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Production volume - how many bonbons can you make?


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Hi all,

 

First post here so please bear with me...

 

I have been running a small chocolate business in the Canary Islands for a couple of years, mainly making molded bonbons with various fillings, but also a few bars and other things when I have the time. With the pandemic things have been a bit slow as my outlet is based in a hotel, but I generally make between 2500 and 5000 bonbons a month. All the bonbons are are airbrushed, which seems to take way too long 🙄 At the moment it is just me doing production, so I have to do all the washing, polishing, spraying, filling, sealing and boxing myself, plus all the annoying paperwork that goes with it. Last Christmas I made about 12,000 bonbons in December but it nearly killed me 😂

 

With my current setup, I have no automation... I use 2 melters (one 12kg and one 3kg) and temper by seeding.

 

At the moment I am in discussions with a potential client who is talking about buying approx 2400 bonbons (600 boxes of 4) every 15 days. On the plus side, I might actually make some money... on the negative side, will it kill me making nearly 10,000 bonbons a month? 😶 I was wondering what other people think a reasonable number of bonbons to produce is? How many can you guys churn out in a month? Maybe I am just really slow and inefficient, but would love to know how many bonbons others can produce before I consider employing help.

 

Any imput received would be greatly appreciated. I have attached a pic of my shop display so that you can see the type of things I am making 👍

 

Thanks,

Anthony

IMG_20210523_102747.jpg

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Beautiful bonbons, beautiful display case.  I think the obvious answer to your question, "will it kill me making nearly 10,000 bonbons a month?" is "probably."  Your singlehanded production is amazing to me.  I also am a one-person operation, and I considered it an accomplishment when I made 3700 for the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period.  Do you have a life beyond chocolate-making?

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Thanks for the reply Jim.. glad you like the look of the bonbons, though obviously the taste is the most important think. Glad to hear that I am not the only one out here that struggles with big volumes 😄

 

What's this you say about a life beyond chocolate making? Does that exist? 😜 

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1 hour ago, Anthony C said:

At the moment I am in discussions with a potential client who is talking about buying approx 2400 bonbons (600 boxes of 4) every 15 days. On the plus side, I might actually make some money... on the negative side, will it kill me making nearly 10,000 bonbons a month? 😶 I was wondering what other people think a reasonable number of bonbons to produce is? How many can you guys churn out in a month? Maybe I am just really slow and inefficient, but would love to know how many bonbons others can produce before I consider employing help.

 

Hi Anthony and welcome to eGullet. Pretty looking display and bonbons.

 

As for your questions, I think you need to look a little bit larger picture than can I produce more. It is concerning that you mention that if you increase production by an additional 4,800 bonbons per month that you might actually make some money.  So, some questions to ask yourself (and share with us if you feel comfortable). Is your current business profitable? What are your current bottleneck areas? Would it help to add additional staff or equipment to your business? Would having more moulds make your more efficient? Would having more tempered chocolate available each day help or do you have more than enough each day? Do all of your pieces need to be airbrushed? Would adding some other decorative techniques be helpful to your efficiency/cost? How about selling additional products that are not as labor intensive and/or have higher profit margins (barks, pate de fruit, enrobed bonbons (assuming you purchase a guitar & enrober), other enrobed product, bars, panned items). Can you make more product and keep some frozen inventory? I would suggest that you be more strategic. Constantly working long hours on highly repetitive tasks is going to wear you down.

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Thanks for your reply Curls, and the suggestions,

 

To be honest, the Covid things has been a key issue for me, and it started about 3 months after I opened, having a pretty massive impact. For a few months I was completely shut and received very limited support from the government as the business had very limited history of earning anything. My production is in one place, outlet in the hotel is at another and I have to pay someone to be there. 2500 bonbons basically covers my costs (rents, salaries etc.) and 5000 gives me a pretty great month. With covid its been down at the 2500 level pretty much every month, except around Christmas, and sometimes it has been lower. My bottle necks are the polishing molds and spraying. The shelling, filling and sealing I could cope with more as an extra 10-15 molds each batch doesn't seem to have a major impact on that from my limited experience. Have considered additional molds, both for flexibility and increased volume, but the polishing/spraying would still be the issue. Thinking of having a part-timer in to do the polishing, though employing people in Spain is a major headache and the reason why I have been trying to avoid it.

