Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tip #177: Meet Up with RCI in 2016!

Visit RCI website for event updates.

With each new year, Retail Confectioners International (RCI) strives to offer exciting new events designed to help candy makers and chocolatiers build sweet businesses. We’re excited for the coming year and hope that you will plan to join us at one (or more) of the following events.

  • February 22-25 – Chocolate Boot Camp® – This popular education course moves to the east coast in 2016, providing a great foundation for working with chocolates. We accept a maximum of 25 students and, with five instructors; it provides a great student-to-teacher ratio and plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. Although the course is currently sold out, we will be accepting names for a waiting list.
  • April 20-22 –Merchandising Essentials- Designed with the retail candy maker in mind, this course is aimed at equipping students with the tools needed to remain relevant in a competitive industry. Students will learn how to build a consistent brand image, create an effective promotion, assemble attractive gift baskets, manage engaging social media content and more.
  • June 20-24 – Annual Convention & Industry Expo – We’re excited to be in Indianapolis, Indiana for our biggest event of the year. From a confectionery industry expo to quality education sessions and networking to behind-the-scenes tours, it’s an event you won’t want to miss!
  • August 10-12 – Caramels, Toffees & Brittles – Dive into the science behind making coveted caramels, toffees and brittles. Topics covered include ingredients, processes, formulas and troubleshooting. Attendees will take home the knowledge and experience needed to add these products to their lineup or improve existing recipes.
  • September 21-23 - Fall Regional Conference - Join RCI in the bustling coastal city of Vancouver, British Columbia. Attendees will take in the sights of this beautiful city while connecting with fellow candy makers and industry suppliers. Attendees can expect relevant education sessions, idea sharing through Candy Clinic and behind-the-scenes tours from some of the best candy makers in Canada.

Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on RCI happenings. We’ll see you in 2016! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tip #176: Take time to smell the hot chocolate!

For many companies, this is the busiest time of the year. Likely you’ve been preparing (in one way or another) for the holiday season all year long and, at this point, you’re just holding your breath and bracing yourself for Valentine’s Day. In the midst of all the bustle, remind yourself why this is the greatest time of the year.

Here’s wishing you an abundance of peace, joy and love this holiday season! May you take time to enjoy all the little things that make the holidays so special!

Merry Christmas, sweet friends!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tip #175: Share Customer Success Stories

Thanks to the evolution of technology and social media, advertising is everywhere. Aggressive advertisers have created an over-saturated world of ads in print, on television, the radio and especially online. We, as consumers, have also evolved to become more turned off by advertising, making it nearly impossible to get our attention.

That’s where content marketing comes into the picture. Although it has recently become a popular buzzword, the concept of content marketing has been around for over 100 years. The trouble with content marketing can be simply coming up with topics that aren’t perceived as “salesy,” but are relatable and interesting. Here’s one for your toolbox… customer success stories.

Not to be confused with testimonials, which can feel generic and contrived, customer success stories are weaved around a customer solving a problem using your product (e.g., finding the perfect corporate gift for clients) or an outstanding customer service experience. In some cases, customer success stories may require a little more leg work to find, but are more believable when sourced from individuals who shared their positive experience organically. By keeping a pulse on what people are saying about you online, or what's happening in your store, you can identify people who are doing interesting things with your products – a company that thanks clients with your chocolate bars emblazoned with their company logo, a bride who made a dessert tower with your truffles or a teenager who raises money to purchase a dozen boxes of chocolates to give senior citizens who live in the local nursing home. Seek these people out and ask them if they would be interested in filling out a questionnaire about your company. Their stories could prove to be a valuable asset to your brand.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tip # 174: Stand Out through Social Media

For candy makers and chocolatiers who produce fresh morsels of deliciousness every day, social media makes for a great, visual platform to communicate what makes your brand stand out. Interesting posts not only inform followers of that fresh batch of toffee now ready for purchase, but when used correctly can effectively drive home your point of difference (how your goods or services differ from the competition).

To identify your points of difference, first evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your business, followed by those of your competition. According to AmericanExpress’s Open Forum, small businesses should assess the consumer’s perception of the following points: price, variety, features, benefits, quality, availability, convenience, customer service and your story (how, why or where you do business). This can be an activity practiced on your own, but would be best to include a group of trusted team members – as long as you can keep an open mind in the process.

