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The rich business of chocolate
With Easter coming up over the bank holiday weekend, we’ve been thinking about the small business of chocolate and how difficult it is to break into. We spoke to two chocolatiers; with two very different takes on making it in the chocolate world.
A foodie revolution has swept the UK in recent years, and brought with it a huge shift in UK consumers’ expectation of quality – and that’s no bad thing. Artisan small businesses, specialising in sourcing premium ingredients and sustainable supply chains, have made chocolate a rich area to do business in – if you get it right. We spoke to chocolatiers Fatou Mendy of Dark Sugars and Paul A. Young, who owns an eponymous chocolate business, about their journeys to success for their small businesses in chocolate.
“If you have passion you won’t fail, it’ll work.” – Fatou Mendy, Dark Sugars
Start small and research your market
Even when you’re entering into a market that feels saturated, you need to know whether there’s an appetite for what you’re selling. Dark Sugars started out trading independently at Borough Market, with just two chocolates. Now, the business is almost unrecognisable, with two shops on Brick Lane and hundreds of chocolates and cacao options on offer. Founder Fatou Mendy explains: “I didn’t have plans to expand, the same goes for most of the things I do in life. People were very receptive to the stall, and this gave me the confidence to explore more about the product.”
After finding that her chocolates were proving to be a success with her customers, she started experimenting with the raw form of cocoa, cacao: “I talked to people to find out about their palettes. I like food and I like people and I like people that like food. Everyone concentrates on the confectionary side of chocolate, but for me chocolate was a fruit.”
Paul A. Young, who is now at the forefront of the British chocolate scene, spent a long time making sure he knew what customers wanted and needed: “Many hours were spent researching and understanding my market. I analysed the passing trade, bestsellers and displays by other chocolatiers. Understanding customer needs and expectations can really help differentiate you from your competition. And listening to your customers helps you stay one step ahead of the market.”
Sounds like a cliché, but being passionate about your product is crucial to the success of your business. A rigorous plan and ambition will only get you so far, and in order to keep going when times are challenging, it’s passion that you will call on. Paul agrees: “Breaking into the chocolate market is hard for any small business starting out. The hours are long, you’re required to work most weekends, and there is endless competition. It’s important to be passionate about chocolate because it carries you a long way, it was my passion for chocolate that encouraged me to pursue a career doing what I love the most. It’s what makes all the long hours worth it!”
Fatou credits her passion for producing the product she wanted to produce as one of the keys to her success: “If you have passion you won’t fail, it’ll work. I started my business with hardly anything but if you encourage someone to do something they love, you don’t have to push them. I kept going back and back for more and stay up till four in the morning. When you love something, you amaze yourself with how creative you can be.”
“Listening to your customers helps you stay one step ahead of the market.” – Paul A. Young, Paul.A.Young
Use tech in a way that feels true to your brand
Both Fatou and Paul have different approaches to tech, but both make the most of the tools available. With an Instagram, Facebook and Twitter account, Dark Sugars also have an online boutique in addition to social media. Her use of Facebook proves that social media brings people closer together, when used in the right way: “I look at the lovely Facebook comments and I invite them in, for a hot chocolate, or a chocolate tasting for two. Even if they don’t buy anything, they can become regulars and we develop a relationship with them.” She also uses social to run promotions in the business, such as the golden eggs hidden all over London this weekend: “There are no eggs at Dark Sugars, so if you want one, you’re going to have to go and find it”, she says.
Established chocolatier Paul A. Young can see the effect that tech has had on the chocolatier businesses over the years: “Everything is more accessible now. In a world where time is precious, consumers receive most of their information through social media platforms ensuring brands are at your fingertips,” he says. “In today’s market, consumers are able to find out about our latest products in a couple of clicks. All images are spread across different channels reaching a huge range of consumers. It means our products are opened up to a different audience that wouldn’t necessarily know about the brand. Social media really puts our product in front of people who may not have otherwise seen it, which can only be positive for us long term.”
Reaching new customers, and growing your brand from a small business to a larger operation takes time. Tech has played a part in both businesses successes, while making sure that craft and innovation are maintained along the journey.