About.com Candy Guide: There has been a lot of talk and criticism about how the candy industry is dominated by a few enormous companies, and smaller family operations are being bought out or squeezed off the shelves. I imagine that as a start-up chocolate manufacturer, this must have been a concern. How do you approach the issue of gaining recognition and distribution?
Art Pollard: Quite frankly, much of the criticism is legitimate. The candy industry, especially lately, is marked by takeovers. Now, almost every recognizable candy is made by less than half a dozen companies. A few struggling companies remain independent, such as JustBorn (Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, etc.), but larger companies are few and far between. Just look at the back of the package the next time you purchase a candy bar. You will be surprised by who actually makes it. Two of our competitors were purchased not too long ago, and I imagine the acquisitions such as these will continue for quite some time to come, further consolidating the industry.
Even so, there is still a huge amount of room in the confections industry. We are all familiar with the local chocolate store where hand-dipped chocolates are made. Just about every town has a store like this, and many cities have quite a few. This is where the large industrial giants can never compete. They cannot give the care and attention that a local store can provide. Furthermore, very good quality truffles and bon-bons simply cannot be distributed by the industrial candy giants because of the additional labor required to produce and the shorter shelf life of the product.
This opens the door to the small confectioner. As far as we are concerned, our goal is to simply make the very best chocolate. It is against my personal philosophy to grow a company just to have something to sell. My background in software has allowed me to observe many acquisitions. I have found that no matter what promises are made by the purchasing company, when a company is purchased, the corporate culture will change, often destroying what once made a company great. Key players will be fired, asked to leave, or sidelined, and the result is overturned lives; and in the end, the quality will be affected. I believe this is not fair to the employees who have built the company and is not fair to the consumer who has built a relationship with it. Apple computer had similar problems: the company went for many years as beholden to the stockowners and their demand for short-term gains. Once Steve Jobs, one of the original visionaries who started Apple, came back, all sorts of wonderful things have started to happen (the iPod just being one of them), and the magic returned.
As to how we get the word out, the answer is contained in one word: "quality." When we have shared our chocolate with others, they have been amazed at the outstanding quality we have been able to achieve—especially in such a short period of time. You find people who have never liked dark chocolate before loving our chocolate and not only ordering it from us but also telling their friends. I believe that if you can achieve a high level of quality, the public will respond—especially if you have a strong passion for what you do, as we do.
The public has been inundated for years with mediocre products, and in this arena the small confectioner cannot compete. The large companies have this area sewn up and probably always will. However, I believe that there is room at the high end and in the specialty niche markets where the large industrial companies cannot compete. There are too many different niches for any one company to fulfill. Furthermore, they measure success in thousands of tons, whereas a small confectioner can easily measure success in numbers much smaller.
The small confectioner is also in a ready position to innovate. Just as in the confectionary industry, you see this in the software industry, where it’s the small software companies that constantly innovate and move the industry forward. Sure, Microsoft copies them (or buys them), but it is the few lone wolves out there that push the envelope. And as much as Microsoft might like to, it still has not eliminated the small programming shops. I believe this analogy holds for the confectionary industry.
Read more interview questions:
- How did you first get interested in making chocolate?
- How did you learn to make chocolate?
- What is your factory like?
- How long did it take you to open the factory?
- What has been your biggest challenge in starting your own chocolate business?
- Do you have any advice for would-be candy entrepreneurs?
- What's on the horizon for Amano Chocolate?