After identifying the strengths and weaknesses of both your company and the competition, note areas of similarity. After crossing out the strengths you share with competitions, the strengths that stand apart become your points of difference. Your points of difference should be leveraged to create a consistent brand message which inspires brand loyalty by giving consumers a reason to purchase your product. A point of difference doesn’t always have to be spelled out, in fact, it shouldn’t be – that would get old quick. Everyone knows a picture speaks a thousand words, before posting a photo on Instagram or Facebook think about your points of difference and the message you want to communicate to your followers. If one of your points of difference is that you hand-dip chocolates, post photos of your staff in the act (always make sure they are following good manufacturing practices).

You don't need to read their company history to know Birnn Chocolates
of Vermont uses fresh, heavy cream from local dairy cows in their truffles.

As a wholesale supplier, you will not find RCI member, Birnn Chocolates of Vermont on Facebook. However, they do a great job of communicating one of their points of difference to their B2B clients, which is the fact that they use only fresh, heavy cream from Vermont cows for the ganache centers in their famous truffles. They even have a photo of brothers Jeff and Bill Birnn posed with those very Vermont cows on their website. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tip # 173: Subscribe to List Serve

The science of candy making can be complicated, making it difficult to get answers to your questions online that are both relevant and accurate.
Did you know RCI offers an online forum for members, called List Serve, which is designed to connect with fellow candy makers and even suppliers who have the knowledge and experience to answer your questions? List Serve is also a great way to support fellow colleagues in the industry by responding to their questions.

If you’re considering purchasing a new piece of equipment or looking to do business with a new vendor, get recommendations from fellow members by creating a post on List Serve.

Stay up-to-date on posts, by subscribing to conversations covering topics such as chocolate production, marketing and merchandising and owning a business. RCI members can click hereto subscribe now.

Not a member of RCI? Visit
RetailConfectioners.org for more information on how to join. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tip #172: Give thanks to your customers and staff year around!

 RCI members Peterbrooke Chocolatier (top) and Madelaine Chocolate Company (bottom)
showcase their turkey-time treats on social media.

Thanksgiving is the time of year when we all take pause to give thanks to the people and things that bless and enrich our lives. For businesses, this often takes form in a variety of thinly veiled ploys to lure shoppers in the doors for a sale or an open house. Not that there is anything wrong with this, because it is also the one of time of the year when shoppers are most willing to spend money. However, unless you are practically giving away flat-screen TVs or have pyramid display of this year’s Tickle-Me Elmo crowding the aisles, chances are you’ve got a lot of competition just to get shoppers in the door on Black Friday.

The point is, although Thanksgiving is a nice reminder to thank the people who make an impact in our lives, it shouldn’t be the only time we recognize loyal patrons for their business or celebrate a winning staff before they run the marathon of holidays. Plus, consider what kind of lasting impression a sincere gesture of gratitude makes when the reason for the gesture is just because.

Before planning a New Year’s Eve gala for your staff or customer appreciation event next March, keep in mind even small gestures can make a big impact when they are sincere.

Help Scout, a web-based help desk that empowers businesses to deliver exceptional customer service, compiled 25 ways to show your appreciation to customers and your team. Some of their ideas ooze with creativity and others are fail-proof but often forgotten. Click here to see what they've come up with. Chances are you will find at least one idea (or a dozen) that you could apply to your business.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tip #171: Protect Your Business Against Cyber Attacks

Source: Veracode
In a day and age when most businesses rely on the internet for daily operations, many do not have a formal cyber security plan in place. Businesses that don’t protect themselves against cyber attacks risk paying a price that could ultimately cost them their business. According to research by Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), the average cyber attack cost small and mid-size businesses $188,242. Leading two-thirds of companies victimized by hackers to close their doors within six months of the attack.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “as larger companies take steps to secure their systems, less secure small businesses are easier targets for cyber criminals.” If your business doesn’t have a formal cyber security plan in place, the FCC offers a free, comprehensive cyber security planning guide for small businesses with actionable items and helpful references to put a cyber security plan in place.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tip #170: Don’t Feed Dogs Chocolate

Everyone knows you aren’t supposed to feed your pets chocolate, but do you know what amounts and types of chocolate are more dangerous to our furry friends?
Chocolate contains a chemical compound called theobromine. This mild stimulant shares similarities with caffeine. Although harmless to humans, theobromine has a far more potent effect on cats and dogs. The average human would have to consume over 70 pounds of chocolate to experience the same lethal effects theobromine has on dogs and cats.

