Start a sweet business: Open a chocolate shop

Chocolate boutiques emerged 15 years ago to meet the need of a consumer who was interested in the benefits of this food and in artisanal or gourmet products. It is a business that offers very good utility and expansion opportunities throughout the country.

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This story appears in the March 2020 issue of Mexico . Subscribe »

Start a sweet business: Open a chocolate shop
Start a sweet business: Open a chocolate shop

In Mexico and the world, this food of pre-Hispanic origin is at the center of innovative businesses. Can you imagine a boutique where the jewels are not mineral gems, but luxurious chocolate creations? Or an establishment where different cocoa beans are mixed to create exceptional flavors? The models range from small workshops or builders with shops, to boutiques, galleries and 'designer' establishments where tablets, bars, chocolates and delicate figures that, rather than a food, look like works of art.

“We are seeing a revolution with this food. Now people care more about the fat content, the type and quantity of sweetener, the taste and quality, which opens a new range of opportunities to meet that need, ”says Rosy Llanderal, commercial director of Chocosolutions, a specialized company in the supply of supplies and machinery for the chocolate industry.

In Europe, Canada and the United States the turn is a tradition, but in our country not long ago it began to emerge driven by renowned chocolate chefs such as Mao Montiel, from Dolcenero, and José Ramón Castillo, from Que Bo! The line of business has great potential because Mexico is a natural cocoa producer and there is a growing interest of consumers.

Photo: AdobeStock

Market segment

The gourmet chocolate market covers men and women between the ages of 5 and 80, but it has a clear emphasis among those between 25 and 50. They are mostly consumers of socioeconomic status A / B, C + and C interested in origin of the product, flavors and elaboration techniques.

As they are? What do you prefer? Six out of 10 people consume this product daily, 38% do it occasionally and 2% rarely ingest it. The most sought after presentation is in the bar, followed by products added with other ingredients, according to Feebbo Mexico, an online market research platform.

“Men are more regulars to buy them on special occasions, such as February 14 and May 10; They pay bigger tickets. Women, on the other hand, buy on a regular basis, but pay smaller bills, ”explains Claudia Huerta, co-owner of Chocolates Mony, a store located in San Ángel, south of Mexico City.

Although in the last decade there has been a renaissance of cocoa and fine chocolate, says Ana Rita García, founder and director of the Chocolate Museum (Much), there is still a way to go, because although Mexico is among the 10 most important cocoa producers In the world our per capita consumption is one of the lowest in Latin America, with just 750 grams per year.

“In Latin American countries, consumption is double or triple in Mexico. Brazil, for example, registers an annual consumption of 1.6 kg per person, while in Switzerland it is 11.9 kg ”, warns Alicia Páramo, national director of the National Association of Manufacturers of Chocolates, Sweets and Similar (Aschoco).

Value proposal

In a country like Mexico – where cocoa is part of our gastronomy, culture and history – a boutique specialized in gourmet chocolates bases its value proposition on the quality of ingredients and processing techniques.

In this way, chocolate is prepared with manual techniques in small manufacturers based on recipes from chocolate masters who master the art of mixing high-quality cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sugar, with nuts, seeds, spirits, purees 'and various ingredients of Mexican cuisine. The result? Pieces of excellent flavor, consistency and appearance that, when packaged in a special way, result in true luxury for the senses.

In Dolcenero they are aware of this, so their founding chef pays special attention to each phase of the production: from the acquisition of raw material to the point of sale display.

“We are a design chocolate shop inspired by the philosophy and obsession of Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Our line is based on the shape of the egg and refers to darkness, dreams, fear, nightmares, surrealism and delirium, ”explains Mao, who studied in Mexico, but was trained with the renowned chocolate master Oriol Balaguer.

Mao's creations are sold online and at his physical store located in Lomas Verdes, Naucalpan, State of Mexico. Like this entrepreneur, he takes care of all the details, from the concept and the production process, to the packaging and service at the point of sale. The customer will thank you!

Distribution channels

To start selling gourmet chocolates you must refine the distribution strategy, which is simple considering that the production, packaging, storage, display and marketing can be done at the workshop / point of sale.

In this place the customer can appreciate the elaboration of the product, review the flavors of the packed collections and taste some bulk products.

What happens if you choose an online store or to sell through social channels? You should automatically adjust the logistics and hire a messaging system, as Dolcenero does.

“For online sales we have the support of DHL Express. The products are protected in different ways, depending on the season of the year and the climate of the place to which the shipment will be made. It can include bubble envelopes, cold gels, isothermal envelopes, insulating envelopes, cardboard box, peanut or bubble, ”explains Mao Montiel, its owner.

