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Today is Cocoa Day! The ABC's of setting up a gourmet chocolate shop

Dare to undertake with a growing market.

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This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process. Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Chocolate is in fashion. In addition, its antioxidant properties, health benefits, flavor and variety have managed to conquer the palate of Mexicans and the interest of those who seek to start a business that combines the sweet side of gastronomy, with the warmth of customer service. Take advantage of this positive trend and start a gourmet chocolate shop in a market with high growth potential.

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In Mexico the turn is still incipient. Although there are national and foreign chocolatiers with a great tradition, it was not until 12 or 15 years ago that the first gourmet shops emerged with exclusive collections made by hand. With the passage of time these businesses - generally run by chocolate chefs - were permeating the main cities of the country, with the Federal District, Guadalajara and Monterrey being the pioneers in the field. Currently these businesses are found in practically the entire country, but they have a natural development pole in those entities of socioeconomic level A / B, C + and C.

Growing market

Chocolate is a by-product of cocoa that is obtained by mixing sugar, milk, spices, aromas and nuts with the paste and butter of that bean. According to the organization Cacao in Mexico , in the country there are about 37,000 cocoa producers distributed mainly in Tabasco, Chiapas and Oaxaca. According to the Agrifood and Fisheries Information Service (SIAP), these states reached a combined production of 26,936 tons in 2014.

This production is practically half of what was grown approximately 10 years ago, so currently about 63,000 tons are imported from Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and the Ivory Coast. The objective? Supply a chocolate industry made up of a dozen national and foreign firms, but also small gourmet chocolate shops that are gaining representation in the sector.

There is no precise data on how many chocolate boutiques exist in Mexico, although these places are positioning themselves in the taste of Mexicans, whose per capita consumption of chocolate is 600 grams per year.

A dream place

To open a chocolate shop with a production area, it is important to have a place with an excellent view of the public, because if there is something in chocolate, it is a product that is acquired on impulse (66% of purchases of this food are decided in 10 seconds ). The surface area for the sales floor ranges from 40 to 50 square meters; the winery between 12 and 15 square meters; and the production area or workshop of about 30 square meters. The premises must be located in a commercial corridor with high purchasing power, be anchored to a commercial plaza or in the surroundings of a restaurant or corporate area. The purpose is to ensure that you have a large pedestrian flow.

“The equipment of the sales floor depends both on the entrepreneur's business model and on his budget; however, there are certain basic aspects to start with ”, explains Rosy Llanderal, Marketing Director of Chocosolutions , a family business based in Monterrey, Nuevo León, which provides equipment, utensils and supplies for chocolate shops. The basics, he says, is a humidity-controlled refrigerated display case, which ranges in price from $ 115,000 to $ 195,000, depending on the size.

These showcases can be personalized or branded, which is always desirable to build a business identity. At the same time, it is necessary to invest in shelving (acrylic is suggested) to contain the bulk product, as well as in shelves or furniture built into the wall to place the packed collections. The store - which preferably has to be attended by two people - must have good lighting and, at the same time, guarantee a cool environment for the proper conservation of the products. If necessary, it is suggested to install an air conditioning system. How to decorate it? That depends on your corporate identity, but trends are pointing towards neutral tones combined with natural elements, such as wood, glass or metal. The limit is your imagination!

Flavor Factory

The heart of a chocolate shop is the workshop, a place where a chocolatier chef and his assistants are in charge of transforming the raw material into chocolates, truffles, tablets, bars and all kinds of products that will be sold in the store. To equip it, Elizabeth Blanchet, general director of Bakon Mexico , a supplier of equipment for pastry shops, bakeries and chocolate shops, recommends buying three disc tempering machines with a capacity of five kilograms each. The unit price is $ 58,000.

“They are very practical manual equipment to start a business. Ideally, have one for each type of chocolate: white, milk, and dark. They run on electricity and do not require water. Obviously there are automatic equipments, but they are around $ 300,000 and they are for industrial use ”, clarifies the businesswoman.

You also have to purchase two cast iron trays with a capacity of 12 liters ($ 35,000 each), a refrigerated table with granite ($ 45,000), a vibrating table ($ 28,000), two industrial mixers ($ 8,500 each), a steel work table stainless steel ($ 15,000), a digital thermometer ($ 1,595) and a microwave oven ($ 3,500).

Regarding the molds, Rosy recommends choosing polycarbonate, a material that offers good finishes and a long useful life.

"You can start with 50 assorted molds; each one costs between $ 420 and $ 490, so the initial investment in this area is around $ 25,000," he adds.

