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  • April 01, 2019 11:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Evan Hoopfer  – Staff Writer, Dallas Business Journal

    When deciding what to name her business, Kate Weiser studied her chocolate heroes.

    That’s the name she has for the chocolatiers she looks up to. Many name their businesses after themselves, which creates a sense of the mystic and respect for the chef.

    “They’re all guys. I was like, ‘Why aren’t we doing it?’” said Weiser, who named her establishment Kate Weiser Chocolate. “I just wanted to be in with the cool kids.”

    When Weiser opened her shop at Trinity Groves in 2014, she had no experience running a business. Her expertise was in making chocolate. 

    She made plenty of business mistakes — a digital marketing campaign fell flat and erased a whole quarter’s profits, for instance — but her acumen has grown to the point where the company had $3 million in sales last year and caught the eye of some of the most powerful influencers in the country. And she remains heavily involved in the day-to-day production and is constantly testing new recipes.

    “She had to learn hiring, firing, staffing, inventory, logistics, manufacturing logistics,” said Stuart Fitts, Trinity Groves co-founder and managing partner and part of the original team that invested in Weiser. “She is a CEO, but she’s also the chief design and creative officer.”

    One semester

    Weiser remembers sitting in her college dorm after her freshman year scouring a list of potential majors. None sounded appealing. She then called her parents to let them know she was dropping out of college — opting, instead, to attend culinary school.

    After graduating from the California Culinary Academy, she made pastries for restaurants in Kansas City and Dallas while working side jobs. One of those part-time jobs was making chocolate. While Weiser grew up tinkering with recipes and specialized in pastry while at culinary school, chocolate-making presented new challenges. 

     

    “Chocolate is so different from pastry,” Weiser said. “I really didn’t know what I was doing, and I made terrible chocolate for the longest time. But it lit this challenge of, ‘What am I doing wrong?’”

    She eventually got the basics down, and then started emulating a technique a chocolatier in her hometown of Kansas City used to make the chocolate look like a hand-painted work of art.

    Eventually, an idea of going out on her own grew stronger. 

    Weiser walked into a meeting with local developers Phil Romano and Fitts with the goal of receiving funding to open a chocolate shop. 

    Much to her surprise, that’s exactly what happened.

    “I never thought that they would right then and there say, ‘OK, we want you. We want to sign you up. We’ll give you $500,000,’” Weiser said. “I never thought those things would happen. I never thought past the meeting.”

    Growth of fine chocolate

    Kate Weiser Chocolate sells delicate pieces of chocolate called bonbons that range in flavors from almond caramel to strawberry basil to buttery popcorn. She stuck with the hand-painted look and the company’s tagline is “Where art meets chocolate.”

    Since her store at Trinity Groves opened, Weiser added locations at NorthPark Center and the Shops at Clearfork.

    E-commerce sales have also risen. When the business first started, Weiser used her website more as an informational resource. After the first year, the website added purchasing capabilities, but was still restricted from shipping during the hot Texas summers. 

    That was until last year, when the company decided to test summer shipping just to see what would happen.

    “We shipped from 100° Dallas to 110° Arizona, and we made it work,” Weiser said.

    E-commerce accounts for 15 to 18 percent of sales, Weiser said, and has the most potential for growth. 

    If industry trends continue, customers will start buying more chocolate from places like Kate Weiser Chocolate.

    Demand for fine chocolate — defined as having a limited number of ingredients, high in cocoa content, low in sugar content and a care to where ingredients are sourced — is small but growing, said Bill Guyton, executive director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association.

    About 5 percent of the market is made up of fine chocolate makers, Guyton said. Growth in the number of fine chocolate makers and their market share is expected to rise as the industry mirrors other sectors of food and beverage.

    “If you look at what’s happened in some of the other craft or specialty industries like in coffee or craft beer, you’ve really seen over time that consumers are beginning to appreciate more the higher end foods that they eat,” Guyton said.

    The Oprah effect

    One of Kate Weiser Chocolate’s most in-demand products is a snowman named Carl. 

    Once Carl is dropped in warm milk, he dissolves and hot chocolate is created. Weiser thought ironically naming an intricate, labor-intensive creation something simple like Carl “was so dumb,” Weiser laughed. “That’s why I liked it.” 

