Business

Chocolate Dreams keeps pushing ahead

BY SHAMILLE SCOTT Business reporter scotts@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 19, 2014    

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CHOCOLATE Dreams made its first regional export to Antigua, but limited working capital is preventing the company from selling to other markets.

The company's proprietor, Michelle Smith, went to popular crowdfunding site, Kickstarter.com last September to raise funds to purchase machines that would automate some of the manual chocolate-making process. But it was US$49,395 short of her US$50,000 target.

"We outgrew our space and in May of this year (2013) we acquired extra space to take us to 1,700 square feet (the demand for our chocolate products increased) and we need your help to increase our volume capacity to supply our island and the world with our Jamaican chocolate treats," she told would-be investors on Kickstarter.com.

Smith admits that her target was too high, but the project generated a lot of interest.

The company is expanding locally. Chocolate Dreams is set to open a gift shop in Fontana Pharmacy, Montego Bay within a week and is currently in discussions with a major retailer to set up shop in its location. It has a manufacturing plant at Roosevelt Avenue, and a retail outlet at Devon House.

In the meantime, Smith is still aggressively pushing for additional cash to grow Chocolate Dreams.

"I'm meeting with more financial institutions, I'm not giving up," she said. "I'm trying to get more working capital and consolidate some debt."

What's more, she plans to take to other crowdfunding sites, notably ones that are aimed to help women and businesses.

"What happened with the first one was I didn't have much time to work on it", she said, explaining that she was selected by the Centre for the Development of Enterprise under the European Union to do an eight-week module training overseas in chocolate making during the period of the crowdfunding project.

Of course, the businesswoman said she has approached various banks but is still unable to get financing she needs to expand production.

"Here, it has been a real challenge to get financing, it's very hard to get people to sign on to my dream," she said. Adding that she has been told her equipment cannot be used as collateral because it's specialised.

Smith, however, managed to execute a $6 million mini plant expansion, which helped her to export 191 kilograms of her chocolate treats to a boutique shop in Antigua. This she did, through help from two friends, cash from her business and pocket. She also noted that JAMPRO, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Trade Board helped with the shipment to the other island.

Indeed, this is small compared to the estimated $31 million she would need to cough up in order to purchase machines that will increase Chocolate Dreams' output to export to the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago — the other islands Smith has her eyes on. Already, a businesswoman in the twin- island republic has expressed an interest to run a Chocolate Dreams franchise there.

One of the machines that is needed to push the increase in exports is being shipped to the island, but the chocolatier worries she may be unable to afford the duties and taxes associated with clearing the asset.

"I'm not even sure how I'll deal with the duties," she said. "[Gary] 'Butch' Henrdickson mentioned that he spent $80 million to clear machines he brought in for $420 million," she said. The Continental Baking Company Chairman made the disclosure at the launch of the 2014 National Bakery Bold Ones programme Tuesday.

Smith hopes that exports will eventually account for 70 per cent of total sales for Chocolate Dreams.

The company produces handcrafted chocolates and baked chocolate desserts since July 2003. The manufacturing company started in a tiny two-bedroom apartment before it moved into a 900 square foot building in July 2004.

According to Smith, the Chocolate Dreams brand has seen exponential growth with over 6,000 likes on Facebook, for example.

The business, on the other hand, fluctuates on occasions. Even so, between 2011 and 2012, the company doubled its sales, she added.

"Chocolate is a luxury item, so its one of the first things customers cut when there's an economic crunch," she said. "But, when people are sad, it's their happy food.

Chocolate Dreams supplies cafes under Coffee Traders Group, the Spanish Court Hotel, Half Moon Hotel, Goddard Catering that handles the in-flight service on Virgin and Condor airlines, as well as a duty-free shop, Sweet Surrender.

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