 

A wider range of products that are quicker/easier to produce could indeed help, but most people seem to prefer the colourful bonbons... eating with the eyes I guess. Here in the Islands the shiny/colourful bonbons are a relatively new thing, so people gravitate to them. It is something that I shall certainly consider again, though buying a guitar & enrober are relatively large investments for me right now, especially as everything here has to be imported and therefore gets hit by additional import duties... typically around 25%

 

Freezing is something I keep considering, and have looked at many threads on this. I should really get around to trying it, as this could be a life saver, especially towards Christmas. Definitely considering buying a freezer for this.

 

You are right about the long hours... a few days or weeks here and there is ok, but is not sustainable. 

 

Thanks again for your feedback.

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@Anthony C based on your response I have another suggestion. To give your customer the colorful chocolates with a bit less work on your part you may want to look into adding a selection of chocolates that uses magnetic moulds and cocoa butter transfer sheets. You’ll have to run the numbers but this may be a way for you to make more pretty chocolates in a lot less time. 

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30 minutes ago, curls said:

@Anthony C based on your response I have another suggestion. To give your customer the colorful chocolates with a bit less work on your part you may want to look into adding a selection of chocolates that uses magnetic moulds and cocoa butter transfer sheets. You’ll have to run the numbers but this may be a way for you to make more pretty chocolates in a lot less time. 

 

I agree.  Magnetic molds are wonderful at busy times.  The time it takes to cut and insert a transfer sheet is nothing compared to airbrushing.  Other advantages include the fact that the chocolates all come out of the mold without fail and you don't lose any bonbons from flaking and sticking cocoa butter (do you have that issue?  I certainly do).  The downside is that magnetic molds are expensive.  At first I felt guilty using them--they seem like a copout--but I really appreciate them in December.  And, a final plus, customers like them and no one has ever commented on how much less work they involve than sprayed bonbons.  In fact, several customers have asked me how I managed to paint such intricate designs onto 200 chocolates (yes, I do confess).  Finding attractive, well-sized transfer sheets is difficult, but they exist.  You would have access to European sources.

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@Anthony C Very pleasing and pretty, professional looking range of bonbons ...

 

I would not miss that oppurtunity,

Just do it )

And ... work hard until buying some equipment and/or employing people.

 

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Nice looking work, and as I increase bonbon production I am also interested in this question. 

 

What mold do you use or how many cavities does it have?  How many molds of the same flavor do yo usually do at once?

 

I mostly use CW2295 with 32 cavities, usually 3 or 4 molds per flavor.  Assuming everything goes well, 12-15 molds is a good day, maybe up to 20 if I push myself and stay late.  So I think 400-500 pieces a day is reasonable for one person, 600+ is more of a stretch. I think 6-8000 is possible in 3 or 4 production days per week (gotta leave time for packaging etc).  It would be a little faster if they're all one flavor instead of tempering multiple colors and ganaches.

 

I disagree on transfer sheets always coming out perfectly.  They save time but can still have poor results.

 

What brand of cocoa butter do you use, and do you usually back with white?

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Hi Pastrygirl...thanks for your imput.

 

I also use the CW2295 from Chocolate World, with the 32 cavities. Like yourself, typically it would be 3/4 molds per flavour, though sometimes I might just do 1 or 2 for an experimental batch. On occasion I do larger batches of 10-20 molds of a flavour when I am producing for events / bigger hotel orders, which definitely speeds things up on the filling side. I tend to spread my production over several days. I'll spend a day polishing and painting. The next day I might shell those and fill some others already shelled. Day after seal the ones I filled the day before etc. Do you produce whole batches in a day from start to finish, or have I misread your post? That seems pretty intense.

