Hello, everyone! I am a long-time lurker, and have always been impressed with the expertise of the members, so I am finally posting. :)
After many years in corporate management, I am undergoing a career change, and will be opening a candy shop. The focus will be on artisan chocolates, both bars and individual pieces, all US-made, from smaller manufacturers and more "mom and pop" type chocolatiers. You know the types who make small quantities of really great quality and artistic items. I will also be selling candy from nostalgic to the unusual.
Since I live in a hot weather climate, I plan on only storing and selling the chocolate from a refrigerated case made specifically for chocolates, so I may ensure the temperature and humidity. I think trying to store chocolate outside this case will just be too difficult.
That being said, provided I purchase a new display case that works perfectly, what's the shelf-life I can plan on for individual chocolates? 3 weeks?
Also, do you think I would be OK to sell the artisan chocolate bars outside this case, and have them on the shelf with other sugar-only candy?
Thank you in advance. ANY advice you have for a newbie opening her first shop would be greatly appreciated. This is a new venture, I am excited for a fresh challenge, but am completely open to learning from others.
Welcome to Your ChocolateLife!
The shelf life of individual chocolates (bonbons) can vary widely. Some might last 2-3 weeks from the date of manufacture, some 3-6 weeks, some 3-6 months, and some longer. It depends on the recipe and they way they are made. There are lots of techniques that can be used to extend shelf life that don't involve ingredients that are obviously preservatives. For example, using an invert sugar will bind the water in the recipe making it harder for microorganisms to grow and spoil the piece. Alternatively, the maker could use a vacuum mixer (e.g., a Stephan).
The only thing to do is to inquire of the maker as to their recommendations and then skew your purchasing to rely on more items with longer shelf life. Short shelf life items are good, but you risk throwing them away if you can't sell them in time.
Ideally, the store is cooled to between 68-74F .. and is humidity controlled, ideally to around 55% RH. This is fine for storing chocolate bars and you'll get months and months for both dark and milk at these temps. The shorter-shelf-life items will be in the case, cooled to 60F or thereabouts. I don't like cases that move around a lot of air as this can cause the chocolates to go stale more quickly. I've been experimenting with using a small chiller to pipe cold water under a marble slab (built like a radiant-heat floor, but cooled) as the cooling source for a cabinet. The base would act as a thermal mass to regulate temperature cost effectively.
It's always handy to have some 45F-55F storage (a chest freezer with a temperature override device is a cheap option) for longer-term storage. You could put bonbons in here to extend their shelf life. It's important that you control humidity as water condensing on the bonbons or bars can ruin them quickly.
Thank you, Clay! :)
I will do just that - inquire with the chocolatier about their recommendations. I know a reputable chocolate maker will be very committed to ensuring their product isn't sold beyond its ideal time. And as I am looking to showcase fine and artisan chocolates, I suspect the shelf-life will be on the shorter side of the cycle for the individual pieces. BUT, it's comforting to know the bars will get more life.
I have access to about a half dozen very high quality chocolate makers in the near vicinity, so I am hopeful I won't need to get into long-term storage. My goal is to only stock enough as will fit in the display case at one time. This way I think I have the best chance at minimizing loss.
But, you raised a good point about humidity of the store. 55% is hard to achieve through normal HVAC in the desert, so I might need to look into humidifying the store. Thank you for pointing that out. :)
It can be lower than 55% - that's ideal - but not too much lower. I was in Phoenix (Scottsdale, actually) a couple of years ago for a competition and we had the reverse problem. The humidity was so high it was affecting the sugar work. The resort had two golf courses, two pools, a water feature out front, and grass landscaping. There was a lot of moisture in the air.
You also need to think about the presentation of the items in the case. You want to make it look full, knowing that some items will sell much faster than others. So buying to stock the case could mean that as you start to sell the case could start to look empty in a lopsided kind of way. Good merchandising will be one key to your success.
I'm pretty sure I know the resort you were at. It's always feels steamy in there to me. lol
But, an excellent point. I guess I can have that checked in the space before I move in just to make sure I get it right.
