Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Throwback Tip # 127: Spark Creativity with a Mind Map

If you attended RCI’s Annual Convention & Industry Expo June12-16 in Chicagoland, there’s a good chance you took away a lot of great ideas and inspiration. After returning to your business, you might be feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do with the new knowledge you’ve acquired. Consider using a mind map to organize your thoughts and apply them to your business.

What is a mind map? It’s a diagram used to visually outline information. Typically it begins with a word, image or phrase in the center and then other ideas and images branch out from the center across the page.  One of the key benefits of a mind map is that an idea doesn’t have to be full or complete or even in sentence form in order to be displayed. The idea is that the process of a mind map resembles how your brain actually works!

Tips for an effective mind map:
  • Start with a large piece of paper (Give your brain room to think!)
  • Use images, not just words
  • Vary the size, color and alignment of your images and text
  • Keep topics and labels short (Think big picture.)

Mind maps are useful tools for individual creativity and also can help to get creative ideas flowing among a team of people. In your next team brainstorming session, consider using a whiteboard or oversized Post-it to map out ideas as they’re given and see where mind mapping can take you! If you prefer tech tools to paper versions, check out MindMeld or Mindmeister.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tip # 233: How to Know Chocolate is in Good Temper

Checking your temper is an important step to ensure you aren’t surprised by unsightly bloom or dull or tacky chocolates.

Chocolates that have a dull appearance may be over tempered, while rapid bloom or a tacky, greasy surface are indicators that chocolate is under tempered. Quit guessing and rest assured your chocolate is always in good temper with these two methods for checking your temper.

  1. The Blade Test: This method is quick, easy and budget friendly, however the results could vary on the temperature of the room.

    Simply dip a metal spatula or knife blade into the chocolate and leave a small film on the blade. At room temperature (65-68° F), well-tempered chocolate should be firm, not tacky, after just five minutes.
  2. Tempermeter: Although more costly, this method will most accurately measure the degree of tempering, indicating the quality and quantity of stable crystals that have been formed.

    Tempermeters produce a temperature versus time curve, resulting from uniform cooling of a chocolate sample over a specified period of time.
It may be easy to assume your chocolate is well tempered and ready to move into the assembly line, however, skipping this step could result in a costly mistake.

Choose a testing method that works best for you and put a plan in place to ensure your chocolate is being checked on a regular basis. Many of our candy maker members have a system in place to verify their chocolate’s temper every hour.

Connect with fellow confectioners and industry suppliers at RCI's Annual Convention & Industry Expo next month! Register online now and join us in Chicagoland June 12-16, 2017!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tip # 232: Reward Customers with a Loyalty Program

According to Entrepreneur.com, 64% of businesses that utilize customer loyalty programs report it’s been effective, meaning it makes more money than it costs to maintain it. For small businesses, a customer loyalty program is an effective way to compete with big businesses while leveraging the program to engage with your customers on a more personal level.

Peterbrooke Chocolatier of Jacksonville, Florida leverages customer loyalty through their Peterbrooke Rewards app, a digital customer loyalty program. Digital loyalty programs mean businesses no longer have to waste time and money printing paper punch cards and entering customer information manually. Digital loyalty apps also make it easier for customers to participate.

Despite common perceptions, reasonably priced digital customer loyalty programs are available. Entrepreneur.com recommends digital loyalty programs, Perkville and Belly. Monthly subscriptions for basic packages can cost anywhere from $29 per month to more than $100 per month.

If you’re looking to make your business stand out, apart from the big box stores, consider what a loyalty program would look like for your business. Click here for 6 tips from Quickbooks® on creating a customer loyalty program.

Meet fellow confectioners and industry suppliers at RCI's Annual Convention & Industry Expo next month and learn more valuable ways to improve your business! Register online now and join us in Chicagoland June 12-16, 2017!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Throwback Tip #133: 3 Ways to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Truffles

Today is National Truffle Day! Often considered the highest expression of a quality confection and often commands the highest price when purchasing, there’s no question why these little morsels are good cause for celebration.

A decadent truffle made with high-quality ingredients is a welcome surprise to chocolate lovers around the world, however, the surprise appearance of mold could ruin your sweet reputation. Keep reading for three ways to extend the shelf life of your truffles.

Reduce Water Activity
The high moisture of cream is often the cause of microbial growth in truffles. While cream arrives pasteurized, it is usually scalded to 190°F to ensure there’s no yeast and mold.

Reducing water activity will reduce the microbial growth and can be accomplished by:
  • Replacing a portion of the cream with corn syrup
  • Adding invertase (an enzyme derived from yeast)
  • Increasing fat percentage
  • Increasing chocolate solids
Use of Preservatives (including natural preservative options)
Preservatives can also control microbial growth. Potassium sorbate is one of the most effective options, however it is not usually considered natural. Natural preservatives might include cultured dextrose. Other preservatives can include reducing the pH of the ganache or the addition of alcohol. Legal and flavor considerations, however, must be addressed before using these methods.