 

To get my approx 5000 bonbons a month I need to turn out about 36 molds per week, which is manageable so long as there aren't any disasters. 8000 bonbons a month would be 58 molds a week (with no holidays) and I think that would be pushing my sanity especially as I really don't enjoy polishing molds 🤪

 

At the moment I use cocoa butter from chocolate world, but the range is a bit limited, so have just set up an international account with Chef Rubber. They are a bit more expensive, and I have no idea on shipping costs yet, but reviews seem good and the range of colours looks fantastic. Sometimes its quite dificut to find suppliers that will ship to us, due to our unique situation of being within the European Union but outside of it for VAT (sales tax) purposes. What brand do you use? Backing with white is a yes for certain colours e.g. yellow, orange, green and red that are very translucent and lose effect on dark/milk chocolate. Other colours such as the pink, light blue, copper, are more opaque and don't seem to require white backing. Also, sometimes not applying the white backing gives me an additional colour effect.. my mojito and matcha bonbons both have the same green, but the mojito has white backing that makes it light and bright, whereas the matcha tea has a dusting of silver first but no white backing to give a shiny, deep green effect.

 

Have a great day!

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Yes, I usually do a few flavors start to finish.  Polish, paint, shell, fill, cap.  I would hate to have a day that was all polishing 😆

 

Today I made 2 flavors, 7 molds total.  I had extra ganache in the freezer so I melted that down rather than start from scratch but I don't know if that really saves any time.  I worked about 5.5 hours today but not very hard, I feel like I spend so much time waiting for cocoa butter to either melt or cool.  I also ran to the post office, put away the 4 molds of cardamom from yesterday, made lunch ...

 

I've been working out of melters and I find maintaining working temp takes a lot of time and energy, so I just bought a Selmi.  Haven't used it yet, but I hope it will do that maintenance for me.

 

What is your airbrush setup?  A larger nozzle or compressor could help get more color on in less time.

 

I agree, 60 molds a week is getting towards max for 1 person. 

 

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Ah yes, the joys of waiting for things to heat and cool 🙄 Not to mention the stirring and the stirring and the stirring..

 

I am impressed that you handle all the stages in such an efficient manner. 5.5 hours for 7  moulds, start to finish, with post office and lunch seems a lot. Then again, I am a man so multitasking is way beyond my skill level 🤔

 

As for the airbrushing, my compressor runs at about 20psi I think.. will check later when I am at my workshop. Takes me about 2-3 minutes to spray a mould, including a couple of pauses to blast the airbrush with a hairdryer. Was thinking of getting an airgun instead of an airbrush, but I don't think my extraction would handle all the overspray... I am already a very messy airbrusher. I think its more the time heating the butters and swapping between colours that adds to my time airbrushing, and when a mold has several colours or a painted design along with airbrushing.

 

Which Selmi did you get? All the ones I have seen are way out of my budget for now. Would be great to hear how it goes with that.

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9 hours ago, Anthony C said:

Ah yes, the joys of waiting for things to heat and cool 🙄 Not to mention the stirring and the stirring and the stirring..

 

I am impressed that you handle all the stages in such an efficient manner. 5.5 hours for 7  moulds, start to finish, with post office and lunch seems a lot. Then again, I am a man so multitasking is way beyond my skill level 🤔

😂

 

 

9 hours ago, Anthony C said:

 

Which Selmi did you get? All the ones I have seen are way out of my budget for now. Would be great to hear how it goes with that.

I got the Color EX, definitely an investment at $10k, but when I think if I had to pay a helper $20/hr it seems like a bargain.

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On 5/28/2021 at 1:54 PM, pastrygirl said:

 

I got the Color EX

 

"Tempers 12 Kg of chocolate in 8 minutes."

