How a Local Food Business Black Dinah Chocolatiers Manages Safety, Sustainability and Sweetness
by Marilyn Miller
Close your eyes. Imagine you have a month off one summer. Now imagine that you spend your month on a lovely island off the coast of Maine. Imagine the sights, sounds and tastes you would experience. Now imagine being able to capture your essence in a form both edible and available. Nice, huh? Well, Kate and Steve Shaffer spent that month, and more, living on remote Isle au Haut. Kate had spent most of her working life in kitchens, so a home based food-related business made sense. And so, Black Dinah Chocolatiers was born out of Maine’s natural beauty.
Kaste and Steve wanted to manufacture a shippable product that was not completely dependent on seasonal tourism. They were inspired by both the natural beauty and abundant resources around them to create Black Dinah Chocolatiers to be, as their website says, “the sweet taste of the salty coast” of Maine.
Today, Black Dinah Chocolatiers maintains a larger manufacturing site in Westbrook. They ship far and wide, but each incredibly delicious and beautiful confection is still made by hand, using fresh local ingredients whenever possible.
It is not always easy to juggle the desire to make a high quality handmade product with the need to maintain strict food safety standards. Kate explains that searching out fresh, clean produce, dairy and cheeses is the surest way to guarantee the safety of the product. Particularly true when creating a shelf life for confections.
Local sourcing also helps form relationships and partnerships with other local businesses and farms. They in turn help build Black Dinah Chocolatiers’ reputation as an honest, transparent and sustainable business.
Maintaining food safety has its challenges. Processing fresh produce for a product with a short shelf life is labor intensive and expensive. As the business grows, new employees need to be trained and supervised in food safety procedures. It is often difficult to keep employees keenly aware of how to keep the product safe, while not jeopardizing the enthusiasm and creativity that makes the business unique.
High quality comes with a cost, which is reflected in the price of the finished product. However, time and time again, customer feedback proves that the extra effort and cost are worth it.
Black Dinah Chocolatiers has also won several national awards based on the quality and sustainability of their confections.
Black Dinah Chocolates proves you can have it all – quality, safety, sustainability and … yum!
Marilyn “Mara” Miller is committed to small businesses. She is founder of M3 Consultants, which helps small business owners improve their cash flow through better credit practices. If you have comments or ideas for future issues please email Marilyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.