Reduce Storage Temperature
A rule of thumb is that reducing the temperature by 18°F (10°C) will double the shelf life. Freezing truffles can substantially increase their shelf life, however, this must be done properly. Click here to view previous blog post on freezing truffles.

A truffle’s short shelf-life is a major challenge for many confectioners. With these tips from RCI’s Chocolate Boot Camp you can effectively extend the shelf-life of your truffles and avoid any unwanted surprises.

Get solutions to your problem candies from fellow confectioners and industry suppliers at RCI's Annual Convention & Industry Expo next month! Register online now and join us in Chicagoland June 12-16, 2017!

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tip #230: Refresh Your FSMA Knowledge

If you are in the food industry, chances are you are well aware of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Now that HalloweenThanksgivingChristmasValentine’s Day…Easter is now over, this is a great time for a refresher in this excerpt from RCI's Kettle Talk, written by Michael Koch of Morley Candy Makers/Sanders Candy.

FSMA was designed to shift the focus on food safety from responding to contamination issues to a more proactive approach of preventing contamination before it happens. Through the passing of this law the FDA has gained more leverage in its ability monitor and control the safety of our food supply chain.

In September of 2015 the FDA finally published its “Preventive Controls for Human Food” guidelines. As part of the FSMA it outlines the mandatory requirements being placed on all food manufacturers.
The most important aspect of the law that everyone needs to realize is that it applies to all food manufacturers. If you think your company is too small and these regulations don’t apply to you, please understand you could be making a costly mistake.

As with many of the guidelines that the FDA enacts they have set forth a specific time frame for companies to comply. The timeline is as follows:

Prior to putting a plan together you must identify the individual or individuals in your organization that are going to administer your program. The FSMA requires that your plan be written and managed by a qualified individual. Currently the only way to verify that an individual is qualified is to have your food safety administrator attend a certification course.

Hazard Analysis
Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) is a documented food safety program that you need to develop and implement for your facility. The first step toward developing a HARPC is to conduct a hazard analysis for every food product you handle in your facility—this is not limited to the items that you manufacture. The second step is to put in place preventive controls for each food product to ensure it will not become contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

Verifying the effectiveness of your plan ensures preventive controls are consistently implemented and sufficient. Verification includes evaluating the accuracy of process monitoring, calibrating instruments, such as thermometers, and reviewing records to verify monitoring and corrective actions are completed. Product testing and environmental monitoring by a certified third party are also reliable verification methods.

Recall Procedure
Your plan must contain details on your recall procedures. If a contaminated product is shipped, you must be able to identify where the product has gone and have the ability to perform a recall. A recall plan should include the procedures for identifying the contaminated product. Having important contact information in the plan will help move the process forward. Contacts should include the local health department, local FDA office, news media and anyone else that you may deem important to the process.

The FSMA covers a much greater spectrum of the food chain and more details than covered in this brief article. The realm of information and procedures that you are responsible for also cover such things as your supply chain management, good manufacturing practices, corrective actions and etc. The FSMA is no small task, it is designed to protect the consumer from obtaining contaminated products.

In order to operate a successful candy making business, it is essential that you are knowledgeable on federal regulations and take the proper action to ensure you are in compliance with FSMA guidelines. Visit fda.gov for more resources and updates.          

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tip # 229: From the Archives: Don’t Overcook Your Creams

During an RCI candy making course in 1971, the instructor discovered two students, although using identical formulas for rolled creams, were achieving vastly different results due to a variation in their cooking time. Keep reading to ensure your cooking time isn’t compromising the quality of your creams and other products.

            Cooking Time for Rolled Creams, By Fred Janssen, SuCrest Corp.
While teaching at the RCI Short Course on Retail Candy Making, it was interesting to learn the following from two of the students who were trying to make the same type of candy. In this case, rolled creams. After questioning the students, an interesting fact was revealed. In one case, the cooking time of the batch was 8 minutes and in the other, 45 minutes. Both were using the identical formulas as suggested by many in the trade and it was quite evident that the student who took the longer cooking time was not getting good results. There was a great deal of variation in the type of product that he was trying to make.

Rolled creams are dependent upon the crystalline structure or the sugar remaining in the cream and with the longer cooking time, excessive inversion took place which reduced the percentage or amount of sugar remaining in the cream, thereby causing a great deal of difficulty for the candy maker.

A good rule to follow in any cooking operation is that all batches should be cooked to its final temperature within 20 minutes. If this is not possible on the equipment, the size of the batch should be reduced so that this cooking time can be accomplished. If larger batches are necessary, consideration should be given to making changes by obtaining better cooking equipment.

It's important to be mindful of cooking times, and not just ingredient formulations, when adjusting batch sizes. The 20-minute rule can help candy makers keep their cooking times in check and prevent excessive inversion.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tip # 228: Get More at RCI’s Annual Convention & Industry Expo

We're giving you more than ever before at RCI's 2017 Annual Convention & Industry Expo at The Westin Lombard! In addition to the same great benefits of attending as a candy maker or a supplier, we're giving you more in terms of education, tours and networking! Keep reading for reasons why you don't want to miss out on this event!

