Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
From a small two-bedroom apartment to a 1,700-square foot facility, chocolatier Michelle Smith, the owner of Chocolate Dreams, is again looking to ramp up production capacity with funding secured through the online platform, Kickstarter.
Chocolate Dreams launched the project to raise US$50,000 (J$5 million) to fund the acquisition of machinery that will allow for the expansion of the current production line, development of new products, and to launch export to regional and European markets.
"In this company, our chocolates are a hundred per cent handmade, and if you're going to talk exports the consistency and the quality must be confirmed," said Smith of the company which has moved from a family business when it started in 2004 to a limited-liability company by 2010.
"For us taking a business from being micro, handmade, to small technologically driven, is a challenge because with that you require specialised equipment," she said.
The confectionery maker however finds sourcing loans for equipment a bit challenging.
"Loans for specialised equipment (are) like a taboo, because if you default and they have to get their money back from the equipment, they have nobody to sell it to."
The fund targeted under Kick-starter are meant to finance a chocolate enrober, cooling tunnel, chocolate panning machine, tempering machine, chocolate grinder and a roaster.
"The equipment will allow us to automate the manual processes," Smith said, noting that though the company's reputation has grown on the appreciation of its handmade products, consistency is required for overseas markets.
"Every single piece that comes out needs to come out uniformed ... and hands can't do it. So if I take my company to an export market, I must automate," she said.
"The one we really want is the panning machine," the chocolatier said.
A panning machine coats food items and would enable the addition of coated coffee beans, Smith said.
An enrober would produce greater sheen and aesthetic appeal to her flagship cherry surprise line.
And, the cooling tunnel would allow the coated confectioneries to be cooled and packaged at a greater speed thereby improving output.
Chocolate Dreams plans to start exporting to Caribbean markets by 2014.
Local distribution has also grown with the company now supplying Sweet Surrender, a duty-free shop at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, as well as the Half Moon resort's turndown service.
The company provides in-flight supplies for Virgin and Condor airlines through Goddard Catering.
Smith aims to bolster its distribution to the hotel sector and is seeking an outlet in Montego Bay.
Smith declined to reveal sales figures, but noted the chocolate factory also saw increased sales when it added Loshusan supermarket as a distribution outlet in November of 2012.
The factory has processed "at least three tonnes" of chocolate so far in 2013, and aims to do another three to four tonnes by the end of the year, she said.
Chocolate Dreams is also a beneficiary of Jampro's Export Max Programme which means the company must launch export production within a year, Smith said. European markets are targeted, under the Jampro programme.
Ahead of the export push, Smith has diversified into baked products, chocolate fountain rentals, and image printing on some products.
She now plans to add another line of pralines by year end.
"What pralines do is use the local flavours more. I am going to be able to create different things from other local flavours," the self-taught chocolatier said.
Her staff has grown from seven to 13, and Smith says she plans to add another shift of 13 staff with the expansion.