Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Make Marshmallows Like a Pro

If things have slowed down for your business, take advantage of any downtime by refining your craft of candy making. If you don’t make your own marshmallow, this is a great product to work towards perfecting.

There’s nothing quite like homemade marshmallow. If you don’t make your own marshmallow, now is the time to experiment with recipes and techniques. This week, we’re offering expert tips for cutting, dusting, enrobing and packaging marshmallows. Plus, a bonus marketing idea!

Boiling Corn Syrup
This tip will help prevent chocolate-covered marshmallows from cracking. Here’s why: most 42 DE (dextrose equivalent) corn syrup contains a small amount of yeast bacteria. This is a common problem with marshmallows, because the corn syrup is added to the sugar slurry (or bob) after it has been removed from heat, so it doesn’t get warm enough to eliminate any yeast found in the corn syrup.

The solution, bring corn syrup to a very low boil. Just as it begins to boil, remove it from heat. Do this step early in the day, allowing it to cool to room temperature before adding it to the cooked portion of the marshmallow. A fellow candy maker did this and never had a cracked Easter egg again.  

When cutting small batches of marshmallow, RCI members have recommended the following ways to be most efficient:
  • A guitar cutter works, but it really depends on how soft your marshmallow recipe is. As an alternative, a sharp pizza cutter works well too. – J. Sofia, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate
  • We use a lightly buttered, sharp, thin-bladed knife. [We re-apply the butter] every 2 or 3 rows. It's a bit slow, but eliminates the need for corn starch, which I found made the marshmallows difficult to coat. –W. Spence, Spence Candies

Dusting marshmallows is an important step to preserve that soft and pillowy texture that we desire. Traditionally candy makers use powdered sugar or corn starch to keep marshmallows from drying out and becoming hard. Aside from the cloud of dust they leave everywhere, a coating of powdered sugar can make your already sweet marshmallows too sweet and corn starch can make it difficult for chocolate to stick to the marshmallow.

As an alternative to the traditional corn starch and powdered sugar, try replacing them with dextrose or fondant sugar (such as Amerfond® Fondant Sugar). Both products will help you achieve the desired affect and with less the mess. For marshmallows bound for the enrober, adding a little dextrose to the top and bottom will also help the chocolate stick.

If air bubbles are a problem when enrobing square confections, like marshmallows, send them through your enrober corner first. Your products will receive better chocolate coverage from the fountains on the enrober and you will decrease the chance for bubbles to appear on the tops.

Have you ever noticed condensation (or worse, mold) on the inside of your marshmallow packaging? If so, you may be cutting and packaging your marshmallows too soon. Of course, you want your marshmallows to be as fresh as possible, but marshmallow needs to breathe for a while or else the warmth may create moisture and you may experience mold on your product. A general rule of thumb is to let marshmallow sit overnight before cutting, dusting and storing it.

Marketing Your Mallows
While people are spending more time at home, share ideas for gourmet s’more recipes that your social followers can make at home with your products. Click here for 5 creative s’more ideas. Package your fresh, homemade marshmallows, along with your chocolates and graham crackers, and sell as a fun, family activity to make together at home.

If you’ve ever questioned whether making your own marshmallow is worth the hassle, these expert tips will not only make your job easier, they will leave your customers wanting more of these fluffy confectionery wonders!

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

40 Ways for Candy Makers to Navigate the COVID-19 Crisis

Despite all the uncertainty that comes with the COVID-19 crisis, we are certain this will pass. We are also certain that things are and will continue to change. But change is normal and change can be good. Take this opportunity to embrace change and your business could change for the better.

Here’s a list of recommendations to help your business survive the weeks ahead and come out of this better than ever. Stay connected with RCI’s community and email us with any questions you need answered or suggestions you’d like to share.

