AY: I had been an interior designer for many years with a dedicated plant-based diet. With down-sizing in the interior design industry, I dedicated my time to becoming a vegan chef. In the course of creating a comprehensive vegan menu, I discovered that flavorful dairy, soy, nut, gluten, and preservative-free chocolate was hard to find. I started making various plant-based chocolates to complement my vegan recipes. Such flavors as “Midnight Passion” align with the chocolate purist who prefers deep dark chocolate. Our “Strawberry Sensation” Chocolate, with its fruity notes, has become a crowd pleaser with many repeat customers.
AY: As with any new business venture, the initial few years were the most difficult. Issues such as perfecting my recipes, finding commercial outlets for my chocolates, creating an online marketing platform, etc. consumed all my time and were a 24/7 effort. In addition, I also found that a woman-based enterprise also had its own set of challenges. Probably the greatest hurdle at an initial meeting is being taken seriously. But once I stepped out of my comfort zone and displayed my passion and commitment to my business, I found a wide customer acceptance. This article written about Sweet Vegan sums it up nicely, Vegan Truffles are Serious Business.
We are on a mission to share our chocolate love.
Sweet Vegan has reached a broad customer base that has led to over 500+ fantastic Google reviews from our consumers over the past few months. One of New York's finest, The Hilton Hotels Midtown, chose us as their chocolate of choice for their VIP gifts and gift shops for the Clinton Global Initiative. To add to our target audience, we conduct regular chocolate tastings and pop-ups at retail locations across the country. In addition, we have also created seasonal flavors, included a subscription program, and offer educational chocolate-making classes to schools and non-profit organizations.
AY: 3 of my biggest challenges are:
• improving production efficiency,
• widening my distribution channels and
• finding reliable and competent talent.
Improving production efficiency requires capital investment in expensive equipment. Having to retrain new staff due to turn-over is also stressful. Finally, increasing revenue growth requires a wider distribution channel.
AY: As the founder of Sweet Vegan, every day is full of challenges. Here are some of my daily tasks:
• Oversee and manage the production of our 25 flavors of chocolate
• Fulfill customer orders and handle customer inquiries
• Strategize and manage our sales outreach process
• Supervise all marketing campaigns and finally
• Review sales and manage financial reporting
I typically have between two to three scheduled meetings with partners, consultants, and customers each day.
AY: My daily schedule always includes daily meditation which helps me maintain a calm and focused mind. Along with eating a plant-based diet, I stay active by walking as much as possible. Living in NYC is a gift with the ability to take a brisk walk daily.
AY: My most influential mentor was my grandmother, Georgia May Townsend. Not only did she teach me everything there is to know about cooking but also inspired me to always do my best. With her encouragement, I moved to NYC to study interior architecture. It was here that I established my career in design. As my company downsized, I reinvented myself and became a plant-based chef. To this day, these words from her still resonate in my thoughts, “Reach for the stars; everything is possible.” Through this inspiration, Sweet Vegan was born.
Two contemporary role models are Dr. Brooke Goldner, MD who developed a plant-based nutrition treatment for autoimmune disease, having suffered from Lupus. I admire her strength to overcome this disease and help others. Also, NYC Mayor Eric Adams and his personal journey with diabetes and becoming vegan. He has helped the NY community embrace plant based products and mainstream plant-based cuisine in hospitals and schools.
AY: The chocolate market is extremely competitive and full of middle-of-the-road products that don't stand out. Majority of these chocolates target the average consumer who just desires to have something sweet. My chocolate targets a unique segment of the market, where the consumer not only desires a chocolate that satisfies his or her sweet tooth but also has abundant nutritional values. At the same time, as my product is dairy, soy, nut, gluten, and preservative free, it is ideal for a consumer who has an allergy with these ingredients.
For anyone who wants to start a chocolate business, these are some of my key advice:
• Have a commitment and passion to your business
• Understand your competition and create a product and packaging that are unique and stands out among your competitors
• Hire reliable and competent assistants
• Create a multi distribution channel - retail, wholesale, on-line, subscription, etc.
• Attend classes and join networks for support
• Carefully consider what makes your product unique. Research chocolate companies and their success. Price points. Develop a market for your product so you can make a profit.