31 August 2014
I can’t believe we’re poised on the verge of September already. It’s our third Christmas, so I’ve got some idea of what we’re in for over the next few months, but there’s a lot of expect the unexpected in between now and the end of December.
Next weekend we’re at the Speciality and Fine Food Fair. I feel a bit more clued up about what to expect this year, so I’ve got a couple of days set aside this week to prepare everything as well as to catch up on all the admin that’s been backing up over the last couple of weeks.
24 August 2014
I was disappointed not to be at the Bury St Edmunds Food & Drink Festival this weekend, but I just couldn’t spare the time to make the stock I needed, let alone man the stall for two days.
Our Selfridges order is almost ready. The fun bit’s done, as all the chocolates have been made, so I’m spending the Bank Holiday weekend boxing up and wrapping. In the meantime, I’m making chocolates for a hen party and two weddings, so it’s not just sticky tape and cellophane wrap at Choctails central this weekend. I even managed to snatch a few hours off in order to watch all the action from the Belgian Grand Prix as well. Bonus.
17 August 2014
A man walks into a bar …
… A chocolate bar, naturally. We’ve now got our full range of chocolate bars available on the website. It’s been a lot of fun putting the flavours together – hours of research and development! I’m particularly fond of the Blackberry Gin in dark chocolate and the Peach Bellini in milk chocolate. We’ve also come up with a couple of non-alcoholic bars, including a “Pink Fizz” and “Kir Royale” which contain freeze-dried fruits and popping candy to give you the crackle and fizz.
Make sure you check out the full range on our Bars page
10 August 2014
Another busy week in the Choctails kitchen. We’re slowly receding under a mountain of chocolates and boxes of various sizes for various purpose.
This weekend we ran a chocolate making workshop at Great Slamsey’s in Braintree. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and there were some really creative results. We’re running another one in November, just in time for Christmas, so have a look at Slamseys Art Webpage for all the details.
3 August 2014
It’s been a busy week in the kitchen, having got the final confirmation of our first Selfridges order through, so we can really get to work now. I’d been working to guestimates up until then, which is never an easy thing to do.
By Friday I was ready for a break so we took part in our annual village pram race, which heralds the start of the regatta weekend. It’s a heck of a way to get free beer and we had a lot of fun taking part. We’d acquired a pram which had been abandoned by the roadside, which turned out to be broken, so we used the Choctails trolley instead. Dressed in our inflatable sumo suits, we looked completely bonkers.
Following that, I felt a tad jaded manning the stall the following day, but this is Wivenhoe, so a hair of the dog was available nice and early. We had a great view of the river and hence the racing, and managed to sell some chocolate as well, whilst the sun shone on us most of the day. A top weekend on the whole.
27 July 2014
It’s always difficult to know which events we should or shouldn’t do. We take some advice from previous exhibitors and we look at our own experiences and try to make an educated decision. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t and this weekend was one which didn’t.
We were at the Marks Hall Country Estate Open Gardens, similar to the Abbots Ripton event we attended a few weeks ago. Friday night was the gala night, which is always good for us. The attendees always seem to be the people whom alcoholic chocolates appeal to! Sadly, the rest of the weekend was a bit disappointment. Takings were very disappointing, mainly because there just wasn’t the footfall, so we didn’t really have many people to try and sell to.
It’s never easy to second guess how well an event will go. Not even a year on year comparison is an accurate barometer of how well we’re going to do. But with each event we learn a little more and have a better idea of who our target audience is and hence where we should be in future.
20 July 2014
Well I can now let you in to the big news that Choctails will be stocked in Selfridges from this September. It’s all systems go in the kitchen at the moment to get everything ready on schedule. I’ve been working some very long hours over the last couple of weeks and loving every minute of it.
