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Vere Week Interview and Giveaway Part II – Running a Chocolate Company

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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.


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50 comments on “Vere Week Interview and Giveaway Part II – Running a Chocolate Company”

  1. Grocers want a year’s shelf-life out of chocolate? Does that mean all of the Hershey bars (excepting, of course, the ones with Batman on the wrapper) could have been sitting there for months upon months? Suddenly those “Fresh From the Factory” packs seem like a worthwhile investment.

  2. Maggiesays:

    I’m a huge fan of Vere chocolates. I saw a piece about them in a magazine more than a year ago and mail ordered some to try. I love their seed clusters!! I’m looking forward to the rest of the articles this week.

  3. I’ve never considered the difference between a chocolate person and a candy person; I wonder if it’s possible to be both?

  4. i learnt quite a bit reading that interview. Very interesting.

  5. Sarahsays:

    I’m also a little shocked by the shelf-life of chocolate, but not surprised by stores wanting it to be longer. Another angle is to tell them that by ordering less quantities at a time, they can save that storage space for something else!

  6. KELLYsays:

    Oh, god. I need some chocolate today. The university where I work is completely incompetent…and I am left dealing with it all.


  7. I have no problem with chocolate sitting around. However, I am now more aware of store policy on shelf life. Thanks for the heads-up!

  8. I never knew (or took time to think about) how complex the food business can be. Great info for the consumer. :)

  9. After years of taste testing every chocolate bar in my area, I will only buy small batch chocolates for baking or eating. Hershey’s / Nestle just taste like sugar and wax to me. Blech! Give me a Vere any day, and I will gladly pay the larger price for quality and craftmanship!

  10. Jensays:

    Dark chocolate & red wine – mmmmmmmmm :)

  11. Karisays:

    Sounds so good! I’d love to win! Thank you!!

  12. traceysays:

    I don’t know how I feel about chocolate sitting on the shelf for a year!!

    I do love dark chocolate paired with red wine, though….

  13. I guess I never really thought about if the chocolate I buy is fresh. Hopefully I haven’t had any bad bars out of my ignorance…

  14. Nothing worse than stale chocolate.
    Where can I find some Vere without having to mail order? Hmmmm… chocolate…. hungry….

  15. Jazzsays:

    Never had to worry about shelf life, there’s no way a bar will last more than a week or two around here…

    This is a great article series; really interesting to see how all these chocolate companies differ when it comes to interviews – I can’t get tired of them!

  16. Michelesays:

    I will gladly pass up frequent mass-produced chocolate for an occasional artisanal choclate like Vere.

  17. I don’t think they’ll sit around for 6 months here…

  18. Tanyasays:

    I will never understand why a shop would rather order large quantities of items and let them sit around for a year, rather than ordering smaller quantities and ordering more often. I suppose it has to do with pricing, how the store orders its products, etc. I’m kind of concerned now–I might be buying chocolate that’s been sitting in a box or on a shelf for a year!

  19. Cheshersays:

    I’m not quite sure how I feel about chocolate snobbery.

    I wolf down all kinds of rubbish chocolate products and feel quite satisfied and happy about it (Peanut M&Ms or Cream Eggs… not organic, from a package that’s probably been around since the 90s, yet still wonderful). On the other hand I’ve been “snobby” chocolate tasting (our local chocolatier, Dagoba has excellent single source bars) and really do notice and appreciate subtle differences in taste.

    Anyway, it seems sad to me to think of the rest of the world not exposed to artisan chocolates is uneducated and not concerned about what they put into their bodies. Smacks of patronizing elitism… Did he really eat a twix bar?! HORRORS! Did you know they’re made in Taiwanese sweatshops!? It cracks me up sometimes.

    It would be interesting to sell Vere in Wal-Mart and see what happens. Maybe like selling wine at Olive Garden? Or is the pretension the point?

    Fun stuff for a cocktail party argument, eh? Oh I totally know I’m blowing it out of proportion, I really just want the chocolate bars and have ended up babbling. Should have stuck with my first comment:

    Love your blog Stef!

  20. Kristinsays:

    Very interesting interview. I like to think that I’m both a candy and a chocolate person though!

