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Selling chocolate products online - what comes first?


cc.canuck
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I'm in the very early days of selling chocolate products online and am trying to figure out what should come first - the orders or the products? Do you wait for orders to come in and then make enough bars, bonbons, dipped caramels, etc to fulfill them or do you make a set number of all of your products and then accept orders until you run out and then restock?

 

Apologies if that's an incredibly silly question. Like I said - early days!

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Just curious, in your area what regulations do you need to comply with to sell online?
 

Issues that I would have are sales tax collection, approved labeling for my product, working in a licensed kitchen, etc.. 

 

Did you build your own website? How many flavors do you plan to have available? Are you supplying flavor guides? What sort of packaging are you using for your chocolates?

 

Interested in how this works in your area. I’m in Virginia and working under the cottage food laws of my county and Commonwealth. This limits me to in person sales but also means that I can work out of my home and don’t need extensive ingredient labelling. So far this works for me. If I want to expand, I’ll need to move beyond the cottage law rules and comply with additional regulations.

Edited by curls (log)
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25 minutes ago, cc.canuck said:

I'm in the very early days of selling chocolate products online and am trying to figure out what should come first - the orders or the products? Do you wait for orders to come in and then make enough bars, bonbons, dipped caramels, etc to fulfill them or do you make a set number of all of your products and then accept orders until you run out and then restock?

 

Apologies if that's an incredibly silly question. Like I said - early days!

 

I do it both ways, mostly the first.  I send out an email to those on my list to announce the ready date of the next batch.  I state a deadline about two weeks before that date (which is how long the process takes) and provide an online order form.  I mostly adhere to the cutoff date and so know how many pieces I MUST make.  But experience has taught that people will forget deadlines, encounter last-minute needs for boxes of chocolates, etc., so I now make lots of extras.  If those are not claimed soon after the pickup date, I freeze them for "between-batch" emergencies.  So far no boxes have gone unclaimed, eventually.  I also have two wholesale accounts and can always use extras for those.

 

For the batch I am currently working on, I have not sent out a notice because I am committed to two events that must take precedence, and customers have somewhat lower expectations because of the very warm weather.  But I am making enough extras so that I will be able to provide some boxes.  When everything is done, I will send out a notice and then take orders until everything is gone.  But the first method is what I normally do. It works well for me since I make the chocolates in my home kitchen and cannot turn it over constantly to bonbon production--batches must be finite and cannot be gigantic.  I have reluctantly turned down two newspaper interviews simply because I know I cannot fulfill many more orders.  I would love to have a shop in the flourishing downtown where I would have a gorgeous glass case with a constant display of many different bonbons, but that would require more employees and much money, and is, alas, for another life. 

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I keep inventory so I can fulfill orders as quickly as possible.  Sharing a hometown with Amazon.com, I've come to expect my purchases to be shipped within a day and I try to do the same for my customers.

 

Most bars will keep for a year, so might as well have a few months' supply.  Bonbons are more of a conundrum that I'm solving by freezing, which is fine for shipping, just move the box to the fridge and ship the next day or keep it frozen with an insulated bag and ice pack if shipping to warmer areas.

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On 6/18/2021 at 3:46 PM, Jim D. said:

 

I do it both ways, mostly the first.  I send out an email to those on my list to announce the ready date of the next batch.  I state a deadline about two weeks before that date (which is how long the process takes) and provide an online order form.  I mostly adhere to the cutoff date and so know how many pieces I MUST make.  But experience has taught that people will forget deadlines, encounter last-minute needs for boxes of chocolates, etc., so I now make lots of extras.  If those are not claimed soon after the pickup date, I freeze them for "between-batch" emergencies.  So far no boxes have gone unclaimed, eventually.  I also have two wholesale accounts and can always use extras for those.

 

For the batch I am currently working on, I have not sent out a notice because I am committed to two events that must take precedence, and customers have somewhat lower expectations because of the very warm weather.  But I am making enough extras so that I will be able to provide some boxes.  When everything is done, I will send out a notice and then take orders until everything is gone.  But the first method is what I normally do. It works well for me since I make the chocolates in my home kitchen and cannot turn it over constantly to bonbon production--batches must be finite and cannot be gigantic.  I have reluctantly turned down two newspaper interviews simply because I know I cannot fulfill many more orders.  I would love to have a shop in the flourishing downtown where I would have a gorgeous glass case with a constant display of many different bonbons, but that would require more employees and much money, and is, alas, for another life. 