So when someone comes along to your dinner party with a box of our chocolates they’ve picked up in a major London food hall, you’ll be able to say “oh yes, we knew them before they were famous” in a very casual, chatty kind of way and earn maximum respect. We promise not to let all this go to our heads, and we’ll be back down to earth before you can run a bowl of washing up water, but we just felt like doing a bit of a celebratory dance with all our loyal supporters and I wanted to say a huge thank you to all of you for believing in us, because if you hadn’t then we wouldn’t be where we are today.
This weekend we were exhibiting at the Essex Food Festival at Cressing Temple Barns. The weather was a bit up and down over the two days, but we were safely indoors so avoided the rain. It was a busy event and it was great to see some of you there. I hope you all enjoyed your chocolates.
13 July 2014
It’s been an exciting few weeks for us at Choctails central.
I’ve been working on our chocolate bar range and we’ll have these ready to go onto the website very soon. I’ll keep you posted and let you know when they’re available online; at the moment they’re exclusive to our shows and events. I hope you’ll enjoy the range of flavours as much as we do. We’ve got some of our most popular Choctails in bar form, as well as some new flavours which will only be available as chocolate bars.
We’ve been talking to a lot of retail outlets over recent months, and we’re in the final stages of negotiation with a few major food halls, so watch this space for some exciting announcements over the next few weeks.
We’ve also got a number of shows coming up over the summer months. This coming weekend it’s the Essex Food and Drink Festival at Cressing Temple Barns and the following weekend we’ll be at the Marks Hall Garden & Country Show, so I hope to see some of you there.
I’ve also been working with Slamseys Art who are running a series of workshops in the beautiful timber framed Barley Barn in Great Notley, Essex, and we’re running a Chocolate Making Workshop on Saturday 2 August. There are still a few spaces left on the workshop, so if you fancy a morning of chocolate making and tasting, then sign up and come and get sticky with us.
6 July 2014
I went back to my roots this weekend and headed up to Yorkshire. Saturday was my Dad’s birthday, so we decided to couple this with the start of the Tour de France and were up bright and early on Saturday morning heading for the centre of Leeds to watch Le Depart Fictif, which was very exciting to be a part of.
Dad, of course, got a box of Choctails as part of his birthday present.
Over the course of the week we’ve been busy thinking about Christmas. I know it sounds crazy thinking about Christmas so far ahead, but it’s amazing how quickly it all creeps up, and retailers will be wanting their Christmas orders delivered at the beginning of September, so we try to be as prepared as possible. We need to have our Christmas range ready for the press launches in July.
29 June 2014
After a busy week in the kitchen we spent the weekend at the Abbots Ripton Hall Open Gardens weekend.
We were on target to more than make up for last weekend’s lack of sales, but unfortunately the weather thwarted us. The Friday evening gala preview was a great success, although spending three hours watching people drinking wine does get a little tough.
Saturday was shaping up to being a great day, until the rain started at 2pm, driving all the visitors back to their vehicles and heading home early and Sunday started with rain, so footfall was disappointing throughout the day. I was fortunate enough to catch Dolly Parton’s set at Glastonbury on the radio on the journey home, and after singing along to 9 to 5 very loudly all was well with the world again.
I’ve now got a couple of weekends off, so I’m looking forward to catching up with family and having some down time at the weekend as opposed to being behind the stall.
22 June 2014
There are occasions when you take on an event that you really wish you hadn’t. This weekend was such an occasion. The Blenheim Palace Flower Show sounded like quite a prestigious event in a fantastic setting. The setting was wonderful and the weather was glorious all weekend, but for some reason we all struggled to cover our costs. We speculated long and hard on why people just weren’t spending. In contrast, the volume of samples we all gave away was insane, pushing the costs up even higher. It’s frustrating when that happens. Yes, we all recognise that we have to give away a certain volume of samples, but we’re all fiercely proud of our creations and to see people cram several pieces of chocolate into their mouth at once, without a care as to what they’re tasting, it’s extremely frustrating. What’s worse is when you keep the samples back so that people have to engage with you before being offered a freebie, and they reach over to grab a handful or even come into the stall to find the sample tray.