The effects of theobromine by cats and dogs can vary based on the amount and type of chocolate consumed. White and milk chocolate contain lower levels of theobromine, than darker chocolate. Unsweetened cocoa powder contains the highest percentage of theobromine. According to petmd.com, “8 ounces of milk chocolate may sicken a 50-pound dog, whereas a dog of the same size can be poisoned by as little as 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate.”
If you’ve heard that chocolate is harmful to dogs, most likely you’ve also heard tales of pets who got their paws on a pan of chocolate cookies or polished off a box of chocolates and “hey, they were fine!” Petmd.com offers an interactive chocolate toxicity meter for dog owners to enter in their dog’s weight as well as the type and amount of chocolate their pet consumed to determine toxicity levels. Even if a pet is not showing symptoms directly after consuming chocolate, it is important to keep a close watch on the animal and make an emergency veterinary visit if toxicity levels are considered moderate to severe.

During the holidays, when pet owners are likely to have chocolate within paws reach (e.g., chocolate chip cookies cooling on the counter or a box of chocolates under the Christmas tree), it may be a good time to remind customers to take precautions around their pets and offer safe, chocolate-free holiday treats for pet lovers shopping your store.

RCI member, Boehm’s Candies & Chocolates of Issaquah, WA offers 1.5-ounce dog treats dipped in peanut butter or white confectionery coating. These treats are safe for dogs and do not contain actual chocolate. 

RCI member, Bomboy’s Home Made Candy of Havre De Grace, MD sells Vanilla-Dipped Dog Bones for man’s best friend.

Give pet lovers a reason to shop in your store this holiday season by posting photos of your animal-friendly treats on social media. Even a small holiday-inspired display in your store will encourage visitors to include Fido in the holiday festivities.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tip #169: Foster Appreciation for the Art of Chocolate Making

Just as it’s never too early to start reading to children, it’s never too early to teach them to appreciate the art of chocolate making. Giving your customers access to books that teach children about how chocolate and candy is made - in a language they can understand - is just the start to creating the next generation of consumers that know the difference between what’s on your shelf and the shelf at the convenience store down the street.
Here’s some recommended books to add to your shelves.
Candy Making for Kids is a creative and fun book full of easy-to-follow candy recipes for kids. From traditional favorites such as toffee and fudge to whimsical creations such as candy caterpillars and candy play-dough, kids of all ages will absolutely love these delicious and cute treats. Perfect for children’s parties, holiday parties, packaging up for friends, or simply enjoying at home, these recipe ideas are sure to become a family favorite!

When George and the man with the yellow hat stop to shop at a chocolate factory store, George becomes curious about how chocolates are made. Though he begins to follow the factory tour, George is soon off on his own to investigate.
How does a cocoa bean turn into tasty chocolate? Follow each step in the food production cycle—from planting cocoa trees to eating a sweet treat.

Bean to bar... to book! Join a charming little girl named Coco as she goes on a magical journey to discover how chocolate is made. Guided by the gentle, loving hand of her favorite chocolate maker, Coco learns the sweet secrets to confection perfection.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tip #167: Maximize Flavors with Umami

‘Tis the season for experimenting with flavors. Research has shown consumers are more open to trying new products and flavors seasonally. Familiarize yourself with this secret flavor weapon to ensure your flavors offer maximum impact that customers won’t soon forget!

Dating as far back to 350 BC, Aristotle first identified the two most basic tastes, sweet and bitter. Thanks to Aristotle and other inquisitive minds, most of us are familiar with the four basic tastes identified by the human palette; salty, sweet, bitter and sour. It’s only been since 2002 that umami has been identified as the fifth taste.

Umami makes a great partner with chocolate because it can balance the bitterness of cocoa and enhance sweetness. Often described as “savory,” “delicious,” “dimensional” and “mouthwatering,” the characteristics of umami are difficult for most of us to discern and even describe. However understanding how to harness the fifth flavor could unleash a secret weapon for chocolatiers.

At the very basic level, umami shares similar characteristics to salty and savory flavors, which can be found in hard cheeses, pickled vegetables and cured meats. Although even the most daring chocolatiers would have a difficult time incorporating many umami ingredients into a truffle, some ingredients are more versatile than others.