Don't forget to buy a variety of utensils such as spatulas, ladles, bowls, containers, knives, and cutters, which can involve an additional investment of between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000. Finally, consider that this equipment is indicated for bakeries that work with chocolate, so if your idea is to process cocoa to obtain this product on your own, you must include more machinery, such as husking machine, hydraulic press, toaster, mill and refiner. among other instruments. In Mexico there are several suppliers of equipment.

Remember to shop around and find out about warranties, training courses, and mechanical service they offer.

Sweet tips

Those who want to start in the world of chocolate should know that there are certain aspects that can make the difference between the success or failure of the business. One of them is the raw material, which you can buy in Mexico from suppliers that have national and imported chocolates of excellent quality.

“I always recommend working with good chocolate. In this case the price ranges between $ 130 and $ 220 per kilo. As in everything, you will find very cheap products from $ 45 to $ 60 per kilo, but it is not chocolate, but a sweet chocolate flavor that does not have cocoa butter ”, explains Rosy, from Chocosolutions.

This supplier of supplies and machinery for chocolate shops also says that in this industry the decline is practically nil, since the excess chocolate can be reused. “It is important to optimize the product and be very exact with the recipes. For example, each mold of 24 chocolates requires around 300 grams of chocolate, which means that with 1.5 kilos of product you can prepare up to 120 chocolates with an average weight of 12 grams each ”, he indicates.

For her part, Rosy Llanderal points out that each of these chocolates can be filled with fruit pulp, liquor, caramel or nuts, and decorated with various decorative elements. For example, a 100-gram bag of freeze-dried (cold-dehydrated) fruit for filling costs around $ 255, a kilo of pistachio paste is over $ 1,500, and a gram of 23-karat edible gold flakes can exceed $ 3,000.

“The chocolate factory is experiencing a boom. We attribute it to the fact that it is a very noble twist that offers you very good utility. For example, producing a 100% natural raspberry bonbon costs between $ 4 and $ 5 with labor, fixed costs and raw materials, ”adds Rosy. But you can sell it for up to $ 20 or $ 25. The key is to have good control of all processes.

In this sense, we recommend not losing sight of the warehouse management. To achieve this, follow the principles of first-in, first-out, or FIFO system. In doing so, it uses the first thing that entered the warehouse, so that the inventory is valued at the prices of the last purchases made.

At the same time, it is essential to establish control measures to prevent ant theft, both in the workshop and on the sales floor. To do this, it is enough to place some mirrors in strategic places or, if your budget allows it, a closed circuit television system.

“It is very important 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, chef owner of Dolcenero , an authentic chocolate gallery located in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.

The interviewees agree that chocolate is a very noble product and that its shelf life can be several months. For example, fruit-filled chocolates 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 know the secrets that this industry holds, you can approach the National Association of Manufacturers of Chocolates, Sweets and Similar. There you will find various training and consulting services for chocolatiers. There are also individuals who offer courses, such as Dolcenero and Qué Bo!

Daily operation

The staff in charge of a gourmet chocolate shop should be led by a specialist chef ideally with business knowledge or, failing that, by a person who has extensive knowledge of chocolate processes in general. Likewise, two assistants are required, who can be gastronomy students or recently graduated from that career.

As production grows it is possible to hire more staff. Another alternative is to integrate workers under the outsourcing scheme during the strong season, which runs from October to January. Lizzie Alkon, an entrepreneur at Kunst Chocolade , uses this system, only she relies on graduates of social rehabilitation centers.

These young people help her to make her emblematic pieces, which are Belgian chocolate initials that have been a great success among individuals and companies. “I got the idea from a Dutch holiday that consists of giving children the initial of their name made in chocolate every 5 December. To do this, I had to send to make molds and take chocolate courses, because before I was dedicated to interior design ”, he says.

To leverage her production, the 51-year-old entrepreneur made an alliance with Reinserta , an association that works with young ex-convicts in the process of social reintegration. For every sale Kunst Chocolade makes, the nonprofit receives $ 15.

“I trained and set up a small workshop in the halfway house that Reinserta has in the Condesa neighborhood. There these guys support me with the production. They are very efficient and are always willing to work, ”says Lizzie, who has another workshop located in the Santa Fe area of Mexico City. In total, there are 10 people between production, delivery men and the accountant.

Lizzie adds that her products are for a cause, so they are 100% tax deductible, which is an added attraction for businesses and individuals. “I work to order and supply some stores in Santa Fe and in Mercado Roma. We have three sizes of initials with prices ranging from $ 120 to $ 200, and we make around 500 pieces a month ”, clarifies the current entrepreneur, who started her business with a marble slab and a working capital of $ 30,000.