15 June 2014
After a busy few weeks, we’ve had a chance to take some time out over the last few days. On Thursday we had the opportunity to catch up with some friends who now live in Australia and were over to visit the UK for a few days. It was fantastic to see them again and they loved the box of Choctails I gave them; so much so, that there was almost a fight over the last chocolate in the box!
As an avid motorsports fan, the weekend has been dedicated to Le Mans. We decided against staying up all night this year as it always impacts our sleep pattern for several days afterwards, and when you run your own business that’s not a good plan. I need to plan a few days off afterwards in order to be able to stay up for the whole 24 hours. So now it’s back to the kitchen, and stocking up for our next few events.
8 June 2014
This weekend we’ve been at the Flavours Summer Food and Drink festival in Southwold. It was a reasonable event, but we all suffered from a low footfall on Saturday. Had we had two days like today, it would have been a great event!
Although Southwold isn’t too far from home, I decided to stay over as the journey gets a bit fiddly towards the end, and takes well over an hour. It meant I got a lie-in on both Saturday and Sunday. I stayed at the Stables on the Henham Park estate, which is fabulous, and I can highly recommend the eggs benedict for breakfast.
I’ve also got an exciting new project working with DJ Wines to try and develop a range of choctails using their liqueur range. Some fantastic flavours and I’m really excited about it.
One advantage of the festival being quieter than expected was that we were able to get away quite promptly and I made it home in plenty of time for the Grand Prix.
1 June 2014
It’s been a busy, busy week for us. After Bury St Edmunds on Monday we had a rapid turnaround in order to fit everything in on Tuesday.
I had the 10 minute presentation slot at BNI on Tuesday morning, after which I headed over to the Suffolk Showground to set up. There were a few logistical issues, which were resolved fairly quickly, and I got the stand organised without getting too wet and muddy. It was then on to St Osyth for the funeral of a friend which was very emotional. I was thankful not to have anything else urgent for the rest of the day.
The Suffolk Show was disappointing this year. Our takings were down dramatically on last year, and that seemed to be the tone throughout the Food Hall.
Friday was a day of organising, stock checking and planning. I managed to have a day off on Saturday which was very welcome, but then we were back in the kitchen on Sunday to start getting resocked for our next few shows. No rest for the wicked!
25 May 2014
It’s been a good couple of weeks in the kitchen. I’ve now done a test run of chocolate bars with Slamsey’s Fruit Gin truffle fillings and I’m really happy with the results. In dark chocolate we have the Blackberry Gin and Marmalade Gin, in milk chocolate we have Rose Gin and Raspberry Gin and in white chocolate we have Sloe Gin. I’m working on a second variety of white chocolate bar with the Elderflower Gin but haven’t got the balance right yet, so we need to do some more experimenting with that one.
Over the weekend we’ve been at the Bury St Edmunds Whitsun Fayre. The weather’s been good and our taking were up slightly on last year, although not as much as I’d hoped for. It was good to see some of our regulars as well. We seem to have gathered quite a following in Bury!
It’s a full on week ahead with the Suffolk Show, so not much time in the kitchen for me this week.
11 May 2014
A week of stocking back up for us.
Our new range of chocolate bars seem to be going well, so I’m experimenting with different choctails fillings. Not all of our flavours work as well in a bar form, as the softer centres get very messy. Having dropped the Caralicious and Ginger Truffles from the main range of Choctails, I’ve now put these into bar form and they’re both proving very popular!
I’ve had to order some more chocolate bar moulds to help me get stocked up faster. At the moment the bars are exclusive to our pop-up events, but once I’ve got a definitive range of bars, I’ll be putting them on the website for purchase. I’ll keep you posted when this happens.
4 May 2014
May The Fourth Be With You
It’s our second birthday today. It’s amazing how far we’ve come in the last two years, and it’s even more exciting to think about what’s ahead.