    Last June, a representative from an influential celebrity reached out to Weiser and asked for samples of Carl.

    Weiser asked if this was for “Oprah’s Favorite Things” — and it was. 

    She became worried whether her team could make enough Carls to meet the demand that would come if they actually landed on the annual list. After all, Carl is made by hand.

    Small businesses thrust into a global spotlight like this are put under an enormous amount of strain. 

    For instance, Abe Minkara, the business development director for Mark Cuban Companies, says that getting businesses ready for the onslaught when they appear on “Shark Tank” is crucial.

    Apart from the obvious things like strengthening the website's ability to handle the uptick in online traffic, Minkara advises his portfolio companies to be transparent with customers about shipping times.

    If the company runs out of product, for example, customers should be aware their shipment will be delayed a few weeks.

    "Once you set that expectation, a lot of customers will go ahead and order even though you don't have the product on hand," Minkara said. "The challenge is to maintain constant communication with the customer throughout that period."

    Weiser took no chances with Oprah Winfrey. Her team started making extra Carls in June when there was only a chance they’d make the list. Weiser’s preparation paid off when the company found out in late September Carl would be on the list. 

    The year prior, the company made 6,000 Carls. In 2018, it made 38,000. November year-over-year sales tripled and in December more than doubled. The company employed 98 people during that time to pump out enough Carls, much more than its usual 30.

    “The Oprah effect is real,” Weiser said. “I’m glad I’m through it. I’m glad it’s over, to be honest.”

    Next step

    Weiser feels like she’s at a plateau right now.

    To take the next step, the company needs a big investment to add a warehouse and production facility that can significantly increase output. Production automation, like for certain aspects of Carl, could be vital additions to grow the brand’s volume and lower costs.

    “He’s all done by hand,” Weiser said of Carl. “And once you make more than 10,000, the efficiency completely dies and you make no money.”

    You can’t buy the type of machinery Weiser needs off the shelf. It’s usually bespoke and comes with a hefty price tag. Fitts estimated the company will need between $600,000 and $700,000 to buy new equipment and has already started raising funds for a new production facility.

    Weiser is unsure where her company will be in the coming years. She wants the company to evolve naturally and help push it in the direction it’s already going. She’ll try anything once.

    “Any opportunities that come that make me feel uncomfortable, I go for it,” Weiser said. “I automatically say, ‘That’s scary as (expletive). Let’s do it. Let’s try it.’”

    Kate Weiser

    Founder of Kate Weiser Chocolate

    • When you were a kid, what'd you want to be when you grew up? Pastry Chef
    • Quote you live by? "How you do anything is how you should do everything."
    • Favorite bonbon flavor? Passion Fruit
  • March 15, 2019 11:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    (Burlington, VT)  Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC) is honored to receive 2019 Governor’s Excellence in Worksite Wellness Gold Level Award from The Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and the Vermont Department of Health. 

    This award creates a standard of excellence for worksite wellness initiatives, and recognizes Vermont employers’ efforts to enhance productivity, bolster a healthy environment and improve employee wellbeing. 

    Thanks to a collaborative partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Accountable Blue Program and high employee engagement, LCC has transformed its small wellness program into a vibrant wellness culture.  Committing time and resources have been key to the company’s success.

    “Wellness is more than a program or a handful of events throughout the year at Lake Champlain Chocolates,” explains Fran Tobin, Director of HR at LCC. “It has become a mindset that fosters a culture of well-being within our organization and beyond. It is reflected in our day-to-day activities from a robust stretching program and on-site physical therapy, to providing healthy snacks, hosting a Couch to 5k series, and engaging with our community.  We encourage and support each other to live our best lives.”

    Other offerings include tobacco cessation, mental health education, stress reduction and mindfulness sessions, nutrition classes, as well as flu shot clinics and a welcoming environment for breastfeeding moms.  Many of these initiatives have resulted from employee input through health assessments, surveys, and open meetings.

    Jeanne Senesac, a 24-year employee of LCC and member of the Wellness Committee, reflects on the impact of the program.

    “When we first started the wellness program, many viewed it as a perk with a monetary pay-off,” says Senesac. “Now it means so much more.  Participation is over 50%, and it’s been gratifying to see how the program’s incentives, tools, and social support have fostered healthier habits among my fellow employees.”

