This post is part of a 5 part series on Vere chocolate. To get the most out of this series, start on Part I.
Part II: Running a Chocolate Company
How large a company is Vere?
It’s not very big. I have a factory in Manhattan where we make our artisinal products. The factory is a nice size – it’s 5000 square feet. We only have about 6 people working in the factory and we’ve only really started selling our products about 2 years ago. It took about 2 years to do the research – to find the beans and build the factory. We’re still small. My focus now is getting into retail stores around the country.
How’s that going?
Good. The people who get what we do are places where you have an educated consumer – where people really read the package and care about what they are putting in their body. We just started to get into the various Whole Foods in Manhattan. We are in a smattering of stores around the country. We do very well in gourmet stores and we do really well in health food stores where people look for organic particularly.
I’m trying to target that customer who really understands the difference between chocolate and candy. I’m really focusing on the chocolate person. I just started to approach and get into some higher end coffee shops and also wine stores. Since dark chocolate isn’t very sweet, it pairs really nicely with wine.
How does running Vere compare to your experience with HUE?
It’s so different – I can’t tell you. Fashion is really fast. About 8 week after we had our first product, we had orders from Bergdorf Goodman, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus. With food, it’s so slow. People have already set their shelves so they’ll say, “Call me in 6 months” or “Call me next year.” It’s really, really different.
I think it’s more that [in food] the consumer drives the store rather than the store driving the consumer – which is what happens in fashion. In fashion, they don’t want anything that they think is going to sit in the stores for more than 3 months. In food, they’ll say if you can’t give me at least six months shelf life, I don’t want to take you in. It’s like totally opposite. In fashion, they want something new all the time. In food, once they get you in with something, they’ll pretty much keep that. There are pluses and minuses to both.
Do your bars have a particular shelf life to them?
The stores really want a year shelf life. With some of ours, we can get more than 6 months. Our artisinal products can only get 6 months because we use a lot of nuts and stuff in them. The stores would love a year, but it’s like I tell the stores, “I’d rather have you order less and order more often because we make the stuff fresh.” You don’t really want your stuff sitting on the shelf for more than 6 months. Who wants to buy anything that’s been sitting there that long?
Many people think chocolate can just sit around. They don’t think about their bars going bad.
It can, but once you start adding things – like if you start adding nuts (certain nuts are hardier than others) – after a while the nuts have oils in them so they can go rancid. If you use fruit, if it’s a dried fruit it’s OK. If you use freeze dried fruit, you want it to be crisp – you don’t want it to go soggy. We try to use other kinds of ingredients in our chocolate, not just essential oils. We do use nuts and seeds and different spices and stuff, so we really would prefer that they would be fresher.
It sounds like you’ve had a lot to learn with the food.
Yes! Of course! One other thing, in fashion you just have to say what the ingredients are: 100% cotton, made in the U.S., etc. In food, it’s such a different thing – all the nutritional testing, all the allergen information, plus your packaging is a big part of it. Whereas in fashion, your image is a big part, but you might have to just make a label.