kitchen, to now ten years later, Mike and Jen’s Cocoa’s popularity has exploded.

Dean brought his best friend Amanda Cunningham on board in 2016 after she retired from the Weather Service. Dean also retired from the Weather Service in 2017 so that he and Amanda could both concentrate entirely on the business.

Amanda is now co-owner of Mike and Jen’s as well. Amanda and Dean share responsibilities equally for Mike and Jen’s Cocoa, splitting the duties between them, with Amanda more of the numbers person, and running more of the business side. “Dean is the face of the company, and I do anything I can to help make it all work,” she said. “We have great fun working together as we continue to branch out more.”

Dean, Jen and Mike Packingham and Amanda Cunningham. Photo submitted.

Dean added, “I am so proud of what we have accomplished as a family in my hometown. And Amanda has made all the difference in us being able to grow. Although we made this cocoa with my kids in mind, drinking it makes us all kids again.”

“We are very proud to be a Duluth-based business,” said Amanda. “The community has been so loyal to us, and we love how the city works together to encourage people to shop locally.”

Crafted in Duluth, Mike and Jen's have made Duluth the "Hot cocoa capital of the world."

“We are a strong regional brand in the Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota currently,” said Dean.

It is easy “to get your mittens on” Mike and Jen’s Cocoa at over 800 locations and growing, including Costco, Target, Cash Wise, Lund’s, Byerlys, Hy-Vee, Meijer, and at hotels, restaurants and gifts shops throughout the region. Find a list at mikeandjens.com/cocoa-finder. It’s also sold on Amazon where Prime members get free shipping. Customers can also buy online at the Mike and Jen’s website (mikeandjens.com). The cocoa comes in a variety of sizes including bulk packaging and single serve.

Mike and Jen’s was in the top 10 of all food items sold at the Duluth Costco last year. Their mix is now sold in 13 Minnesota Costcos.

Locally, Mike and Jen’s is served at the DECC and Amsoil Arena for all events, and on the menu at the New London Cafe, Vanilla Bean (both locations) and at 190 Coffee. Over 40 local retail outlets, hotels and gift shops also sell their packaged cocoa.

Their website features recipes to make with the mix, including peppermint hot chocolate, frozen cocoa pops, and Mexican cocoa. It is also great in place of creamer in coffee for a delicious mocha.

Mike and Jen’s has even gone international. They are selling their “muy deliciosa” (very delicious) mix in Mexico, the third largest consumer of cocoa in the world.

Selling Mike and Jen's cocoa in Mexico. Submitted photo.

Jen is now in college at UMD majoring in business and Mike is in graduate school at Hamline working on a teaching degree.

Jen and Mike Packingham today. Submitted photo.

Dean has done his best to keep his promise to his kids to make the best cocoa in the world. He is also proud to say that because of Mike and Jen’s, Duluth is indeed “the cocoa capital of the world.”

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