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tammylc

Adventures in Starting a Chocolate Business

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tammylc   

Angela, I currently do most of my production as special sales for holidays. I sell through my website and in a few stores in town, but don't have a retail store of my own. I do a fun "Halloween Candy for Grownups" sale for Halloween. This year I did a special offer on bulk chocolates for Thanksgiving, for people to put out on a tray for dessert. Those were both relatively low volume sales. But then the season heats up, with Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day. Mother's Day gets tricky for online, because shipping gets harder/more expensive.

I might do caramels or praline pretzels or marshmallows - something less heat sensitive - for Father's Day this year. If you get into the wedding favor business, I imagine that can keep you going through the summer.

Christmas is the biggie. Valentine's Day, most people are going to buy one box for their one Valentine. Christmas, they'll buy multiple boxes to give out as gifts, and that's the time of year for corporate gifts, etc, as well.

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patris   

Well, the Puff Girls were featured in the Buffalo News this week... Here's a link to the article (it'll only be valid until March 10th or so).

We've gotten incredible response - close to 100 e-mails so far, the orders have started to come in, and 3 inquiries from shops wanting to sell them - one of which seems to want to resell in their own packaging.

This has raised an interesting question for me, though: what are the advantages and disadvantages of selling bulk product to someone who will then package and sell under their name? My gut reaction is that I want my brand out there, and I don't want anyone else's brand on my product. Others of you may have a different perspective... I'd love to hear other viewpoints on this.

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Well, the Puff Girls were featured in the Buffalo News this week... Here's a link to the article (it'll only be valid until March 10th or so).

We've gotten incredible response - close to 100 e-mails so far, the orders have started to come in, and 3 inquiries from shops wanting to sell them - one of which seems to want to resell in their own packaging.

This has raised an interesting question for me, though: what are the advantages and disadvantages of selling bulk product to someone who will then package and sell under their name?  My gut reaction is that I want my brand out there, and I don't want anyone else's brand on my product.  Others of you may have a different perspective... I'd love to hear other viewpoints on this.

Great article. I've saved it as a PDF file so my copy won't expire.

Why not a bacon marshmallow - a bit of smoked salt in there - what's not to love?

I know what you mean about other people getting their brand on your product. I'd probably be uncomfortable with that. Maybe if you make a particular flavour just for them, or perhaps you get them to put 'made by Puff Girls' somewhere on the packaging?

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JTravel   
Well, the Puff Girls were featured in the Buffalo News this week... Here's a link to the article (it'll only be valid until March 10th or so).

Great article, and thanks for the tip on saving in PDF...what a neat trick. Best of luck in your venture.

This whole discussion has been fascinating to me.....and I'm not into chocolate making or a business. But if the public knew how much work goes into making such good things they would pay willingly.....maybe they do anyway.

With all the regulations I can see why people buy franchises, they get lots of guidance on how things are done.

J in Rochester

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mrose   

I am going to be moving to Providence by summer. I would like to start my chocolate business up again after getting settled. One of the issues I will have is that Garrison Chocolates (Andrew Shotts) is based in Providence. Has anyone started a business or have a business where there is someone of this calibur in the area? If so, what were yor experiences? Any pitfalls or any advice?

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I am going to be moving to Providence by summer. I would like to start my chocolate business up again after getting settled. One of the issues I will have is that Garrison Chocolates (Andrew Shotts) is based in Providence. Has anyone started a business or have a business where there is someone of this calibur in the area? If so, what were yor experiences? Any pitfalls or any advice?

I think having someone of that caliber in the area will help your business. People will already be aware of the price for good chocolate so you won't have that hurdle to overcome.

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I am going to be moving to Providence by summer. I would like to start my chocolate business up again after getting settled. One of the issues I will have is that Garrison Chocolates (Andrew Shotts) is based in Providence. Has anyone started a business or have a business where there is someone of this calibur in the area? If so, what were yor experiences? Any pitfalls or any advice?

I think having someone of that caliber in the area will help your business. People will already be aware of the price for good chocolate so you won't have that hurdle to overcome.

I agree, there can definitely be a synergistic effect. Both of you will have different styles and different specialties.

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I face the same challenges Mark. I have Bernard Callebaut to compete with. Recently I did a 2200 piece job for a company. They did a blind taste test with mine and Bernards, and I came out on top. Another company had a plate of my chocolate and a plate of Bernard Callebauts, and Bernards was still sitting when mine were all gone!! As long as I can prove that I am better than the industry lead, I will win!. It will take time. You can say "If you like Andrew's, you're going to love mine"!! Good luck.