Also, another great point on the merchandising. I do want to keep stock full, so it looks like I will need to purchase a small freezer unit. Is that the kind that I can get from standard restaurant supply houses? I guess I can also ask the chocolate makers what they recommend for longer storage of their items - they certainly will have the experience on how the pieces need to be handled.
Thanks again. :)
You can go to Sears or some other appliance store and get a chest freezer. These are way cheaper than commercial freezers for the capacity. You can find a ~15cu. ft. chest freezer for under $500.
Then use a temperature controller to raise the temp above freezing. 35-45F will extend the shelf life considerably without worrying about freezing changing the texture (through ice crystal formation).
Johnson Controls A419ABC-1C temperature controller available on eBay and other places - wiring diagram. Here is a forum discussion (brewing) that talks about using these controllers. You can order them for $70 or less.
Clay - since I am going to be doing a full build-out of any space I rent, and I will also be stocking candy and gum lines, do you think I'm better off trying to fashion some type of mock walk-in to keep the chocolate and candy cool?
Many thanks, once again.
You asked for advice.... Ok. Here's my weigh-in:
What market research have you done to ensure you aren't wasting money? Have you conducted any surveys?
You are banking the success of your business on the reputations of small "Mom and Pop" chocolatiers. If they had great reputations they wouldn't be that small, and certainly wouldn't need you to resell their confections for them. I understand that you are building YOUR brand around the attraction of offering a collection of confections by chocolatiers who your customers may not have access to in the first place. HOWEVER, who's to say that their products are what your customers want? Have you ever asked them?
One of the biggest failings I have researched and seen in this industry, is that NOBODY ever asks the consumers what they want! Everybody gets caught up in the emotion and appeal of owning a chocolate shop, and forgets that they are in business to make money! Chocolatiers become slaves to their business, and fail all the time because they throw out the rule book citing the fundamentals of operating a successful business.
There is a chocolatier here in Calgary who is trying exactly what you are suggesting: bringing in bars from artisans all over the world. His business is in a marquee spot in the middle of the business district of one of the richest cities in the world, it is attractively decorated, and guess what - he is failing. While HE is familiar with the brands, and I as a chocolatier am familiar with the brands, the average customer looking for a quick chocolate fix IS NOT.
Here is another great example: When I first started my business, I had a master chocolatier tell me that I MUST offer exotic truffle centers - centers such as ice wine, and grande marnier. In HIS world, they were the big sellers. Yuhuh.... His world no longer exists. He is out of business and I have sold almost half a million truffles in the past 4 years. I tried a couple of exotic flavours and while they tasted fabulous, hardly anybody wanted them. Why... Well, it is because chocolate confections to most people are comfort foods. People for the most part pick out of habit - usually products they grew up with. I would strongly think twice when considering cool or funky flavours. You will most end up throwing them out.
You asked for advice. My advice is to spend a LOT of time doing objective research. Find out what your customers want, through several channels (not just you). I think you will be very surprised at the results of your research. If you do this, I am pretty sure you will save yourself thousands and thousands of dollars.
Thanks, Brad! Appreciate your input.
The shop will only have about 25% chocolate - the rest will be in candy, so I'm not too concerned about the business model being the wrong fit. I fully agree that opening a chocolate shop showcasing 100% local suppliers would be a huge fail.
Also keep in mind - "artisan" doesn't mean "exotic". I also wouldn't be foolish enough to sell things like you experienced. I can't imagine many people finding those types of flavors to be appealing, save the rare chocolate aficianado. And even then... ;)
Thanks for posting and your advice is quite valid and accurate, but doesn't apply to anything I have planned for my business model. Phew! :)
But, any suggestions on storage would be most welcomed. It is the one area of chocolate I am trying to heavily research. Clay has had some excellent suggestions, but I also am open to hearing more of how others handle their chocolate storage.
Thanks for the response Brad. As a lurker with similar questions to the OP, I appreciate your insight about customers selecting chocolate flavors out of habit and comfort.