 

 😍  😍  😍  😍  😍 

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Posted (edited)

I had a fairly smooth day of bonbon-ing today, 12 molds (CW2295, 32 cavity dome) start to finish (but not fully packaged/put away).  I took notes on the timing, just in case it helps.  I planned ahead and put my colors in a melter overnight, otherwise I'd microwave them while polishing molds

 

polishing molds: 30 minutes

airbrushing molds, meanwhile melting ganaches in the microwave: 1 hour

tempering chocolate, casting shells: 45 min

tempering & piping fillings: 1 hour

making one more layer on the hazelnut, re-tempering what's in the melter, and lunch break: 45 min

capping all molds: 45 min

packaging & etc: 2 hours plus

 

So 5 hours of production, probably 4 hours of packaging for 384 pieces.  I did lose a few, say at the end of the day I have 40 bonbons per hour made and in the box.   If labor costs $20/hr, that's 50 cents a piece in labor. I'll make a little at wholesale, do better at retail, and would do even better if I can produce more in less time :/  Or I could charge more, I did raise prices recently but am still far from the most expensive in town. Retail is around $2.50 a piece.

 

 

 

 

Edited by pastrygirl (log)
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Posted (edited)

Curiosity question - when you are making bonbons, are you fulfilling orders (for wholesale or retail or a combination of both) or making inventory?  I'm not making fine chocolates  (I'm not making *any* chocolates ;)) so I wonder where the place is that would give you more ROI of time.  Does having an intern polish molds make sense or is there the chance if it's not done properly, the end result is the piece doesn't come out of the mold and you lose that one(s)?  Or is it possible to store the pieces you make in a day and then package several days' production all at once?

 

I routinely refer to myself as the efficiency bitch because I am always looking at how to make a process more efficient.  For example: It drives me up a wall when someone is filling cannoli, and they fill the shell, put it on a sheet pan and wait til all of them are filled; then they dip the ends in vermicelli and back on the sheet pan and then box them up.   (this happens only once with a new person!) Every time you handle something adds to your labor cost; so cannoli shells are counted out for each order, they are filled, dipped in the vermicelli and put into the box in one fell swoop.  (ETA that this means you fill one shell, dip the filled shell and put the shell in the box. Then go to the next one, etc)

 

So I'm curious about whether it's even possible to do the same in chocolate making.

Edited by JeanneCake
ETA; defining one fell swoop ;) (log)
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2 hours ago, JeanneCake said:

Curiosity question - when you are making bonbons, are you fulfilling orders (for wholesale or retail or a combination of both) or making inventory?  I'm not making fine chocolates  (I'm not making *any* chocolates ;)) so I wonder where the place is that would give you more ROI of time.  Does having an intern polish molds make sense or is there the chance if it's not done properly, the end result is the piece doesn't come out of the mold and you lose that one(s)?  Or is it possible to store the pieces you make in a day and then package several days' production all at once?

 

I routinely refer to myself as the efficiency bitch because I am always looking at how to make a process more efficient.  For example: It drives me up a wall when someone is filling cannoli, and they fill the shell, put it on a sheet pan and wait til all of them are filled; then they dip the ends in vermicelli and back on the sheet pan and then box them up.   (this happens only once with a new person!) Every time you handle something adds to your labor cost; so cannoli shells are counted out for each order, they are filled, dipped in the vermicelli and put into the box in one fell swoop.  (ETA that this means you fill one shell, dip the filled shell and put the shell in the box. Then go to the next one, etc)

 

So I'm curious about whether it's even possible to do the same in chocolate making.

 

I think the need to temper chocolate and keep it in temper makes the process a bit different.  In other words, having the chocolate ready to use (which also includes the crucial step of not letting it get "overtempered") means, for example, making all the dark shells at once, storing them while you make the fillings one by one, then tempering chocolate all over again and sealing all the shells.  At least that's what I have found works the best for me.  If the chocolate would just sit there in perfect temper for days on end (which is what the Selmi accomplishes, but most of us small producers don't have those), then we could use your cannoli method. In making chocolates, the fillings are the most time-consuming part by far.  For me, boxing the finished chocolates works best when all of them are done at once--the boxes are readied, the chocolates are spread out on a counter, then comes the tedious part of filling the boxes.  I do sometimes hire people for that final step (or, even better, my sister offers her free help).  I am not so much an "efficiency bitch" as a perfectionist nut, meaning I need to see each box myself before it is closed.