  21. Annesays:

    I hate opening up a package of chocolate chips and seeing all the white stuff all over them! Can you store chocolate in the freezer without losing its original quality? Either way, Vere chocolate wouldn’t last long in my kitchen! And just when I was considering starting a diet!

  22. Hope you are a success!! Love to try some.

  23. Sarasays:

    oooh, looks amazing!

  24. Verenasays:

    freshly-made chocolates do taste SOOO much better! nowadays i’m a bit wary when i shop at grocery stores wondering how long their chocolate bars have been sitting on the shelf, so it always helps to go to places with higher sales turnovers.

  25. Kathy Moskalsays:

    First..Thanks for all your interest! I’m really am enjoying reading all your comments.. To Anne..chocolate does very well in the freezer…you just need to make sure you keep it dry…Also defrost slowly in the refrigerator so you don’t get condensation. Chocolate doesn’t like water. The white stuff on chocolate means it has “bloomed” … gone out of temper..or some might say “lost its temper”! The chocolate is still OK..but the cocoa butter has gotten warm and just risen to the top…so its white…it’s separated a bit. Untempered Chocolate is like a bumpy road…made up of cacao mass, cacao butter and sugar ..all jumbled up. When you temper it …you get it to “relax”. You heat it up..the cacao butter melts..and all the particles kind of fit next to each other like a good puzzle…then you cool it down keep it that way. A good piece of chocolate should be shiny and have a good “snap”. To Amy Lea…PLEASE ask for VERE at your local store…If you visit our web site there is a request form you can print out….I would love to be available everywhere.

  26. Jennifersays:

    Do chocolate bars have expiration (or born on) dates on them? I’ve never looked.

  27. Ivysays:

    Mmmmm Dark Chocolate and Wine. YUM!

    I can’t believe I won! I am so super excited!
    Thanks Vere and Stef!

  28. Hmmm…food for thought, literally.

  29. Katiesays:

    I’m totally looking forward to when/if Vere chocolates will become available in more stores.

  30. Ashleysays:

    I’m totally loving this Vere interview series! I’ve learned so much already…I can’t wait for the rest of the installments. Chocolate’s never survived long enough in my house for it to come even close to going bad, but I love knowing that it’s fresh when I get it.

  31. K.says:

    Wow – a year? That’s amazing! I never considered myself a chocolate snob, but I’m beginning to realize I am. I truly love good, smooth, rich chocolate. Forget the cheap stuff – it tastes like wax. Makes it easy to by me gifts :)

  32. Amandasays:

    Can’t wait to try the chocolate!

  33. Great interview so far…can’t wait to read the rest. Her chocolates sound divine…

  34. toontzsays:

    When I was young, I was a candy person. Now I am a chocolate person.

  35. Joshsays:

    I kind of wish I had my own coffee shop so I could stock these things.

  36. Camilasays:

    only six people in the factory? that’s really interesting — a different vision of artisanal chocolate than I’d though. I always picture more hands and fewer machines somehow — but I guess it’s the care put into the product, not the level of automation, that’s the determining factor.

  37. Ginasays:

    Well, this interview totally changes the way I’ll look at (and buy) chocolate in the future! I need to become much more choosy and not just grab the Hershey’s Cocoa, huh? Great insights

  38. katysays:

    Very interesting the differences between the fashion and chocolate industries. I’ve been eating leftover chocolate bunnies from Easter.

  39. Karasays:

    I did not know that about the nuts in chocolate (that they could go rancid). I’m going to learn all kinds of stuff reading this week. :)

  40. Chucksays:

    I can haz chocolate?

  41. Bethanysays:

    Um…”Many people think chocolate can just sit around. They don’t think about their bars going bad.” What many people? Chocolate in my house doesn’t even have enough time to go bad! ;)

  42. Would Vere chocolate be good in ice cream?

  43. Another very interesting interview!

  44. Bebesays:

    It’s interesting to see the back and forth between manufacturer and producer in the food industry. It makes you think more about where these products are available and why.

  45. Very interesting about what’s in the chocolat affecting the shelf life–I had not really thought about it before. Living in a warmer climate you have to be careful about where you buy chocolate (and how you store it at home too)–I hate the bloom it gets when it gets hot and cold

  46. Gracesays:

    only six employees? six lucky people, if you ask me.

  47. byron k.says:

    Congrats on all these posts and the fun contest & interview, Stef

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