Specialty Food News asked SFA members how they’re adapting to the current business environment.

Q: What impact has the pandemic had on your sales and/or selling strategy?

Michael Moss, President & CEO, Sweet Shop Candies, Inc.

It’s had a monumental impact. The pivot our 49-year-old chocolate company, Sweet Shop USA, has taken in response to the immediate shutting down of many local, regional, and national retail partners is nothing short of lifesaving.

On March 20, I woke up with an idea to start producing facial shields which are an important part of the PPE supply chain for our healthcare professionals. My wife and I became burdened with the needs of our ER doctor friends, so we asked ourselves: “How can we help?” Additionally, we wanted to provide work for our employees and brokers; thus, the vision for Waymaker shields was born.

I immediately reached out to one of our most valued vendors, Billie-Ann Plastics, a Specialty Food Association member, to explore the possibility of re-purposing its acetate stock, normally used for chocolate boxes, to make facial shields. Fortunately, owner Bill Rubenstein was able to keep his company in Brooklyn, N.Y. open as an “essential business,” partnering with Sweet Shop USA to produce this critical component.

The response to Waymaker facial shields by Sweet Shop USA has been overwhelming. We repurposed a portion of our factory to making shields, hired more employees, and added a third shift to produce a shield every three seconds to keep up with demand.

much as we look forward to making chocolate full time again, this pivot has strengthened and unified us as a company. We have stretched the boundaries of possibility, enabling us to help our fellow man while leveraging our partnerships within the Specialty Food Association.

Anita Comisky, founder, Amelia Toffee

Our business has certainly changed over the past few weeks. We make small batch indulgent toffee in a variety of flavors. Our business was established in July of 2015 and we had been blessed with growth of over 35 percent per year until the COVID -19 pandemic arrived. Our customer base is comprised of grocery stores like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter as well as more than 200 specialty retailers scattered throughout the country. We also are an online retailer with our own website and sell through Faire and other online retailers.

In mid-March sales started to slow at our specialty retailers, but grocery stores continued to sell toffee. Our internet business grew during the first few weeks as people settled into the work from home mode and didn’t feel a strain on their wallets. As the weeks turned into a month, we experienced a slowdown in both grocery and online orders. We did a lot of advertising during that time but did not feel any affect from that.

During all of this we had a hard time finding sanitizing wipes for our kitchen so we decided to make our own. We took it one step further by making reusable sanitizing wipes. Our sanitizing solution is so good that we decided to offer it for sale on ameliatoffee.com and Faire. It now accounts for 25 percent of our sales. These are sales that we wouldn’t have otherwise had. But more importantly we’re contributing to the safety of the community by offering this to the public. And we pray that business gets back to its normal rhythm soon for everyone.

Emmanuelle Brun, chief operating officer, Valrhona Inc.

Amidst the fog of a crisis, businesses must adapt and evolve, but what really matters for us is to keep our values alive. It is essential for us to highlight what matters to us and our family of brands and to explain how our products can serve a greater purpose.

Our business at Valrhona Inc. has been strongly affected due to COVID-19, just as it has for every player in the hospitality business, including chefs, bakers, business owners, and food distributors. We continuously ask ourselves how we can be the best partners to our consumers, and this has never been more important than it is now. As a B Corp it was imperative for us to have a positive impact on our value chain, and to be able to share our knowledge and experience with others.

In response to the crisis, we immediately began to use our social media platforms to share best practices and initiatives from establishments that remained open. Our goal in doing this has been to drive more customers to them, as well as to share ideas and inspiration with other businesses. From there, we created an interactive map called the Valrhona Pastry Map that connects open establishments to potential new local customers. For more information about this initiative, visit valrhona-chocolate.com.

Our Valrhona chefs’ main mission is to teach professional chefs at our school in Brooklyn. However, as social distancing made this impossible, they have been creating recipes, techniques, and live demonstrations with our audience on social media. Most of the content is available on our website.

We are confident that the sense of uncertainty in a changing economic climate will cause consumers to be more mindful of what they are buying. As we offer products that have been ethically sourced and transformed, I am hopeful it will reassure our consumers. Our future focus will be on educating people about our sourcing process and the cocoa industry as a whole.

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