You can also use a dealer, which can work if you are clear about your market and defined your area of ​​influence, as in the case of Chocolates Calavera. This company, founded by brothers Diana and Jonathan Luna, has a small point of sale in a commercial plaza attached to the Zapata Metro, in Mexico City. 90% of your orders arrive via social networks and the rest is specified on site .

“Our distribution system is in Metro. We receive the orders through the Facebook page and from that we organize the routes. What if it is safe? We try to ensure that it is, both for the customer and for our distributor, so at all times it has a geolocation application on, ”says Jonathan.

Chocolates Calavera is a specialist in the elaboration of geek figures and attached to nostalgia; They are sold packed or in cups. In four years of operation they have 55,000 followers on Facebook.

Like these entrepreneurs, determine the distribution channels according to your business concept and the means of support you have. Remember that the best is the one that matches your consumer and at the same time saves you time, money and effort.

Photo: AdobeStock

Customer relationship

Although technology facilitates sales and is essential to interact with customers, the 1: 1 contact in the sales floor is something that adds up when the stimulation of the senses is an important element in the consumer's purchase decision.

And who can resist the aroma of chocolate, a seasonal flavor or the luxury that transmit author collections? Precisely for this reason we must take care of all the details so that the client lives a pleasant experience and wants to return.

Claudia Huerta, co-owner of Chocolates Mony, is an expert on the subject together with her mother, Ms. Mónica Castillo. “It is a family business. My mother started it almost 20 years ago and I joined two years ago, after working a lifetime for an insurer. I like that all the processes are fulfilled and the details are told, ”explains Claudia, who, taking advantage of her knowledge in administration and customer service, has been in charge of improving processes and refreshing the chocolate image.

For example, it ensures that your new customers, that is, those who enter the store out of curiosity, do not leave without having tried a product. At the same time verify that the store has order, cleanliness and touches of good taste.

Obviously, it is important to use other relationship tools, such as social networks, telephone, WhatsApp and a web page. Each has its own language. Learn to use them in your favor, either start the conversation or respond to comments or requests. If you don't know how to do it, turn to the experts or train yourself. There are many resources online.

Sources of income

The income in a gourmet chocolate shop comes mainly from on-site sales, but also from marketing through third parties (restaurants, hotels, spas, hospitals and coffee shops), as well as the creation of new and ingenious products.

Mao Montiel, for example, offers courses in chocolate and other techniques in his store in Lomas Verdes, in the State of Mexico, while Chocolates Mony expanded the business with cookies and cakes, and will soon introduce coffee.

Key resources

The success of a gourmet chocolate factory includes a mix of infrastructure and human resources that is worth predicting since you are preparing your business plan.

To start you will need a local 60 to 80 square meters located at street level or in a shopping center; The idea is to guarantee a high pedestrian influx to increase shopping possibilities. We recommend you prefer a location close to restaurants and corporate.

The commercial area will be divided into three parts: 40% for sales floor, 50% for workshop and 10% for warehouse. Decorate it according to the image you want to project. Remember that the obvious is not always the best, so, far from 'getting married' with the typical image alluding to cocoa, explore other options, such as industrial, minimalist or gallery type. Get creative!

The equipment depends on the work area. For example, for the sales floor you need a showcase, shelving, shelves and various containers. Also a cash register, audio system, lighting and, of course, air conditioning.

The workshop or workshop is a separate topic, since its equipment will depend on the quantity you intend to produce per month.

Even so, for a base business you will require three disk tempering machines with a capacity of 5 kg each, two melting trays with a capacity of 12 liters each, vibrating machine, granite refrigerated table, work table, two industrial blenders, an oven microwave, refrigerator, various polycarbonate molds, environmental thermometer with moisture meter, chocolate thermometer, spatulas and various utensils, a digital scale, chocolate (white, milk and dark), various fillings and decorative covers. Various containers and packaging are also required for bulk chocolate and for collections.

“You have to have a storage chamber with a temperature below 17 degrees and a humidity index of 50%. This helps to better preserve the product, ”adds Mao Montiel, from Dolcenero .

What about human resources? For sale floor, a manager / cashier and a person for customer service are enough, while for the workshop you will need a chocolate chef and one or two auxiliaries (gastronomy schools are a good 'hotbed' of talent). The accounting service is hired by outsourcing.

Very important: have the 'tramitology' on the radar. This contemplates the legal and social constitution of the company, as well as the opening permits before the authorities of the corresponding mayoralty or municipality. Do not forget the permits before the IMSS (to insure your employees) and before the sanitary authority (the preparation of food on site requires it).

Key activities

In an artisanal chocolate shop two of the most important activities are production and sale. The first is carried out in the workshop or annexed workshop, while the second is carried out in a confined area where the product is sold in bulk and in packaging.

