Almost every red-blooded female in the United States and much of the male population is passionate about chocolate. We love it, crave it, covet it, hoard it, nibble it, gobble it, and dream about it. We describe ourselves as chocoholics. Chocolate is one of the decadent guilty pleasures in life. Perhaps it eases our collective consciences a little to know that scientists now say there are health benefits to dark chocolate.
There is probably no one in the United States, however, as passionate about chocolate as Alan Patric McClure, who owns Patric Chocolate. He and his employees make craft chocolate in Columbia, Missouri.
Patric’s chocolates are artisan creations in the true sense. He imports the cocoa beans, roasts them, and creates chocolate from the finest raw ingredients. When McClure founded the company in 2006 there were no true craft chocolatiers in the U.S. He has filled that niche. His stated goal is to “work as hard as possible to make the best chocolate imaginable and expose the most Americans to it”.
His enthusiasm and love for his craft, as well as that of his four full-time and one intermittent employee, comes through in the excellence of his chocolate and the recognition it is receiving. Patric Chocolate won the National Good Food Award in 2011 and 2012, and has been featured or mentioned in magazines, including Forbes, Feast, and Food & Wine; as well as newspapers like The Kansas City Star, the LA Times, The New Yorker Online, and the Dallas Observer, among others.
As is the case with many small business owners, McClure came into the business world in a roundabout way. He was always interested in food and cooking—the first book he bought himself was a Mexican cookbook. He loved to experiment with recipes and ingredients and cooking was always a hobby. He worked at restaurants in high school and college as many people do and then spent a year in France during college where he says he developed a finer appreciation for food.
Patric said his degree in Religious Studies was good for developing research skills, but not so great for finding a job. Making chocolate became his hobby and he decided to look into making chocolate for a living. In March of 2006, with the help of Virginia Wilson of the Small Business Technology & Development Center (SBTDC) and a SCORE counselor, McClure filed the paperwork for Patric Chocolate. It took almost a year before he produced his first batch of commercial chocolate.
McClure says his business plan was the most critical thing in opening a successful business and that he learned it should constantly evolve and state reasonable goals. When he started the process, he says he was “naïve.” He didn’t have the tools he needed to run a business—no business experience, no knowledge of how to price, and he knew nothing about sales. He’d never really managed people. He didn’t even know where to buy cocoa beans or where to find the equipment he needed. As with many first time entrepreneurs, he had underestimated the amount of money it would take to open his business.
Along with help from the SBTDC and SCORE, McClure also took out an SBA Express Loan in 2009 and a 7(a) Guaranteed Loan in 2011. He credits The Bank of Missouri and the local business community with providing him good advice and support.
When asked about the process he uses to come up with his decadent creations, McClure said it is a collaborative process. He and his employees meet to discuss what chocolate bars they’ll make in the coming year. Everyone comes prepared with ten combinations that sound good to them. They read off the combinations and if anyone doesn’t like a combination, it’s crossed off the list. Only a handful of combinations sound delicious to everyone. Then they look at the feasibility of creating the flavors into a chocolate bar. They always like to consider some combinations that are not currently available on the market.
While McClure gives some direction, his company tends to operate by consensus, and his employees often know what he wants before he even asks. He says all of his employees need to understand the entire business. His salesperson understands how chocolate is made so she can better sell the product; the production staff knows about marketing and how the quality impacts sales. To be successful, he says, they must understand how interrelated their jobs really are.
When asked if Patric Chocolate will branch out into other chocolate products, McClure says they plan to start offering hot chocolate mixes in the future, and for next Valentine’s Day plan to offer chocolate covered truffles.
As for growth, Patric lets the market set expansion, while trying to acquire new sales and to venture into more markets. They forecast based upon previous sales so they can project when they will need to add new machinery or personnel.
McClure is passionate about his craft and active with the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, Craft Chocolate Makers of America, and Slow Food USA, which helps educate children on where food actually comes from and the joys of eating food that is natural and unprocessed. He has raised money for Slow Food to go into local schools and talk about “real” food.
Patric’s sells to wholesalers, distributors, retailers, chefs, food and beverage manufacturers and also online to the public. In St. Louis, you can find Patric chocolates at Whole Foods and Local Harvest Grocery; in Columbia, at Clover’s Natural Market and Natural Grocers; and in Kansas City, at The Better Cheddar and Dean & DeLuca. Website purchases can be made at http://patric-chocolate.com/ or call 573-814-7520 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the SBA, contact your local SBA office or visit http://www.sba.gov/. The St. Louis District Office can be reached at 314-539-6600 or http://www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3124. For more information about the Missouri SBTDC, visit http://www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/index.asp. To find a local SCORE counselor, visit http://www.score.org/ or contact your local SBA office.