This weekend we’ve been at RHS Hyde Hall as part of the Essex Craft and Design Fair. I didn’t get much of an opportunity to see the grounds, although I did make a point of walking the long way through some of the gardens from the car park first thing this morning.
There was an element of drama to the weekend, when driving back from setting up on Friday I decided to go to the cash and carry and ended up running over a nail. So now I know how to change a tyre on the van. Not being able to get the wheel nuts loosened, I was in the process of phoning the AA, when 2 girls stopped to help me and between us we got it changed and me back on my way.
The weekend was good, although not as good as I’d hoped in terms of takings. I was up on the last event I did at Hyde Hall, but short of the target I’d set for us, so I can have a small birthday celebration for us!
27 April 2014
Art for Art’s Sake
I’ve been wanting to put on some chocolate workshops and demonstrations for some time, but have been struggling to find suitable premises. As luck would have it, I’ve been given the opportunity to put on a workshop at Slamsey’s Art in Great Notley in August.
Slamesy’s Art is a gallery space in a timber-framed Barley Barn, with an area suitable for creative workshops. It’s a fabulous setting and I’m looking forward to running my first proper workshop. I’ve done a good number of talks to date, but nothing beats getting sticky with chocolate!
In addition, I’ve been experimenting with Slamsey’s Fruit Gins to come up with an exclusive range of chocolates. Our Sloe Gin truffle from our Christmas range uses Slamsey’s Sloe Gin, but they do a beautiful range of gins. I’m now working on a range of chocolate bars with Slamsey’s-based truffle fillings and hope to have some ready for the workshop as give-aways for the attendees.
20 April 2014
We’ve just got back from the Oxford Chocolate Festival. After the success of Brighton we were looking forward to a similar event over Friday and Saturday, but unfortunately the footfall was significantly lower. It’s difficult to know why it was so dramatically different, but there could be a number of factors at play, including a sunny bank holiday weekend (I’d probably have been in a beer garden somewhere if I hadn’t been on the stall), and the fact that we were limited with outdoor advertising so couldn’t pick any of the tourist trade from the High Street.
That apart, we’ve had a wonderful weekend in Oxford exploring the city. I was spoiled rotten for my birthday and wedding anniversary and I’ve eaten far too much good food over the weekend! And as an added bonus, tomorrow is a Bank Holiday and I don’t have an event to do, so I’m about to settle down with a glass of wine and the Chinese GP highlights and enjoy the rest of the Easter weekend.
30 March 2014
So here we are; our new branding launched at a very successful event in Brighton.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a week. The boxes were due to arrive on Wednesday, but eventually got here on Thursday lunchtime. I had the 3 twelve-chocolate collections ready in the vac-forme trays, so they were quick enough to box up, but the Full Monty is put together on shiny black dividers in glassine cups, so they had to wait until the boxes arrived. Once they were all packed and ready I could turn my attention to putting the wraps onto the chocolate bars, which was a Thursday evening task. It all felt a bit last minute, but we got there in the end, and I could head to Brighton in good time on the Friday.
It took a while to set up the stall. Having got this down to a fine art in recent months, it was back to the beginning, working out the best way to display everything.
The Chocolate Festival was a real success for us. The event was nicely busy, although footfall dropped off quite dramatically after lunchtime on Sunday. We sold out of all our chocolate bars, so we’ll need a bigger allocation in future. Our misfit bags sold well, and we also sold a good number of boxed collections.
So after a reasonable journey home, I’m now relaxing with a glass of wine and planning a day off tomorrow, once I’ve unpacked and stock-checked!
23 March 2014
It’s going to be a nail-biting week, as everything is coming together for the new branding, but not as quickly as we’d like. It looks as if Thursday is going to be a very busy day, and quite possibly a late night getting everything ready.
