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For Missouri business, chocolate brings sweet success

Writer:

Roger Meissen
Senior Information Specialist
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group
Phone: 573-884-8696
Email: MeissenR@missouri.edu

Photo available for this release:

Alan Patric McClure pours chocolate at Patric Chocolate in Columbia, Mo. McClure started the business in 2006, which made a quarter million dollars in sales in 2011.

Credit: Roger Meissen/MU Cooperative Media Group

Published: Friday, Feb. 10, 2012

Story source:

Virginia Wilson, 573-882-9952

COLUMBIA, Mo. – If chocolate is the way to a woman’s heart, Alan Patric McClure thinks that path to love should be a little more refined.

McClure is the brains behind Patric Chocolate, a mid-Missouri business experiment that brought the gospel of better sweets to mouths across the U.S. and small business success to the community.

“Don’t think of what we do as chocolate in the way you are familiar with chocolate, but rather think about it as something like coffee, something like craft beer, something entirely different,” McClure said. “It’s something where a lot of care is put into it, where quality is of foremost importance to us.”

That commitment to a better artisanal chocolate bar transformed his business from a one-man operation into one that sold a quarter of a million dollars worth of chocolate in 2011, doubling his sales from 2010.

The University of Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers (SBTDC) helped McClure build a business framework to set realistic goals and make accurate financial projections.

“When Alan came to our center and I started working with him he knew about chocolate, but he didn’t know much about business,” said Virginia Wilson, a counselor with MU Extension’s SBTDC. “We help small businesses like Patric Chocolate with one-on-one counseling, take them through the process of writing a business plan, look at the financial start-up costs, and estimate sales and expense projections to decide whether a business can be profitable.”

When McClure began the business in 2006, he started with just an idea.

Fresh out of college, the religious studies major knew he was interested in food and, in particular, chocolate. Two years spent in France after college exposed the Kansas City native to the art, flavors and variations that chocolate could offer to a person’s palate.

“I never had French chocolate, never had a lot of their brands, and when I was able to try them in France it really opened my eyes. I was tasting flavors I never tasted, trying to figure out why they were there. After doing more research I realized it was the quality of the cacao beans they were buying,” McClure said. “Those beans have all those flavors inherent in them based on the variety of the cacao and also the post-harvest processing, which includes fermentation, important in flavor development in all sorts of foods like wine, beer, cheese, bread.”

After he returned to the U.S., he was hooked on the concept, and spent much of his first year perfecting his process. Wilson helped McClure refine his business plan, using financial tools to develop realistic goals that took operational costs and cash flow into account. This work helped Patric Chocolate secure loans to get the business up and running.

“I did get loans because she told me how to get my financials in line in a form that would be decipherable by people at a bank,” McClure said. “SBTDC really helped me through some tight spots to make my business as successful as it could be.”

In many ways, the secret to Patric Chocolate is in the bean.

McClure didn’t want just any cacao bean – the base for all chocolate – for his sweets. He traveled abroad not only to find sources for the high-quality tropical crop, but also to identify family-owned farms that paid a fair wage for his supply. He sources his beans from places like Venezuela, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Ghana, keying into the regional flavor that come from climate and soil differences.

Patric Chocolate doesn’t mask those beans with excessive ingredients, but rather keeps it simple, with the primary ingredients in his chocolate bars being refined cacao and sugar. His seven employees sort those beans from 150 pounds bags before roasting, separate them from their shells and grind them into different coarseness levels, called nibs.

By mixing nibs with sugar, grinding the mix into a finer powder and conching – intense, heated mixing – his employees prepare the chocolate mix to be aged, tempered and molded into bars stamped with the Patric logo.

Now Patric produces 10 varieties of chocolate bars that sell online and in more than 40 local stores including Clovers, Hy-Vee, Root Cellar and World Harvest in Columbia.

Patric Chocolate has garnered national recognition, starting with being named “Best New American Chocolate” in 2010 by Food and Wine Magazine. Buzz from Forbes Magazine and national Good Food Awards in 2011 and 2012 followed. His bars now sell to consumers in 49 states and internationally.

McClure isn’t the only small business reaping the benefits of MU Extension’s help.

Missouri’s economy generated $2.4 billion in economic impact from 2009-2011 thanks to the Business Development Program. It helped clients increase sales by $885 million, gain $978 million in government contracts and create or retain 35,008 jobs.

“It helps locally, helps the community, helps the state create jobs and you’ve got investments,” said Wilson, “so we all benefit from businesses not only starting, but remaining successful.”

Local business success means more jobs and money in the economy. McClure estimates that sales in 2012 will double, and if that happens Patric Chocolate will expand and hire more employees in 2013.

“In the beginning, these rooms were pretty much empty and now they are filled with chocolate from wall to wall,” McClure said. “Our sales have continued to grow, almost doubling this past year and are on track to double this next year.

“Considering that my first year of sales in 2007 was only $12,000, it seems impressive.”

Buy Patric Chocolate online at www.patric-chocolate.com and read more about the company on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/patric.chocolate. Learn more about the MO SBTDC and their services at www.missouribusiness.net.