Fearless Chocolate (Oakland, CA) has become the largest manufacturer of raw, organic chocolate in North America since it originated in the kitchen of company founder and president, Jordan Schuster, in 2006. It was only in 2010 that the company expanded production to reach consumers outside the state of California. Its raw, organic chocolate bars can now be found in national retailers like Dean & Deluca and Whole Foods, along with co-op groceries and small-scale stores in Southern California.
The chocolate bars are free of dairy, gluten and soy and made with 100 percent Kosher ingredients in a Kosher facility. Flavors include Dark as Midnight, Green Tea Peppermint, Exploding Coconuts, Sweet & Hot (with notes of hibiscus flower and ginger) and Super Seeds (featuring a mix of flax seed, hemp seed and chia seed).
We recently sat down with Schuster to discuss Fearless Chocolate’s goals for market growth, implications for manufacturing and what innovations he hopes to find at the upcoming PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 (September 26–28; Las Vegas Convention Center).
Q: Has Fearless Chocolate set any goals for growth and product innovation in the coming year and beyond?
A: We have ambitions to triple our business. Our products have been well received by consumers in the 12-month period they’ve been available outside of California, and there is still room to grow. By mid-next year, we hope to concentrate on building the international presence of our brand. As we continue to expand our strategic accounts and adventure into other regional markets, we believe this goal is attainable.
Additionally, we’d like to expand our product portfolio beyond chocolate bars this year – starting with items that seem very natural in the context of our current operation. We are working to develop a line of consumer-ready chocolate products for baking as well as cocoa products for consumer retail in tea and coffee houses. These product lines would fit in with traditional price points for products made with our high-quality ingredients. Of course, they’ll also be outfitted in beautiful packaging to illustrate the unique character of our chocolate.
Further down the road, we’d like to extend the brand into the children’s food category with products that appeal to younger consumers but still speak to the company’s values and attention to natural, wholesome, unique and delicious chocolate. We believe that product line could be two years away.
Q: What changes do you expect to make to your processing/packaging line to meet those goals?
A: There’s always going to be room for improvement on the processing and packaging lines. As we continue to evolve our manufacturing line to meet production demands, we’ll seek new technologies to improve efficiency, accommodate larger capacities and minimize our carbon footprint.
Currently, we’re developing new secondary packaging that can be fed into an automated cartoning machine to help us improve line speeds.
Q: When you do plan for changes on the line — whether to handle greater capacity, reduce energy usage, etc. — do you consider both the processing and packaging operations to minimize any impact that new installations may have on productivity?
A: Absolutely. We’re constantly engineering our lines backwards in time to better understand how new installations would fit into the context of our existing operation and help us meet our future goals. Of course, some line renovations have to be done strategically, piece-by-piece over time, which makes it even more important to consider possible changes to both the front and the back of the line. You’re never buying a new piece of equipment to use just for today; you’re buying it to use for several years.
Even changes that seem simple can be complex in practice. We find that there are bound to be necessary tweaks — especially to our packaging equipment. Currently, we’re developing a line of Neapolitans — smaller squares of chocolate that can usually be purchased near checkout. Neapolitans provide a cost-efficient way to introduce our products to consumers, but the packaging can be very complex due to the small size of the chocolate piece. We’ve mitigated this challenge, and were able to launch the product line this nationwide this September.
Additionally, our manufacturing space in Iowa is shared with another confectionery company. This puts us in a unique position, as they bear part of the responsibility for installations and contribute different ideas for improvement. Of course, we have to analyze those recommendations in the context of our own operation to ensure they’ll work.
Q: When searching for new equipment, do you find it helpful to view both front-of-the-line and back-of-the-line solutions at the same time?
A: We find it very helpful when everything we need for our production line can be found in a single location. The PACK EXPO shows are very large and keep growing, most recently to include processing technology. I’m a PACK EXPO veteran and approach the show as a marathon with the aim to accomplish as much as possible in one day. However, we’ll most likely need two days to see all the technologies on our list.
Typically, I’ll spend as much time as required on the processing side and get lost in the packaging space, looking for inspiration and recent innovations. I expect that this year will be big for materials, and I’m excited to see what’s new in The Brand Zone. It will also be convenient to peruse small-scale chocolate processing equipment and other solutions exhibited in The Confectionery Pavilion and explore the industry-specific resources at The Candy Bar lounge.
Q: While at the show, what kinds of innovations will you be looking for?
A: We’re looking for what’s new in flexible materials, flow wrappers, band sealers and a wide range of packaging equipment. I’m constantly on the lookout for flexible packaging that is biodegradable. We are proud of the sustainability strides we’ve made with our existing packages. Our paperboard box is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper that will biodegrade within six months. However, we’d like to expand our efforts by introducing a flexible and biodegradable format.
Additionally, we’d like to continue enhancing the automation on our line with more robotics installations that can help improve our overall efficiency and sorting capabilities. Several machines launching in the coming months could suit our chocolate processing needs and may fit the criteria for our long-term goal of building a new chocolate laboratory. Mid-size artisan chocolate is on the rise and a fast-growing business for Fearless Chocolate, so we’re looking forward to meeting with our industry peers and suppliers at PACK EXPO Las Vegas to gauge what’s in store for the future.
For more information about PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 or to register, visit www.packexpo.com or contact PMMI’s Show Department at 703.243.8555 or via e-mail at email@example.com
PMMI is a trade association of 560-plus member companies that manufacture packaging, processing and related converting machinery in the United States or Canada; machinery components and packaging containers and materials. PMMI’s vision is to be the leading global resource for packaging, and its mission is to improve and promote members’ abilities to meet the needs of their customers.
PMMI organizes the PACK EXPO trade shows: PACK EXPO International, PACK EXPO Las Vegas and EXPO PACK México, connecting participants in the packaging and processing supply chain with their customers around the world.
Learn more about PMMI and the PACK EXPO trade shows at www.PMMI.org and www.Packexpo.com.