We’ve got all our new exhibition materials, which look stunning. The pull-up banners have real impact and we’ve got some hanging drapes and a tablecloth, which all look fantastic. Our packaging, flyers and menu cards are all due to be delivered on Wednesday and Thursday of next week, so I’m hoping they’ll be here reasonably early so that I can get everything packed up in reasonable time. I’ve got a couple more days in the kitchen making sure we’ve enough stock, and then I can focus on the finer details for the rest of the week. I’m going to need a few glasses of wine by Friday evening!!
16 March 2014
Out with the old, in with the new.
Yesterday was Wivenhoe Farmers Market and our last event with the current branding. It wasn’t a particularly great morning for sales (although much better than last month, where we struggled to cover our pitch fees and only managed to do so in the last 20 minutes).
The new website is looking good, although there’s still a lot of work to do on it, but I’m confident it will all be ready in the next 10 days.
My weeks have been taken up with making sure we’ve got enough chocolate for the new collections as well as keeping up with wedding favours and other orders coming in. I had a couple of days where the chocolate was temperamental – in particular I was struggling with the milk chocolate – and although I never like to grumble when the sun comes out, at this time of year it’s low enough to stream straight across the table for most of the morning. Another few weeks and it’s high enough not to trouble us.
One piece of equipment we’ve recently purchased is a 20-tray racking trolley, which means we can stack the trays on whilst they cool and wheel it into the coolest spot we can find. It also means we don’t have to dash backwards and forwards into the dining room if we’re leaving the trays overnight to set. We can just wheel everything away once we’re done. The novelty hasn’t worn off enough for me not to make reversing ‘beeps’ when I’m moving it around …
Today has been a planning day. I’ve been much more focussed with my time management and now have a weekly planner to try and make the best use of my time. As we get busier it’s imperative I stay focussed throughout the day, and have time set aside for all the projects we’ve currently got on the go.
2 March 2014
There’s been lots to do this month. Sales have been reasonable, and we’re up on last year, which is always my first target for each month. We saw an increase in sales running up to Valentine’s day, although our Valentines Specials weren’t particularly popular this year, we sold more of our standard gift boxes.
Our new branding is taking shape, and we’re still on target to get everything ready for the Chocolate Festival in Brighton at the end of this month.
We’ve already run out of our 4 and 6 chocolate packaging and our 8 and 16 sizes are running low. It’s both exciting and scary watching the pile of boxes dwindle.
Our next step is to get our marketing and exhibition materials ready. Fingers crossed it’s all going to come together over the next few weeks.
2 February 2014
It’s been a busy month, getting things organised for our brand re-launch. We’ve now reduced our standard gift box prices and these prices will remain until the packaging has sold out.
Our new packaging is beginning to take shape and I’m really happy with the way it’s going to look. We’re also changing our range of gift boxes. The Full Monty will remain, but there are 4 new flavours in the box to replace some of the lines which weren’t selling well. We’ll then have 3 different collections each with 12 chocolates in the box, focusing on classic cocktails, aperitifs, and after dinner drinks. You’ll still be able to pick your own chocolates in either a 10- or 15-chocolate option but the bagged chocolates will be going – you can, of course, choose 10 or 15 of the same chocolate in the Pick Your Own option.
We’re also working on a couple of possible deals, which are very exciting for us and could mean some big orders coming our way, which means we’ll have to step up production, so I’m making the most of free weekends at the moment, as there won’t be many of them around!
6 January 2014
Happy New Year everyone!
After a spectacular trip to Kenya we’re fully refreshed and ready for the year ahead. The big news is that we’re planning a brand re-launch this year, so we’ll be having a sale to clear out our current packaging. At the moment we’re selling off the last of the short-dated stock.
We’re working with Coker Brand Design, who have come up with some great concepts, and we’re really excited about our new look.
Our plan is to launch our new branding at the Brighton Chocolate Festival at the end of March, so we’ll be busy, busy, busy getting everything together until then.