Tiramisu and cheesecake are popular desserts made with fresh cheeses, however chocolate and parmesan are not unheard of. Take it from these daring cheese lovers for inspiration on how to make taste buds melt with desire for this flavor combination.
Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles with Parmesan, Wisconsin Cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano Crisps with Chocolate and Sea Salt, Whole Foods Market

Black Truffles
The more obscure of the two “truffles” in the confectionery industry, the earthy flavor of a black truffle marries quite well with chocolate and nuts. The Mast Brothers of Brooklyn create their own blend of 74% cacao with Oregon black truffles and sea salt for their seasonal Black Truffle Chocolate Bar, available October through May.
Mast Brothers Black Truffle Chocolate Bar

Gearharts Fine Chocolates takes salted caramels to the next level by adding Japanese Miso and toasted sesame seeds to their caramels.

Miso Caramels, Gearharts Fine Chocolates
The coveted bacon may already be gracing your shelves, but Sir Francis Bacon’s play on sweet and salty peanut brittle with umami-rich bacon is sure to leave bacon lovers drooling for more.
Sir Francis Bacon Chocolate Peanut Brittle

Sake is another source for umami flavor. It has been said that sake accentuates the taste of chocolate more so than fine wine. Xocolatti incorporates sake distilled from Thai-style rice into their ganache as a pleasantly surprising complement to the dark chocolate.

Xocolatti Sake Truffles

If incorporating these umami flavors into your product line puts you well beyond your comfort zone, start by simply adding a pinch of kosher salt to one of your current pieces for a little added umami zing. Note how it changes the flavor and share your experience.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tip #166: Candy Hack: Using Lecithin in Caramel Corn

Image Credit: Dan's Homemade Candies

If your caramel corn sticks together and becomes difficult to separate, adding lecithin will help. Randy Hofberger of R&D Consultants advises mixing lecithin with a little oil and adding this mixture at the end of your caramel corn recipe. This will help the caramel spread apart easier and save you the hassle of manually pulling it apart. 

Allergy Alert! It is advised that individuals with soy allergies do not consume products that contain lecithin. Although lecithin is a byproduct of soy, there is always a chance soy protein will find its way into lecithin. Lecithin derived from sunflower or canola are more allergy-friendly alternatives to soy. 

Don’t cry over spilled lecithin.
Resist the urge to clean spilled lecithin with a damp cloth or spray cleaner, which will only gump up and make it worse. Instead, cover the spill with sugar and it will clean right up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rewind to Tip #141: Get Smashing with Smash Pumpkins

Photo credit: Stever's Candies, Inc.

Looking for a new idea for your fall product lineup? How about a Smash Pumpkin?

Smash Pumpkins are simple hollow pumpkin or jack o’lantern moulds that are filled with goodies of your choice. Hence the name, customers get to “smash” the pumpkin open after purchase to see what’s inside.

Package your pumpkins in cellophane with beautiful bows and, perhaps, a small wooden mallet tied with a coordinating ribbon. Smash pumpkins can be a fun activity for parties or a welcome holiday gift.

At a glance, it may not be obvious that the pumpkins are filled with candy. For this reason, it is important to clearly communicate what’s inside the pumpkins, so the customer understands what they’re purchasing. Consider displaying packaged smash pumpkins around an over-sized, pre-smashed pumpkin with candy flowing out of the cracks and onto the table along. A small to mid-sized chalkboard with a brief product description should get the message across and create a fun display leading up to Halloween.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tip #165: Celebrate Sweetest Day

Photo credit: (from left to right) Cristopher Rodriguez, Alex Yosifov, Patrick Doheny, Flickr
Sweetest Day takes place on the third Saturday in October. While the holiday is more significant for candy makers in the Great Lakes region (Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit being the biggest Sweetest Day cities), the holiday is gaining in popularity throughout the country every year. Some RCI members even report sales from Sweetest Day exceeding Mothers Day!

The history dates back to 1922 when Herbert Birch Kingston, a candy maker from Cleveland, decided to give candy and small gifts to the city’s orphans and people confined to their homes, all who are often forgotten and neglected. With the help of his friends and neighbors, he distributed these small remembrances on a Saturday in October. For years to follow, other Clevelanders began to participate in the tradition, which came to be known as "Sweetest Day.”

In time, the idea of spreading cheer to the underprivileged broadened to include everyone from family and significant others to coworkers and acquaintances with a kind act or a small remembrance. With a little help from movie stars in the 1930s, the idea quickly spread to other cities all over the country.

Sweetest Day is not based on any single group’s religious sentiment or on a family relationship. It is a reminder that a thoughtful word or deed enriches life and gives it meaning.