More Education
For as long as RCI has existed, education has played an integral role in the convention experience. This year, attendees can expect a more individualized educational experience with the addition of new one-on-one appointments and interactive workshops.

RCI members looking for solutions to problem candies or to maximize their social media presence, have the opportunity to schedule personal 30-minute consultations during our new one-on-one appointments. Consultations are exclusively available to RCI members registered for the event and are available by appointment only. View retailconfectioners.org/annual for more information on how to schedule a consultation.

Also new for 2017, two interactive workshops designed to equip attendees with the tools needed to successfully engage consumers and to create a pipeline of new and innovative products. Workshops are exclusive to Convention Pass holders, interested parties may reserve their seats when registering. Space is limited.

More Tours
One of the most popular components of RCI events are the behind-the-scenes tours, which take place on the final two days of the week. This June, RCI tours will include eight tour locations.

  • Albanese Confectionery
  • Arway Confections
  • Barry Callebaut
  • Blommer Chocolate Co.
  • Long Grove Confectionery Co.
  • Morkes Chocolates
  • Primrose Candy Co.
  • Savage Bros. Co.

See what chocolate looks like at every step of the process, how state-of-the-art confectionery machinery is built and experience candy production from hand-dipped chocolates to full-scale robotics. Each tour location has been selected to help attendees gain a new perspective of the craft and inspire new ideas to use in their own retail stores.

More Networking
After the conclusion of the first meeting of retail confectioners, attendees recognized the value in connecting with industry colleagues to share ideas and learn from each other. Since that time, these relationships have been a driving force in the continuation of our association.

No doubt, one's 100th anniversary is cause for celebration! We have scheduled more social events to mark RCI's significant milestone anniversary and make it easy for attendees to mingle and build relationships. Make plans now to attend the following new social events for 2017, included in the Convention Pass, 3-Day Pass or A La Carte (as a package or as individual tickets).

New Networking Events For 2017:

   Welcome Reception
   Monday, June 12 | 8:00 PM - 10:00 PM
   Reconnect with industry friends and meet new colleagues as we gather together for this
   opening reception to kick off the convention week.

   100th Anniversary Gala
   Wednesday, June 14 | 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM
   Celebrate RCI's rich history in grand fashion during our 100th Anniversary Gala. Relive
   memories of the past through a visual tribute while enjoying a five-course meal, live music
   and dancing.

   The Finale Reception
   Thursday, June 15 | 8:00 PM - 10:30 PM
   Watch the 1920s come to life during this fun, interactive farewell reception and murder
   mystery party! An experience you'll never forget, attendees get the chance to play a role in
   a murder mystery, win prizes at the gaming tables, have their likenesses drawn by a
   caricature artist and more!

Be part of this historic event by celebrating with us! Register at retailconfectioners.org/annual by April 28 and save $100!
Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tip #227: Tips for Disaster Preparedness

We all know spring showers bring May flowers, but they can also bring power outages, flooding and other incidents that could wreak havoc on your business. In the following excerpt from the third quarter issue of Kettle Talk in 2012, RCI member Brian Pelletier shares tips to help you prepare your business.

Do you have enough to worry about with your chocolate shop that you can’t sleep at night? Would you like more things to worry about?

For example, what would you do if a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane hit? What if your shop caught on fire? What if one or more employees is injured? What if your electricity goes out for an extended time? Or what about a much smaller crisis, like spilling a cup of coffee on the computer that has all your company financial data on it?

Experts recommend that every company has a Business Continuity Plan to ensure that your business is sustainable after a significant interruption caused by a disaster or any other disruptive event. That can be anything from a single component failure to a man-made or natural disaster that broadly impacts your company’s physical assets, buildings or people.

The first step in planning is to understand what functions are critical to your business, and how different disaster scenarios can impact you. For example, if your power goes out and you can’t make product but can keep your store open, can you still take credit cards as payment? The “what-if” scenarios for threats and vulnerabilities are endless, but it isn’t difficult to identify the critical points that can have the biggest impact on your company, and that you need to address.

The next step is to define your business continuity strategies. For example, how does the organization want the business to perform and what options are available? Do you have alternate facilities if you can’t use your current shop? If you lost use of your computer, do you have your data backed up somewhere? (And is that backup kept right next to your computer where it might be lost in the same disaster that destroys your main computer, or is it stored online in the “cloud” where you can easily access it?)

Once you have a plan developed, you need to communicate it. Make sure your employees know what they need to do if something goes wrong, and how they can best be in contact with you.

Some simple tips:
  • Have emergency equipment and supplies like fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and flashlights available and stocked up.
  • Conduct regular emergency and disaster drills with your employees – ask them some of the “what if” scenarios, and make sure everyone knows what they’ll need to do if disaster strikes. 
  • Train at least some of your staff in first aid and CPR. 
  • Make sure your business insurance is up to date and includes something about business continuity. 
  • Back up your business data regularly and frequently, to an offsite location.
  • Review your disaster plan at least twice annually to ensure the information remains current, including employee and vendor information.

The following organizations provide free preparedness information and tools as resources for small businesses:
Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.