Another way to become human resources is to recruit students from the last Gastronomy semesters or recent graduates of that career, as did Mao Montiel, creative director and chef at Dolcenero. These are people to whom he has taught and in whom he has seen great abilities. "They all started with practitioners and then they were hired," he says. They are in charge of doing much of the work while the chef is the author of the design.

In addition to these employees, Mao relied on third-party talent. His father, Agustín Montiel, leads the administration, and a long list of friends help him with details of design, photography, among others. To make your business grow you can follow several paths. Lizzie and Mao, for example, often go to food fairs.

You can also bet on campaigns on social networks, advertisements on specialized sites (weddings or baptisms), touch base with advertising agencies (to support them in activations) or contact the Human Resources managers of different companies. Remember that no effort is too much when it comes to boosting your business.

Gourmet chocolatiers in Mexico have a first and last name. Most of them are run by chocolate chefs, but others are the result of the dream of entrepreneurs outside this line of business. Mao Montiel gives an account of this: he is a chef trained in Mexico and with studies in Europe, who after working in the team of Oriol Balaguer –one of the best pastry chefs in Spain– decided to return to Mexico to undertake what he most loved. liked: chocolate.

Thus, he opened the doors of Dolcenero, a chocolate gallery located in the Condesa neighborhood, in Mexico City, whose creations are inspired by the work of two artists: Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. Its offer includes collections of chocolates with unique flavors such as mezcal, grasshopper, sesame, mole, hibiscus with coriander seed, Papantla vanilla, raspberry with a touch of black pepper, saffron and olive oil, among others.

It also integrates egg-shaped pieces that are true works of art that convey the feelings of its creator chef. “The seasonal eggs come out at Easter and in December. We produce between 20 and 50 eggs to create a certain demand. They measure between 17 and 27 centimeters, and cost between $ 1,000 and $ 1,500, ”he adds.

To these lines of business is added the attention of corporate and social events, where his sculptures are a success. “In December many companies ask us for corporate gifts. In addition, we make designer pieces, many in architectural style, for weddings and other social events. This is very profitable because it requires little raw material. For example, we sell at $ 1,500 per kilo and generally they are pieces of five kilos or more, "he explains. A year he attends about seven or eight weddings, plus events for brands or companies.

The chef comments that although the elaboration of these artistic pieces requires the work of three people during four days, the investment in raw materials never exceeds 20% of the total cost of the piece, which makes it a juicy business.

“Our best time is from November to January. The average ticket is $ 200 and our monthly sale ranges from $ 60,000 to $ 70,000. The ideal profit margin should range from 30 to 50%, but this can be affected when more elaborate or expensive packaging is used, as in our case, ”says Mao Montiel.

Another emblematic business is Qué Bo! (quebo.com.mx), owned by chef José Ramón Castillo, who despite being one of the pioneers in the sector, preserves artisanal production methods with inputs from Tabasco and Chiapas. It currently has branches in Polanco, the Historic Center and the Roma Market (in Mexico City), where in addition to his truffles and chocolates in peculiar shapes, José Ramón offers chocolate tastings. It also has a training center for chocolatiers where it teaches intensive and semester courses, as well as a tasting center called Factor Cacao where it is possible to taste a variety of pre-Hispanic drinks with cocoa and new proposals.

On the other hand, Tout Chocolat (tchocolat.com) stands out, in the Hipódromo Condesa neighborhood. This place is owned by chef Luis Robledo, who for four years began this business adventure where he constantly renews his product menu. The peculiarity is that its products are only based on dark and milk chocolate, which it obtains by processing cocoa in its workshop. It also sells cakes, ice cream and confectionery.

In the interior of the Republic there are more outstanding cases. Tähä is one of them. It is located in Querétaro and its owner is the chocolate chef Paolo Maldonado, who defines its concept as 100% Mexican. “We have been in the market for five years. My differentiator is that I myself select the cocoa pod and carry out the entire fermentation and roasting process, until I obtain the chocolate ”, he says.

Here, cocoa from Chiapas, Oaxaca and Tabasco is used, where the entrepreneur travels every three months to stock up to 100 kilos for each month. The chef has been able to adopt the ingredients from his native Querétaro to make fillings with xoconostle, capulín or garambullo, in addition to the fact that a large part of his products are made with cocoa of organic origin.

Like these entrepreneurs, look for a differentiating element for your product: it can be the design of the chocolate, the packaging or the flavor. The key is to fulfill a trinomial that does not fail all the time: innovation, shopping experience and customer service.