For many people, remembering takes the form of gift-giving. For this reason, Sweetest Day offers an unique opportunity to offer all kinds of gift items. Falling midway between Father's Day in June and Christmas in December, Sweetest Day provides an occasion for the opening of fall merchandising programs and the promotion of various products, not the least of which is candy and boxed chocolate.
Bon Bon Bon of Hamtramck, Michigan to build
World's Longest Box of Chocolates for Sweetest Day.

Bon Bon Bon of Hamtramck, Michigan created buzz by announcing plans to build the World’s Longest Box of Chocolate in celebration of Sweetest Day. Click here to read article covered by MLive Media Group.

Other Ideas to Promote Sweetest Day 
  • Remind customers when talking with them of the coming of Sweetest Day.
  • Let your local newspaper know about Sweetest Day and what preparations your business has made to help customers celebrate it.
  • Be prepared to explain Sweetest Day and to make suggestions regarding appropriate gifts, keeping in mind that the possibilities are limitless.
  • Create a prominent display of merchandise for Sweetest Day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tip #164: Spark Customer Interest with Fall Merchandising

Pictured clockwise from the top: MidwestLiving, Faribault Woolen Mill Co., Free People
DIY Flameless Fire Pit by Free People
Strategic merchandising is an important to component to increasing sales. Thoughtful merchandising can grab attention, stimulate emotions and give buyers a reason to make a purchase and feel good about doing so. Fall is the perfect time to create a warm and cozy environment in your store. A fun, bonfire themed display could be seen as a welcome shelter from the cold.

Spark buyers’ interest with a bundle of fire wood, cozy flannel fabrics and an old tin thermos overflowing with goodies. This makes for a great space to sell DIY s’more kits, luscious caramel apples, various barks featuring cozy fall flavors and chocolate-covered pretzel rods. Candy House Gourmet of Joplin, Missouri makes “Walking Sticks” out of large pretzel rods dipped in caramel and pecans, then drizzled with milk, dark and white chocolate for a decadent snack on-the-go.

Interested in creating a darling flameless fire pit? Click here to view a step-by-step tutorial by Free People.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rewind to Tip #141: Celebrate World Teacher's Day

World Teacher’s Day is Sunday, October 5 and you can bet many parents in your community will be scouring social media (especially Pinterest) for the perfect gift to thank the special teachers in their life…or sweeten them up a bit before they have to spend the week with a classroom of children that just seem like they’re on a sugar high! Don’t miss out on the opportunity to get your business on the radar with goodies worthy of an A+.
Apple Box by Charlie's Chocolate Factory of Vancouver
Charlie’s Chocolate Factory shared their Apple Box (pictured above) during Candy Clinic at the 2015 Annual Convention, with a cleverly added hole for a gummy worm to pop out. RCI members can view videos from Candy Clinic on our website at www.retailconfectioners.org/candyclinic.
Photo: Amanda's Parties To Go 
Click here for an easy-to-follow tutorial (with lots of photos) on how to create these cute Oreo Apple Pops.

In addition to offering great gift ideas, help your customers celebrate teachers by holding a favorite teacher contest. It’s a fun avenue to recognize the great teachers in your area and also create some awareness for your company.

First, create a beautiful gift basket that will go to the winning teacher and have it on display in your store. For the contest, invite your customers, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, etc. to nominate their favorite teacher and include the reason they have nominated him or her. To increase excitement for the contest, you could also give a box of your chocolates or “mini” gift basket to the nominator of the winning teacher.

Add excitement to the contest by spreading the word through press releases, radio spots, school newsletters, etc. Everyone will also want to know who wins so be sure to get a photo of the winner with his or her nominator and post it on social media and in your store.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tip #162: Give Buyers a Reason to Spend on Game Day!

Photos (clockwise from top):Catch My Party, Oh!Nuts, Hostess with the Mostess Blog
Take advantage of football season by giving buyers a reason to spend on game day. Build a football-themed display by incorporating your local team’s colors (or black and white stripes will work too), artificial wheat grass and a chalkboard with spatterings of X’s, O’s and arrows…leading them straight to their next purchase!

Moulded footballs, non-pareils and flavored popcorn, all in your local team’s colors, are a must! Create an atmosphere of team spirit by encouraging staff to sport their favorite team merchandise.Touch-down!