  • Know that this isn’t going to be easy, but you didn’t become an entrepreneur because it was the easy route. Trust your instincts and lean on the support of your RCI community, your local community and your team.
  • Take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you certainly won’t be able to take care of your business and your team. Be intentional about getting enough sleep, eat healthy, drink plenty of water and move your body a minimum of 20 minutes a day. You got this!
  • Stay positive. According to Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor, “People are still buying things, and they are buying things for two reasons right now: (1) To get them through their day, so they are shopping for the things they need to make life work for them right now. (2) To help them escape from their day, so they are shopping for pleasures and fun things that will bring them joy and keep them busy,” (retaildoc.com).
  • Take this time to educate yourself and your team. Explore online education opportunities to learn more on the topics of business, leadership, candy making and marketing. RCI members can login to view past educationpresentations.
  • Connect with fellow RCI members to ask and answer questions on RCI’s online forum, List Serve.
  • Curb thoughts of uncertainty and anxiety during downtime by reading books to help you grow as a business leader. Click here to read RCI’s recommended reading list.
  • Get inspired to become a better leader by getting plugged into to some great podcasts.  Learn from expert business leaders, many of which are navigating some of the same challenges right now that you are. Check out RCI’s list of 10business-related podcasts.
COVID-19 Education & Staff
  • Be aware of temporary guidance put in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding preventive controls, food supplier verification and onsite audits.
  • Get your products in customers’ hands safely. If your retail store is open, this may require that you limit the number of individuals in your store at one time or encourage shoppers to call ahead for curbside pickup or delivery.
  • Develop your own delivery program or look into local delivery services to partner with if your team doesn’t have the capability to deliver. See what DoordashGrubhub and UberEats are doing to support local businesses.
  • Keep staff busy tackling tasks that had previously been put off, because everyone was too busy—tasks like organizing inventory, reorganizing the store, cleaning, refreshing the website and creating lots of social media and email content.

  • Create a new cleaning schedule and update procedures on employee hygiene practices (i.e., handwashing, etc.) as well as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment. Clickhere for guidance from the CDC.
  • The most effective way to clean most equipment is with soap and water. Just scraping or using water alone will not be effective.
  • Cleaning equipment with an all-oil-based product (and no sugars to help dissolve the product away) may require several oil flushes before introducing water or chemicals. Without the oil flushes, cleaning chemicals can extract the oil, leaving behind solid masses cemented to the pipes or agitators in equipment.
  • Educate yourself on action steps required in the case someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 was in your facility, follow these CDCguidelines.

Online Sales
Marketing & Promotion
  • Use all forms of communication to let shoppers know you are open and what you are doing to ensure the cleanliness of your facility, staff and products. Where appropriate, share your cleaning protocols and photos of your clean candy kitchen and retail store.
  • Don’t stop marketing your business! Create content that appeals to consumers by offering a way to escape the chaos through fun, comfort and joy.
  • Think of members in your community who need to know someone is thinking of them. Consider a promotion to support the elderly quarantined in their homes and in nursing homes. Think of ways to thank those on the front lines—the medical workers and first responders, who are working hard to keep our communities safe and healthy.
  • Invite shoppers to purchase gift cards from you and other local businesses as a way to support local. Some businesses are offering discounted gift cards to generate cash flow.
  • Create eye-catching graphics for your store, website and social media outlets using free and user-friendly tools like Canva or Adobe Spark. Both sites have hundreds of professionally designed templates and layouts, making it easy for non-designers to create impressive, custom designs.
  • Share easy recipes for followers to make at home with their kids, featuring your products. Consumers with kids out of school are looking for fun and easy ways to pass time as a family. Check out KidsActivities.net for easy candy recipes for kids using five ingredients or less. Substitute candy ingredients to make recipes your own. Considering bundling ingredients for one recipe and selling it as a “take-and-make kit.”
  • Bundle products together by theme to help generate ideas of who your followers can shop for. RCI member, Bon Bon’s Candy House, has had success promoting care packages for “Peanut Butter Lovers,” “Grandpa’s Favorites,” and more.
  • Host a Facebook Live event to get face-to-face with your followers even if your retail store is closed. RCI member, Dolle’s Candyland, has regularly scheduled Facebook Live videos to promote Easter items, new products and other merchandise that can be ordered through their virtual shopper service. Click here for tips from The Retail Doctor for using Facebook Live successfully.
  • Host a contest on social media. RCI member, Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum and Candy Emporium is encouraging their followers to share positive thoughts for a chance to win their sweet treats. Check out this blog post by Hootsuitefor creative social media contest ideas.
  • Encourage customers to host virtual tasting parties. Sell a tasting party bundle of your products and provide content on the tasting experience or lead a virtual tasting on Facebook Live or try Zoom for video conferencing (free and tiered pricing is available).
  • Have a branded delivery vehicle? Consider visiting local neighborhoods, musical ice-cream-truck style, to sell your products. Other businesses have asked their social media followers to private message their addresses to be added to the delivery route. Share your route on social media and let people know when to expect you. First, check local regulations to ensure this activity is permitted.
  • Educate and entertain social media followers by creating behind-the-scenes videos showing how your businesses makes some of your signature confections.
  • Encourage customers to share photos of themselves enjoying your products from home and ask them to tag your business and/or use a creative hashtag.
  • Offering curbside pickup is a great way to ensure the health and safety of your staff and customers, while continuing to do business. Perform practice runs to ensure an excellent customer experience. If taking orders by phone, have a checklist of important questions to ask customers—such as, “what color and model of car will you be arriving in?” making it easy to find them. Coach staff to thank every customer for their business over the phone and at pick up.
  • Include handwritten notes along with all pickup and delivery orders, personally thanking customers for supporting your business.
  • Update your store hours on your website, social media pages and all other third-party sites, such as your Google listing.
  • If your retail store is closed or partially closed, start planning and preparing for a grand re-opening now. Be open with your staff about your plans and seek their input.