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Mary F   

patris- congrats on the article! Love the name Puff girls!

mrose- I live about a mile from one (of two) of Fran's stores. While I dont have a storefront, I have been able to make it work being in the same town. A few of my accounts have previously used her. I made sure I had a different style or product to offer.

There are several other chocolatiers in the area and it seems that it does pave the way for the higher end confections. I know it is competition, but each chocolatier offers such a different product in the end the client is going to go with what they like.

Have faith in your product, I have seen the pictures they are gorgeous! When I was asked to make a salted caramel (just like Fran's), I told the client they should go to Fran's for the real deal if thats what they want..but then went into the descriptions of what I offer. Maybe that individual went to Fran's to get their salted caramel fix, but I also sold her some boxes for corporate gifting for Valentines day.

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I was wondering how you guys deal with the health department inspection.

I am going to have to schedule soon ( one week or so ) I know they are concerned about the temperature of the cream etc. Do you make up a preparation just for teh health department or you follow what they want. I mean I dont follow what they are requiring for my ganaches I guess, I am hoping they arent asking to set the ganahce in the fridge etc etc because I dont like that , so I would have to figure out how to make something for them and then just do it my way?

Thank you

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tammylc   

Do you know for sure they're going to want to see you prepare a recipe? I was not required to do that for my health department inspection. It was just about ensuring that the equipment was at the proper temperature, and that my food was stored correctly, things like that.

We talked about my recipes and discussed water activity and shelf life, but I didn't have to demonstrate.

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I am not sure they will require me to make something, but probably they will ask, like you said, how ho prepare things etc, temperatures, the thing I am concerned is the fact that some ganaches, like slabbed or when I pour it into the molds and let it stay overnight.

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tammylc   

You could always bring along books (like Grewling) that indicate that letting things set at room temperature is standard of practice for chocolate making.

Unless they tell you in advance that you should plan for production, I would get around the issue completely by having no production supplies there. Or at least none of the perishables, like cream. You're just getting the space certified for your use.

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Thank you Tammy, this really helps :wub: .I will follow your suggestions.

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patris   

Chiming in late, but I totally agree with Tammy. If you're using a commercial kitchen (i.e. not your own dedicated shop), it makes sense that you'd just need to demonstrate a full understanding of sanitary practices, food safety, food handling and stuff like that. When we were inspected, it was all conversation and no demonstration.

Good luck!

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tammylc   

Whee! I'm totally jumping up and down with excitement right now.

A few weeks ago I went to a vendor showcase and ended up talking to the chef and general manager of a destination restaurant here in Michigan. They really liked what they were tasting and seeing, and we exchanged some emails. They asked me for some pricing on chocolates for an upcoming wine dinner, and today we sealed the deal and I got the order for 7 dozen chocolates.

The restaurant is Evans Street Station, and it's exactly the sort of restaurant I would most want to have my chocolates being served at. As it happens, I already had a reservation there for this weekend even before I got the email from them about the dinner, so I'll be hand delivering the chocolates on Friday when I go there to eat.

It's a really exciting next step for me!

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Congratz, those are the good news that makes it all worth it!!!

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Last week was my official start of my chocolate business. On Friday I received the good news that I was going to receive a grant. First thing I did was incorporate my business. On Tuesday I meet with the banker, Wednesday I meet with my marketing consultant, and in all this try to get some production done. I am renting space from a pastry chef. It is humble beginnings, but at least I'm legal!! I anticipate that I will have my own facility by next spring or sooner. Anyhow, there is much to do! I have been kicking the can around the block for about 3 years so it is exciting and scary to finally be in business. I have learned many lessons along the way. I had someone do the business plan and he could talk the talk but didn't do a proper job, so in the end I wrote the plan! The biggest lesson I learned is that I underestimated my own abilities. Anyhow, I will update as things progress and I hope it will encourage others to take the leap!

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gfron1   

Very exciting! Can't wait to hear more. Yay!

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merlicky   

prairiegirl, congratulations. It must be exciting to be legal...kind of like getting your drivers license.

Out of curiosity, when you wrote up the business plan, what sources did you use for your market research section? Thanks.

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prairiegirl, congratulations.  It must be exciting to be legal...kind of like getting your drivers license.

Out of curiosity, when you wrote up the business plan, what sources did you use for your market research section?  Thanks.

I had to do a market analysis of the chocolate industry in my city. I started with the phone book and analyzed each company. I guestimated what each company had for market share, and what kind of chocolate they used, and how they priced their product, web presence, etc.. It is hard to get exact figures for chocolate companies. Also, I would recommend that you go thru the various issues of Candy Industry. They do put the magazine online. They typically do a feature on an artisan company and I found it helpful and encouraging.

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