For the past two years, Will and I have been building a little chocolate company called Bellflower. It was born out of Will's driving desire to be an entrepreneur, my driving desire to build a beautiful brand, and our shared desire to build a company that will serve as a vehicle for giving back through acts of social justice. Cacao farmers deserve honest, fair prices for their produce, the earth needs businesses to act ethically and sustainably, and people who haven't been as fortunate in life as Will and I have been need equal opportunities. Be the change you want to see, they say. Which is exactly what we're trying to do through chocolate, one of life's greatest simple pleasures.
Our goal is to build a profitable company focused on social and environmental stewardship via these frameworks:
B Corporation "B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency."
Washington State Social Purpose Corporation "A type of for-profit corporation available in Washington State supporting socially responsible business. SPCs provide a framework to allow companies to maximize financial returns and to promote positive impact on the company’s employees, community and/or the environment."
Greyston Bakery and Open Hiring "Anyone that comes to the front door of our bakery is given the chance to work, no questions asked. When a job becomes available we hire the next person on our waiting list. During the apprenticeship period, our employees learn baking and employment readiness skills. And, we offer Community Gardens, Workforce Development, Environmental and Cultural Education and an Early Learning Center to create a truly thriving community."
We started out in our kitchen during the summer of 2014, concocting our unique bean-to-bottle™, botanical chocolate milk, inviting friends over to taste it on our groovy yellow formica table we bought at a thrift store in Baltimore. "How did you invent such a thing?" people asked. We had just returned to Seattle from five years on the East Coast, during which we sorely missed the West Coast culinary scene. Throwing around business ideas, we had a new neighbor move in across the alley, a neighbor who turns out to have a large share in Theo Chocolate. "Chocolate is just a food commodity, like wheat or milk," we said to ourselves. But Theo did something special with it, pioneering the whole bean-to-bar movement. So we started thinking about how we might innovate on a food product ourselves, one that hadn't been innovated on before, and hey! Why not chocolate? Chocolate is delicious. Chocolate made from ethically-sourced, sustainably farmed beans is even more so.
Callie and Will. A designer and engineer who want to build something truly meaningful.
We started combining ideas, inspired by techniques in my former colleague, Ellen Lupton's book Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming. Inspired by Seattle products we love: Theo Chocolate, Dry Soda, and Rachel's Ginger Beer, we did a mash up, resulting in bean-to-bottle™, botanical chocolate milk, served on tap.
Our friends loved it, so we decided to expand, testing our ability to execute on a larger scale, delivering to a broader public audience at the 2015 Queen Anne Farmers Market. That was also successful and in the meantime, we started selling bean-to-bar chocolate and candied cacao nibs, now available online and at seven locations in two states, with inquiries from additional retailers on a bi-weekly basis.
Chocolate bars and nibs are easy products to sell for both retail and wholesale. Chocolate milk, however, is more difficult to sell due to health regulations governing dairy products. To sell chocolate milk wholesale, bottled for markets, requires an extra pasteurization process after bottling of the final milk product. We don't have the money to invest in pasteurization equipment, so are pursuing a less expensive, less stringently-regulated, and more direct and profitable route: setting up a retail milk and chocolate bar, housed on an electric cargo bike, which will allow us to physically sell direct to consumer. This is also an exponentially cheaper option than renting a retail space, which would cost thousands of dollars per month in Seattle. We are seeking funding to help purchase a custom cargo bike, designed to serve chocolate milk on tap.
We will also be contributing money from our own savings to help complete this project.SaveSaveSave
Risks and challenges
SOMEONE ELSE MAY GET TO MARKET BEFORE WE DO
In addition to the really big player in town, Theo Chocolate, there are also other small chocolate makers in Seattle who are entering the bean-to-bar space. Our chocolate milk on tap is truly unique, but food products are not patentable. We have proven our ability to deliver innovation via our time at the Queen Anne Farmers Market which is great, but it also means that our idea is now out there for the taking, and somebody else further along in their business development could copy it. Bean-to-bottle™, botanical chocolate milk on tap is our intellectual property and ours alone. We want to be first to market.
The ability to sell enough product from this small, mobile platform to be profitable is highly dependent on adequate foot traffic. With a mobile retail space, we don’t have to wait for people to come to us, we can go to the people. We must have at least one person (and sometimes two) serving the milk on tap (and our bars) from the bike. We want to pay these employees a decent wage so need to make enough to cover payroll and other costs. The portability of the bike allows us to go where crowds are in Seattle and beyond, especially athletic events, allowing us to tap into the market demand among athletes for chocolate milk as a recovery drink. We know from the farmers market beta that this demographic is highly receptive to a high quality, unique chocolate milk product.
SALES DECREASE IN COLDER MONTHS
Heating liquids from a bike platform is pretty easy. We have included this capability in the design specifications for the bike. This will enable us to generate beverage revenues year-round.
- (60 days)