Thank you that's very useful!

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On 6/18/2021 at 4:45 PM, pastrygirl said:

I keep inventory so I can fulfill orders as quickly as possible.  Sharing a hometown with Amazon.com, I've come to expect my purchases to be shipped within a day and I try to do the same for my customers.

 

Most bars will keep for a year, so might as well have a few months' supply.  Bonbons are more of a conundrum that I'm solving by freezing, which is fine for shipping, just move the box to the fridge and ship the next day or keep it frozen with an insulated bag and ice pack if shipping to warmer areas.

That makes sense! I'm looking to do bars with inclusions (fruit and nuts, biscuits, toffee) so their shelf-life won't be quite that long but I guess the longer a shelf-life you can achieve the more wiggle room you have. 

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14 hours ago, cc.canuck said:

That makes sense! I'm looking to do bars with inclusions (fruit and nuts, biscuits, toffee) so their shelf-life won't be quite that long but I guess the longer a shelf-life you can achieve the more wiggle room you have. 

 

Yes.  Toffee and nuts can last up to a year especially if fully encased in the chocolate bar (not just sprinkled on the back & exposed to air) depending on freshness of the ingredients and how they are stored.  But nuts and butter fat can go rancid so of course you don't want to get too far ahead and you still want a few months left on them when you sell them.  Obviously you're not going to make each bar to order, you need to figure out a good batch size or par number, which will of course grow with the business.  Maybe when you're just starting out you need to keep 20 of everything in stock but after a few years as you do holiday events and pick up wholesale accounts you'll want to keep 100 or 200 per item.  And it'll take time to see what the best sellers are, they are not always what you think they will be.

 

Are you hoping to turn this into a full-time business and make a living or keep it as a (more fun than profit-focused) hobby?  Do you have experience in sales or marketing?  To me, that's the hardest part - chocolatiering and marketing skills do not necessarily overlap 😆 

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On 6/21/2021 at 7:06 AM, pastrygirl said:

 

Yes.  Toffee and nuts can last up to a year especially if fully encased in the chocolate bar (not just sprinkled on the back & exposed to air) depending on freshness of the ingredients and how they are stored.  But nuts and butter fat can go rancid so of course you don't want to get too far ahead and you still want a few months left on them when you sell them.  Obviously you're not going to make each bar to order, you need to figure out a good batch size or par number, which will of course grow with the business.  Maybe when you're just starting out you need to keep 20 of everything in stock but after a few years as you do holiday events and pick up wholesale accounts you'll want to keep 100 or 200 per item.  And it'll take time to see what the best sellers are, they are not always what you think they will be.

 

Are you hoping to turn this into a full-time business and make a living or keep it as a (more fun than profit-focused) hobby?  Do you have experience in sales or marketing?  To me, that's the hardest part - chocolatiering and marketing skills do not necessarily overlap 😆 

I'm a stay at home mum to a toddler (and part-time CrossFit trainer - odd combo with chocolate making I know but it's a good balance health-wise!) at the moment so my grand plan is part-time for now to build up my skills and experience and then hopefully increase to something more substantial. I want to offer chocolate bars (in trios), dipped caramels, and dipped biscuits and my thinking to start is to have rotating stock each month to help make production more manageable.

 

I feel like I'll be fine with the marketing side of things and am more worried about the logistics of production. Certainly a lot of different skills to gain through this! Very grateful to have this forum as a resource.

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14 hours ago, pastrygirl said:

Yes, lots of different skills to gain.  Have you sorted out your packaging, labeling, pricing ... ? 

 

 

 

 

Now that the actual products are sorted those are my summer jobs! The bars will probably go into tight fitting bags, dipped items like toffee and caramels in loose bags (though a bit concerned about marking during transport with that), and then biscuits will have to be a box though I'm not yet sure what's going to go in with them to keep them from moving around and marking each other. Even though I'll be using biodegradable bags I don't particularly want to individually wrap all of the biscuits (planning on selling boxes of 6 and 12).

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