Closing thoughts
Doing business during times of uncertainty is going to be hard, but you are not alone. If business has slowed down for you (and it probably has—unless, of course, your business involves toilet paper or hand sanitizer), take advantage of the down time to learn, try new things and cross items off your list.

If you ran a successful business prior to this crisis, chances are you have a community of people who will be happy to support your business now. Now, more than ever, consumers are looking for ways to support local businesses. Find new ways to engage with consumers and remember that your sweet treats offer people comfort and hope, and help express gratitude, kindness and love to each other.

As you navigate these unprecedented times, we hope this offers you ways to challenge yourself and your business to grow and learn—so you and your business can come out of this better than ever.

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Throwback Tip #204: Make Time to Read: Recommended Reading for Business Leaders

When asked what the key to success was, Warren Buffett once pointed to a stack of books and said, "Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

Before social distancing was a thing, we all had a million reasons not read books. Take advantage of this time to educate yourself and grow as a leader. Below is a list of recommended books to help you strengthen your business and leadership skills.

Tip: If you’re having trouble getting your hands on physical copies, OpenLibrary, Libby and Hoopla are available for accessing digital or audiobooks for free.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies.

Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson
Learn to communicate best when it matters most. The classic guide to conversing in high-impact situations, Crucial Conversations helps you get constructive results when emotions run high and opinions vary, in the workplace and beyond.

Differentiate or Die, by Jack Trout
Bestselling author, Jack Trout, criticizes marketers for taking the easy route too often, employing high-tech razzle dazzle and sleight of hand when they should be working to discover and market their product’s uniquely valuable qualities. He examines successful differentiation from giants like Wal-Mart to smaller success stories like Connecticut’s tiny Trinity College to determine why some marketers succeed at differentiating themselves while others fail.

The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack
The Great Game of Business is a whole different approach to running a company. With Jack Stack’s proven approach to transparency, employee education and engagement; he guarantees you will improve financial results and the lives of the people who drive those results.

StrengthsFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath
In 2001, Gallup introduced the first version of its online assessment, StrengthsFinder, to help people uncover their talents. In StrengthsFinder 2.0, Gallup unveils the new and improved version of its popular assessment, including hundreds of strategies for applying your strengths, this new book and accompanying website will change the way you look at yourself--and the world around you--forever.

The Ultimate Question, by Fred Reichheld
Loyalty expert, Fred Reichheld, shows how to turn customers into promoters who generate profits and sustainable growth. The key: one simple question—“Would you recommend us to a friend?”—that allows companies to track promoters and detractors, producing a clear measure of an organization’s performance through its customers’ eyes.

Who, by Geoff Smart and Randy Street
In this New York Times Bestseller, Geoff Smart and Randy Street provide a simple, practical, and effective solution to what The Economist calls “the single biggest problem in business today”: unsuccessful hiring.

Other recommended reading:

How you choose to spend our time now, will have a significant impact on the success of your business now and over time. Take time to consume information and education that can help you continue to build a strong and successful business moving forward.

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tip #330: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Guidance for Retail Confectioners

Small businesses are currently facing unprecedented operational challenges. Due to recent cancellations of major sporting events and festivals, school closures and more people working from home, there’s no doubt consumers are reluctant to leave their homes—let alone visit their favorite local businesses. Not only does COVID-19 (coronavirus) pose a threat to public health, it will have an unprecedented impact on small businesses and the economy.

What you can do now:
Keep reading as we review five steps you can take now, as business owners and operators, to protect your business, staff, customers and local communities based on recommendations by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other authoritative health and governmental agencies.
  •  Educate yourself and your team.
  •  Create a communication plan.
  •  Protect your business.
  •  Embrace new forms of commerce.
  •  Stay connected with fellow retail confectioners.