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@JeanneCake bonbon inventory management and production flow are things I'm still wrapping my head around.  I hadn't been making a whole lot of bonbons due to shelf life concerns, but they've been selling so well at holidays and online that I'm focusing much more attention on them. 

 

With my truffles or bars, I'll make a big batch of a single flavor and package them right away.  With the assorted bonbon boxes there are 9 or more flavors so I've been making a few flavors at a time and chilling or freezing until I have them all ready to box up, then boxing and usually re-freezing until I get an order.  But now I'm wondering if repeated freezing and thawing is a bad idea. 

 

I would like to get a cold display case so people can build their own boxes, I just had a customer today who would have enjoyed that.  I have a retail window at my production kitchen, it's in an industrial area so not much foot traffic so far but business is growing and people are finding me.

 

I'm doing direct retail and some wholesale of the pre-packed boxes, plus I have two customers who order bulk bonbons by the dozen, so I'm trying to stay ahead enough to fill those orders quickly.  And now I'm trying to stock up for summer, I have at least 1000 bulk bonbons in the freezer plus several hundred boxed or trayed and ready to go in boxes.

 

I admit that I've been kind of scattered with them, one box has nuts, one has wheat, one doesn't but will all the fruit flavors offend someone?  And I've been doing some hearts and some domes in the same flavors which is just ridiculous to keep track of.  I need to figure out a better way, I'm making myself crazy - one shape, 12 flavors, one version of the flavor guide for all sizes of box.  I guess that's my summer project :)

 

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Posted (edited)

Nice breakdown on timings there pastrygirl.. I guess my times are a little slower than yours but not massively, though I do find that my shelling takes much longer than my capping.

 

For my production I am working on both wholesale orders for some hotels I supply and then inventory for my shop. Like pastrygirl, I sometimes have problems "guessing" the numbers for inventory. Fortunately, I never seem to have bonbons that go beyond their "best before" date, but I still try to keep the turnover relatively rapid as for some bonbons the flavour seems to fade a bit even if they are still safe to eat. This does mean that sometimes I run out of a flavour or two before I can get them back on the shelf... that can be a good thing though as people see they are in demand and as long as I have a good selection on offer nobody seems to mind.

 

I only box for my hotel orders and for boxes of the hotel chocolates that I sell in my shop. All my other bonbons are on display and people select what they want... it saves me loads of time in boxing, and the person who works in my shop prepares all the empty boxes before the shop opens in the mornings. Generally I find most people seem to enjoy the selecting flavours part of the purchase, though it can cause a queue to form on busy days especially at Christmas. Also, it means that people avoid the flavours they might not like. The display can look really cool and add a wow factor, so I would certainly recommend having one if you can.

 

I think I work more like Jim in my production technique, not having a nice "all singing all dancing" tempering machine like pastrygirl. I also tend to shell a lot of molds at the same time and then leave some in my cooler until I get round to filling and capping a few days later. I also apply a similar process with spraying molds, so if I am using certain colours for some flavours, I might spray some molds for other flavours where the same colours are required, but not use them for a couple of days. Normally I have about 1000 bonbons ready for sale in my shop. 

 

The freezing idea was something that curls mentioned way back in this thread, which is something I really need to look at more closely. Not sure about repeated freezing though.. sounds a bit on the risky side to me 🤫 Not sure how it is for you guys, but in Spain I have to keep detailed records of the lot numbers and expiry dates of all the ingredients I use in each batch of bonbons, which takes me more time than I would like, and also assign lot numbers to the batches I make so that I can record production date and final sale/disposal date. Any boxes I sell to the hotels also have to be labelled up with their ingredients, allergens, lot number, best before date etc. Printing and applying stickers to every box seems to take up too much of my time.