Don’t forget to tell your patrons you’re ready for football season on Facebook, Twitter and your blog. Click here to see how RCI member Wockenfuss Candies of Baltimore let’s Raven’s fans know they’re a destination for both football gear and game-day goodies.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tip #161: Heat Things Up This Fall!

As the temperature outside starts to cool, heat things up by adding sweet and spicy treats to your product lineup. Not only are spicy flavors incredibly trendy right now, a little heat from red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper can produce a more dynamic flavor in any confection. As a general rule, spice balances sweet and vice versa. If you have a product that has been described as “too sweet,” try adding a hint of spice to the recipe to better balance the sweetness.

Javier Sanchez, with Savage Bros. Co., took a traditional confection to the next level during his demonstration at last week’s Philadelphia Candy Show. Red Pepper Peanut Brittle is perfect for chilly tailgate parties and bonfires, or as a gift for the heat-seekers among us.

Red Pepper Peanut Brittle
Recipe by Savage Bros. Co.

4.5 lbs sugar
3 lbs corn syrup
1.5 lbs water
4.5 lbs raw peanuts
1 lb butter
.38 oz vanilla
1.13 oz baking soda
.5 oz salt
2.5 tsp red pepper flakes

Prepare cooling table with warm water flow. Set kettle temperature to 400 degrees. Place sugar, corn syrup and water in kettle and bring to a boil. At 250 degrees, slowly add peanuts so not to decrease temperature. At 280 degrees, add butter.

At 290 degrees, turn off heat and start the water flush for 45 seconds. Add red pepper flakes and mix. Add salt, baking soda and vanilla. This will allow brittle temperature to reach 300 degrees by the time it’s finished mixing.

When ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, pour onto warm table or tray and either shake pan or use a spatula to spread brittle to desired thickness. Slowly start to cool table down.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tip #160: Become the Talk of Town/State/Region/Country/Globe/Galaxy

The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) published findings in 2014 indicating 13percent of commercial sales are driven by word of mouth both online or offline. Statistics, like this and others, point to word of mouth as the strongest form of recommendation. Thanks to social media, word of mouth recommendations spread like wildfire. “Being the talk of the town” can easily morph into “the talk of the state/region/country/globe/galaxy,” and if that talk is about your business and its positive (heck, it doesn’t even have to be positive…ever heard of cicada ice cream? Google it.), you can pretty much bank on a significant spike in sales from new customers.  According to a study done by AdAge word of mouth can increase marketing effectiveness by 54%.
Source: Word of Mouth Marketing Association
So how do you get people to talk about you? Besides the obvious, offer exception customer service and quality products, Suzanne Fanning, president of WOMMA, suggests identifying your influencers. Good news for your marketing budget, Fanning says “The most sought-after influencers used to be celebrities, before the days of social media. Now just about anyone can be an influencer, but the best may be the ones who find you, or your star supporters who actively engage [with your brand].”

Zach Fagan, with StoreYa.com, recommends converting customers into brand advocates by making them feel like insiders, “let them be the first to know about and try new products and services,” writes Fagan. “By making the insiders feel special, you will make them feel more connected on a personal level to your company, so that they will be not only willing, but excited to test out your product and write reviews.”

Knowing your influencers and creating a group of brand advocates is great, but don’t expect to see fireworks if you’re not putting yourself out there. There are plenty of avenues for sharing information, photos and videos about your product and services (many of them free, e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest). Even if you’ve got an arsenal of social media accounts, make sure you understand what topics are of interest to your followers. If you don’t know, gauging your audience can be as easy as tracking responses to targeted questions, such as “Who’s got kids going back to school?” “Do you celebrate your pet’s birthday?” If you get a lot of responses from parents/grandparents with kids going back to school or followers who really love their pets, try posting messages that tailor to your audience. Here's some examples, “Make your child the teacher’s pet with a gift of chocolates from…” or “Did you know we handcraft pet-safe treats for your furry family members? The first person to share a photo of their pet will receive a gift certificate for a free doggie/kitty treat.” 

Has your business been “the talk of the state/region/country/globe/galaxy?” If so, tell us about your experience and what triggered the conversation.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tip #159: How to Become a Networking Ninja

The Philadelphia Candy Show is right around the corner. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you’re sure to see a lot of familiar faces and are looking forward to catching up with old friends. Even the most seasoned trade show attendees can expect to meet a lot of new people, which means a lot of (sometimes awkward) small talk.
For some, networking comes naturally, but for others it can be paralyzing (and did I mention, awkward?). Here are some of our favorite tips from TheMuse that, with practice, will eventually earn you a black belt in networking. Feel free to first warm up your networking muscles with RCI at booth #413 at The Philadelphia Candy Show in Atlantic City, New Jersey August 30 – September 1, 2015.