Educate yourself and your staff: Guidance for Businesses and Employers from CDC
As a leader of your business, it is crucial to obtain information about COVID-19 (coronavirus) from authoritative health and governmental agencies, such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC offers the most up-to-date information on COVID-19. Click here to view guidance from the CDC for employers to help prevent workplace exposures to COVID-19. This guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks.

To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, the CDC recommends using only the guidance provided on its COVID-19 web page to properly determine risk. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features of COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.

Open communication with employees is key to educate and train your team on how to best prevent exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. See below for links to additional resources addressing common questions:

Create a communication plan
According to the Small Business Administration, “it’s critical to communicate openly with your customers about the status of your operations, what protective measures you’ve implemented, and how they (as customers) will be protected when they visit your business.”

The U.S. Chamber has compiled a Coronavirus Response Kit for businesses and workers across the country, encouraging American businesses to follow data-based guidance from the CDC and state and local officials. See examples of how RCI members are communicating their new and ongoing protocols in their businesses below.

Protect your business: Guidance from SBA
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is working directly with state governors to provide targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted by COVID-19. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.

Find more information on the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans at: SBA.gov/Disaster. To view a full list of other local and national resources available through the Small Business Administration, visit their website.

Embrace new ways of commerce.
By providing creative and safe alternatives for consumers to continue to do business with you, may help alleviate some of the financial strain caused by current health concerns, while also helping to reduce the risk of exposure to you and your staff by consumers. Remind patrons that stocking up on a few sweet treats from their favorite, local candy shop may be just what they need to provide comfort and a constant during this time of uncertainty.

Many businesses are encouraging patrons to place orders online for home delivery and offering new grab-and-go options so customers don’t even have to leave the comforts of their vehicle. While others are encouraging consumers to support local businesses by purchasing gift cards. See below for examples of creative ways RCI members are embracing new forms of commerce to ensure business as (sort-of) usual goes on.

Stay connected.
For over 100 years, RCI has been a community for retail confectioners and their suppliers to connect with each other and learn from shared knowledge and experiences. If you have questions about what fellow retail confectioners are doing, we encourage you to subscribe RCI’s online forum, List Serve, to post questions and reply to others’ questions. We invite you to also follow RCI’s Facebook page for industry and association updates. As always, feel free to direct your questions to RCI staff at info@retailconfectioners.org

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.

Not a member? 
Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Tip #329: 4 Ways to Improve Quality Control Practices

It doesn’t matter how great your confections look or taste if your business does not place an emphasis on food safety and quality control. This week’s blog post identifies four ways to ensure the safety and quality of your products with practices that you could start today.

Identify Risks
To best prevent potential hazards during the making of any food products, it is important to identify areas of potential risk. Create a Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan to prevent biological, chemical and physical hazards during the production process that could cause a threat to food safety. RCI members, login to watch a video on how to properly identify potential risks and develop an effective HACCP plan in the past education presentation, A Practical Approach to HACCP Planning (click link to view).

Train Employees on Proper Hygiene
“Proper hand hygiene is the food [manufacturer’s] first line of defense against food contamination,” said Jim Grubb of GOJO Industries. “Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can be transmitted from person to person and from persons to food, so health and hygiene of the workforce is extremely important,” (Quality Assurance Magazine).

When identifying areas for potential risk effecting food safety, it is important to also look at current staff hygiene procedures. Since poor employee hygiene practices can lead to contamination, don’t assume staff members are washing their hands properly and at the appropriate times. Common problems with employee hygiene practices include poor hand washing practices, not washing at the right location in comparison to the production areas; manual sinks that are not kept clean; using cold water temperatures for hand washing and a poor overall food safety culture. Click here for tools and resources to train your staff on proper hand washing.

Use Both Wet and Dry-Cleaning Methods
Did you know limiting the use of water is one of the primary means of controlling pathogens in low moisture food establishments (foodprotection.org)? You are probably already using wet cleaning and sanitation methods which utilizes water and/or detergents to remove residue. When wet cleaning, it is extremely important that even the nooks and crannies of machinery is dry, because it is in these hard-to-reach places where bacteria can be difficult to remove and when water is present bacteria can grow.

The benefit to employing dry cleaning and sanitation methods, is that it allows you to remove food residue with little or no water application, significantly reducing the opportunity for bacterial growth. Dry cleaning can be as simple as surface cleaning with a vacuum or alcohol-based wipes. More detailed cleaning may be performed with a steam cleaner or dry ice cleaner.