 

I have 18 standard flavours, where I might change 1 or 2 once or twice a year, but only when I run out of printed flavour guides. Then I might put out 2 or 3 special editions flavours each month to supplement and to keep regular customers interested. One shape is enough for me, but I do make the hearts at valentines and then some Christmas figures during the holidays... which are a pain in the proverbial. 

 

Oh, and retail price is a bit lower here at about 1.75 euros (about 2.10 dollars) per piece buy then I think my costs are generally lower too.

Edited by Anthony C (log)
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20 minutes ago, Anthony C said:

not having a nice "all singing all dancing" tempering machine like pastrygirl

 

lol, I haven't even plugged it in yet!

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7 hours ago, Jim D. said:

 

I think the need to temper chocolate and keep it in temper makes the process a bit different.  In other words, having the chocolate ready to use (which also includes the crucial step of not letting it get "overtempered") means, for example, making all the dark shells at once, storing them while you make the fillings one by one, then tempering chocolate all over again and sealing all the shells.  At least that's what I have found works the best for me.  If the chocolate would just sit there in perfect temper for days on end (which is what the Selmi accomplishes, but most of us small producers don't have those), then we could use your cannoli method. In making chocolates, the fillings are the most time-consuming part by far.  For me, boxing the finished chocolates works best when all of them are done at once--the boxes are readied, the chocolates are spread out on a counter, then comes the tedious part of filling the boxes.  I do sometimes hire people for that final step (or, even better, my sister offers her free help).  I am not so much an "efficiency bitch" as a perfectionist nut, meaning I need to see each box myself before it is closed.

 

See! That's what I needed to know, and now I remember that from those hot cocoa bombs - without a machine there's only so much chocolate you can temper at once and use it!  Once I got the right cocoa butter for the EZTemper, it was easier but still, there's only so much you can do at once.

 

The cannoli thing is just an example of how there's lag time in how someone does something; and I don't know enough about bonbon production to know if there is a point of no return where you *can't* speed things up.  I wish I were closer @pastrygirl or @Jim D. because I would volunteer to come help!

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1 hour ago, JeanneCake said:

I wish I were closer @pastrygirl or @Jim D. because I would volunteer to come help!

 

I wish I were closer to you, so much to learn from you!  Unfortunately after 50 years close to you in Boston, I am now considerably farther south (but I hadn't the slightest thought of making bonbons during my "Boston days").

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2 hours ago, Anthony C said:

in Spain I have to keep detailed records of the lot numbers and expiry dates of all the ingredients I use in each batch of bonbons, which takes me more time than I would like, and also assign lot numbers to the batches I make so that I can record production date and final sale/disposal date. Any boxes I sell to the hotels also have to be labelled up with their ingredients, allergens, lot number, best before date etc. Printing and applying stickers to every box seems to take up too much of my time.

 

I am required to follow the same process here.  Since writing down the lot numbers of ingredients is incredibly time-consuming, I came upon the idea of taking a photo of each bag or box in question; the inspector thought it was a great idea.  I have a computer program to format and print the labels (a different label for each size box, since they differ in weight), and at the end of each ingredient list (and, of course, the ever-popular allergen list), I print the date of that batch (in code so that frozen boxes from previous batches don't reveal how technically old they are).  I am not required to have the ingredient list visible, but do have it available and it is included in an insert in each box.  For wholesale situations, I provide a single copy of the list for posting.  So far no customer has ever asked a single question about ingredients.  And, after all, bakeries don't provide an ingredient list.  In the U.S. the allergen list is ever shifting (only going up, never down).  I had a "discussion" with the inspector about why pinenuts should be included since they are not nuts; she sighed and said, "I know, I know, but just do it."

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Wow Jim... just took a look at your website... an amazing selection of fillings you have there. Don't think I could cope with that many. I struggle with my 18 standard flavours, 8 exclusive flavours for a customer, and 1 or 2 specials per month. You have over 100 delicious sounding fillings listed on your site... Bravo 👋

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