1. Dress for Success
If you look great, you’ll feel great too!
  • Wear something that makes you feel great.
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Don’t bring a large bag.

2. Set goals.
Setting goals will give you something to work towards. As you achieve your goals, you will build up confidence and get a lot practice in the process. Here’s some examples to get you started:
  • Meet five new people.
  • Learn something new.
  • Start three conversations.

3. Have a few conversation starters in mind.
It’s not as intimidating to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger when you have a game plan. Start with the classics and once you’re warmed up, you may want to go for something a bit more fun.
  • “Have you been here before?”
  •  “How did you get started in the industry?”
  • “I’m just here for the carrot sticks, what brings you here?”

4. Get everyone’s business cards.
When it comes to making lasting connections, collecting business cards from acquaintances is just as important as passing out your own business cards.
  • Take notes about each person you meet, their interests and your conversation.
  • Follow up with a friendly email within 48 hours.

5. Use a non-awkward closer
  • “It’s been so great chatting with you, but I have a few more people to connect with.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tip #158: Break Into the Corporate Gift Market

Providing corporate gifts is a competitive game. Not only are there other local merchants competing to be the gift of choice for your local businesses, but you are in competition with the best in the world. The internet has given local businesses the world at the end of their fingertips. You are competing with the likes of Harry and David, Amazon, Wine Country Gifts, Godiva, Pro-Flowers, 1-800-Flowers, and hundreds of other internet gift companies. You are in competition with all of the above for the budget corporations have set aside for gift giving.

To even compete with these corporate giants you must portray a professional image to your targeted corporate client. This includes your company image, product and packaging. If you are designing an advertising piece it must reflect the same quality as the customer you are attempting to lure to your product. More than likely they will also shop your website. Go to your webpage and see if you are on the same level as your competition. This starts with professional graphics, photography and presentation. You must appeal to their eyes before they even try your product.
Running a small business is no easy task. As we know, we live, eat, and sleep our businesses. However, one of the best ways to increase your corporate business is through community involvement. Rub elbows with the decision makers in your area. Join Rotary, Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, or civic boards, and attend events and fundraisers. This is no quick fix, but as you get to know more people in your area, many of these decision makers will think about buying from you personally more than just your company. My father always said “sell yourself and they will buy your product.”

This is an excerpt from Kettle Talk, 2nd Quarter 2013, page 12. Click here to view full article on corporate gift giving (including tips on personalized gifts) written by Terry Hicklin of Candy House Gourmet Chocolates in Joplin. Images are the property of Candy House Gourmet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tip #157: Savor the Flavors of 2015

Trendspotters from the 2015 Summer Fancy Food Show identified popular flavor profiles that just might tantalize your taste buds and inspire ideas for your own new product development.

Flower Power

Floral notes such as rose, lavender and hibiscus made a memorable appearance in products such as Belvoir Fruit Farms Elderflower & Rose Lemonade, Masala Pop Saffron Rose Popcorn, Rogue Creamery La-Di-Da Lavender Cheese and Vosges Haut-Chocolat Blood Orange Hibiscus Caramel Marshmallows.

Vosges Haut-Chocolat covers marshmallows in burnt sugar caramel with blood oranges and hibiscus flavors, chocolate and tops it with black salt.

Cocktail Culture

Spirits, wine, and beer inspire flavors and ingredient pairings like Bissell Maple Farm's Pappy & Company Bourbon Barrel-Aged Syrup, Brooklyn Brine Co. Hop-Pickles, Colonel Pabst All Malt Amber-Lager Worcestershire Sauce and L.A. Creamery The Manhattan.

L.A. Creamery’s The Manhattan takes its cues from the classic cocktail with Rittenhouse Rye, brown butter toffee and bing cherries.

Go Ginger

An honorable mention, so to speak, goes to ginger as another hot flavor trend (pun intended) for 2015.
Try the classic pairing of crystallized ginger dipped in dark chocolate or more adventurous pairings incorporated in DivineChocolate’s Lemon Infused Ginger Turtles (top) or Coconut Ginger Popcorn Truffles from YoderPopcorn Click here to view the recipe from Yoder Popcorn.