    LCC will accept the award at the 2019 Vermont Worksite Wellness Conference next Thursday March 21, 2019 at the DoubleTree Hilton in Burlington, Vermont.


  • March 07, 2019 10:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It’s Maple Madness at Lake Champlain Chocolates!

    Celebrating Vermont’s Maple Sugaring 
    Season through Chocolate

    (Burlington, VT)  Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC) is celebrating the sugaring season this year with a limited-edition Maple Caramel confection and a Maple Madness Event on March 22.  “We’ll use any excuse to use Vermont maple syrup in our chocolate,” says Peter Lind, Director of Research & Development at Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC).  “And sugaring season seemed like the perfect time to create something special.”

    “LCC has always been committed to using local ingredients” says Gary Coffey, Director of Retail for LCC.  “And the limited-edition Maple Caramel is a way to highlight and promote Vermont’s signature product.”

    LCC is also hosting a Maple Madness event on March 225-7pm at their Flagship Store, 750 Pine Street.  Special guest, Boyden Valley Winery will be on-hand sampling and serving their Vermont Maple Crème Liquor and Vermont Maple Reserve.  LCC will have hot chocolate samples and for $5, customers can add the Maple Crème to their cup of hot chocolate.  LCC’s best- selling maple chocolates will be on sale including Maple Crunch, a butter crunch made with maple syrup and covered in dark chocolate and theMaple Caramel Chocolate Bar.

    Lake Champlain Chocolates has been using maple syrup from Dave Allen since the early 1980s.  As a natural, unrefined sweetener, not to mention a classic Vermont ingredient, LCC also uses maple syrup in their small batch Maple Pecan Ice Cream, and amazing Maple Lattes and Shakes!   

    The Maple Caramel is available now at all three stores, Pine Street and Church Street in Burlington and on Route 100 in Waterbury Center.  

    About Lake Champlain ChocolatesSince 1983, Lake Champlain Chocolates has worked in pursuit of extraordinary chocolate moments™. As a pioneer in the American chocolate movement, the Vermont chocolate company strives to create only the best-tasting chocolates imaginable. In the early days this meant sourcing the highest-quality fresh, local ingredients and never using preservatives or artificial flavors.

    Today, the second-generation, family-owned company’s pursuit of the extraordinary continues. As a Certified B Corporation®, the company is committed not only to be the best in the world, but to be the best for the world by supporting cacao growing communities and using 100% fair trade certified chocolate, reducing toxins in the environment by sourcing organic ingredients, whenever possible, and continuing to make extraordinary seasonal and everyday chocolates for all to enjoy.

    Lake Champlain Chocolates are available at their three company-owned stores in Vermont, nationwide at specialty stores and grocers, and online at Amazon and http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/.

  • February 25, 2019 1:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Antonella Tromba shares her insights and tips for incorporating effective branding in packaging for fine chocolate products. Read her latest blog to learn about the her 5 Packaging Tips to Freshen Up Fine Chocolate Branding in 2019.

  • February 15, 2019 6:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Chocolate trends and several Boulder, Colorado chocolatiers are featured in this article appearing in the Daily Camera.

  • February 15, 2019 5:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In an effort to preserve the wild yeast responsible for Maranon Chocolate's cacao beans, it was discovered the same yeast could be used to brew beer. Read the full story here.

  • February 15, 2019 1:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Several FCIA members as well as the HCP are promoted in this article on the MindBodyGreen Planet website

    Check out these chocolate visionaries who are focusing on building relationships with farmers, publishing sourcing reports, and changing the world, one bar at a time.

  • February 15, 2019 1:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Cocoa origin claims on chocolate products are rare and at odds with the main sourcing regions of cocoa. This report proposes a model for companies to promote cocoa sourcing regions through marketing while supporting sustainable development.

    Discover the most common cocoa origin claims based on research of 1,000+ chocolate products across 20 countries sold online. Also, find out how provenance claims impact price and which chocolate consuming markets make the most cocoa origin claims.

    This report answers if it is worthwhile for brands to indicate cocoa origin on-pack and online and how farmers can benefit.

    Visit Lumina Intelligence for access to the full report.

  • February 12, 2019 6:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    An article in the Times Herald Record features several FCIA members, Fruition Chocolate, Carla Martin, Terry Wakefield, and Clay Gordon. Click here to read the full article.

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