When determining which method of cleaning is best, it is important to assess the risk level of the area in need of cleaning. Different areas of your facility may have a different level of risk, just as different ingredients would. It is important to understand what you are trying to remove when cleaning or sanitizing different work stations. According to Quality Assurance Magazine, it is essential to ensure all products used to clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces are approved by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in addition to being verified and validated.

Collect Retention Samples
It is important to know and understand the shelf life of your products and collecting retention samples is the best way to test product limitations, so you can adjust recipe formulations if issues arise or advise customers on the best timeframe to enjoy your products.

When testing the shelf life of your product, variables, like packaging, must remain the same. For example, when testing your products, make sure they are stored in the same packaging they would be sold in. If they are shrink wrapped before selling (which is highly recommended), shrink wrap the product before storing them for testing. Anticipate how your customers would store your products, if not consumed right away. Would they store them in the refrigerator or in the pantry? Consider a reasonable length of time a consumer may store your products before consuming them. If you are unsure, ask a small group of loyal customers or friends and family.

Over time, enlist experienced tasters (this could be staff members or, again, frequent customers) to review your products for consistency and quality. If you run into issues with product quality, RCI members can login to pose questions to fellow members on RCI’s online forum, List Serve.

This week’s tips may require extra work, however, the benefits of taking a proactive approach to quality assurance often outweigh the risks of not practicing such precautions. Comment below on practices your company employs to help ensure your products are consistently safe for consumption.

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Throwback Tip #296: Shipping Chocolate in the Summer is Possible! Here's How!

Are you using the correct size of gel pack?

What are you doing to prevent condensation from turning your shipping box into a soggy mess?

Shipping chocolate in the summer is tricky, but not impossible with the right supplies. With summer around the corner, we're sharing a list of must-have supplies and important considerations to ensure your precious cargo is properly packaged--thanks to the shipping experts at InsulTote by Innovative Energy, Inc.

When shipping temperature-sensitive products, like chocolate, frozen gel packs are a given. Maximize the life of your gel packs by equipping yourself with the following summer shipping tools.
  • Insulated box liners
  • Large frozen gel pack(s)
  • Dry ice (for shipping frozen items)
  • Shrink wrap
  • Absorbent pads
  • Packing tape

When choosing gel packs, look for the largest size you can afford to ship. One large gel pack will provide better performance than several smaller ones. For example, if you place four ice cubes next to one big block of ice both at room temperature, the ice cubes will melt faster than the block of ice. The larger the mass, the longer it will take to thaw.

It is equally as important to fill your box as full as possible, allowing the energy from the gel pack to focus on keeping the enclosed products cold and not the surrounding air. If using an insulated box liner, press down on it to release air before sealing. For added protection, taping the outside of the box at every seam will also slow down the infiltration of air.

Extend the life of your gel packs by storing insulated liners, in a cool place prior to use. Starting with cool air inside each bubble means the gel pack doesn't have to work overtime to cool down the air inside the liners.

To save on shipping cost, you may want to use dry ice for frozen items that will be in transit for more than 24 hours. A combination of dry ice and gel packs is the best insurance. Dry ice will keep the gel pack frozen the first day and after the dry ice evaporates, the frozen gel pack will keep the contents of the package cool for the second day. The amount of dry ice depends on the size of package, freight carrier requirements and transit times. If using dry ice, do not tape the outside seams of your boxes to allow the carbon dioxide gas to escape as it evaporates.

Using dry ice is not always recommended for foods that are not frozen, as it may give off an odor that could be absorbed by foods, such as chocolate. To keep dry ice from effecting the flavor of your product, carefully cover your product with shrink wrap and only use dry ice when necessary. To ensure product meets your quality standards, taste test it after it's been packaged with dry ice for 48 hours.

The space between the inside of a corrugated box and the outside of an insulated liner may condensate in warmer weather. Occasionally this may be enough to dampen a corrugated box and cause it to become soft. To avoid this, place an absorbent pad in the bottom of the corrugated box under the insulated liner. Absorbent meat pads can be found online and are an inexpensive way to abate excess moisture.

Shipping in warm weather is definitely a challenge, but when successful, it can surprise and delight your customers and create new sales opportunities.

Crave more? If you like what you read here, look for the "Subscribe now" box on the right to enter your email address and start receiving weekly tips, like this, delivered straight to your email inbox. RCI's Tip of the Week blog is just one of the many resources we offer to help candy makers refine their craft and build upon their business and marketing practices.