What types of chocolate are manufactured? Tablets, bars, truffles, chocolates, popsicles and hidden dark chocolate, semi-sweet and milk, although some varieties such as white (from cocoa butter, dairy and sugars) or gianduja (made with cocoa solids) are also produced and hazelnut grits), to name a few.

“Some entrepreneurs buy processed chocolate, give it their touch and transform it into a new final product. There are also those who prefer to make their own recipes with selected grains, which are the least, ”explains Rosy Llanderal, commercial director of Chocosolutions, a company specialized in the supply.

In this sense it is worth noting that there is a trend in vogue called bean to bar , highly appreciated by lovers of artisanal gourmet chocolate. It emerged in the United States in the late 1990s and refers to the artisanal, but refined, way of making chocolate bar.

It contemplates a very short period of cocoa processing, which is done after the harvest of the grain in a workshop almost always attached to the place of cultivation; generally only two or three ingredients are used. With this, high purity bars are obtained, whose aroma and flavor depend on the grains, the harvest and the preparation.

Regardless of the process and the raw material you choose for the preparation of your final product, take care of all aspects. For example, verify that the production rate is aligned to the strong times of the year, which are generally from November to January and on special dates such as February 14 and May 10.

It also takes care of the issue of supply and warehouse management. In this sense, be sure to stock perishables once a week and the rest of the ingredients according to your production pace, as Claudia Huerta, from Chocolates Mony does.

“Many supplies bring them to my home. I schedule purchases very well so I don't have to run for things that I needed. I have found some suppliers at expos or fairs, but I also go to the Central de Abasto, ”explains Claudia.

Packaging, packaging and conservation are also key. Find attractive containers for your product that are not only pleasing to the eye, but also ensure proper product preservation. The same applies to final packaging.

Remember that chocolate is a very noble product and that its shelf life can be several months. For example, chocolates filled with fruit can last up to 90 days in perfect condition; those of hazelnut butter, between three and six months, and those of caramel, up to eight months.

To avoid surprises, entrepreneurs in the field recommend developing process manuals for both the workshop and the sales floor. The idea is to guarantee production, minimize waste and optimize product quality.

Key alliances

Map possible alliances that help you grow. You can make agreements with restaurants, hotels, spas, coffee shops and hospitals to sell your products in exchange for a percentage of the sale. You can do something similar with suppliers of supplies, packaging or containers to reach special prices, advantages in deliveries or certain discounts.

For example, Mao Montiel, of Dolcenero, closed an agreement with a hotel brand to supply it with chocolates. The Chocolate Museum, meanwhile, buys finished products from third parties for sale in its store, while Chocolates Calavera already has mapped new suppliers from the southeast.

Regardless of the agreements you seek, create links with people / companies that share your work philosophy, who have a good reputation in their area and who operate with all of the law. Be sure to sit everything in writing.

One of the strategies that companies are following is working as a team with their competitors to educate consumers and grow the market and, therefore, their profits.

Cost structure

To start a gourmet chocolate shop you need an investment that starts from a million pesos depending on your business model, characteristics and needs of the premises, equipment and product lines.

To equip the sales floor, the average investment is between 150,000 and 200,000 pesos. To this we must add the investment in machinery, which represents one of the strongest expenses. For example, a disc temper can cost between 25,000 and 35,000 pesos, depending on its technology and capacity; a tray for melting, from 8,500 to 10,200; vibrating table, between 10,000 and 16,000; refrigerated granite table, about 38,000; 9,000 industrial blender; stainless steel work table, 10,000; digital thermometer, 500 pesos; microwave oven, 3,500 and refrigerator, 12,000.

To this we must add the cost of various molds, whose prices are 450 to 500 pesos each, as well as containers, bowls and different utensils for working chocolate. In this line, the investment is around 35,000 pesos or 40,000 pesos.

Add to this the investment in chocolate, which has a price of 120 to 240 pesos per kilo. How much do you need? It depends on your business model and your projections, but 1.5 kilos are enough to prepare 120 pieces of about 12 grams each. The performance may be higher in the case of the chocolate. In addition, you have to buy various grains and seeds. Fillers are also purchased separately, although many chefs prefer to prepare them.

For example, a bag of 100 grams of lyophilized fruit (dehydrated by the cold that helps preserve the flavor and aroma to the fullest) for filling costs about 270 pesos, a kilo of 1,600 pesos pistachio paste and a gram of gold flakes Edible 23 carats more than 3,200 pesos.

“The chocolate factory lives a boom. We attribute it to the fact that it is a very noble turn that offers you very good utility, ”says Rosy Llanderal of Chocosolutions. What performances are we talking about? The expert details that up to 45% depending on the inventory control, administration and marketing that you apply to your chocolate boutique.

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