June 7, 2013

Do Yourself A Favor – How Weddings Can Prove Profitable For Your Specialty Food Business

specialty food weddingsWrapping up Wedding Week, I had the chance to talk with Nicole Ebbit of The Caramel Jar.  As Nicole has discovered, even packaged specialty foods can benefit as much from weddings as caterers, wedding cake makers, and food truck owners. 

You never really intended for The Caramel Jar to become a full-time  business, did you? Can you tell us a little bit about where you thought  your life was headed and how you ended up becoming a caramel connoisseur instead.

When The Caramel Jar was born, I was a month away from relocating from NYC  to rural PA for my Husband’s new job. I assumed I would start the  business as a way to make a tiny contribution to our household while  searching for my next non profit management position. Instead, caramel  was undergoing a bit of a renaissance and the market loved our product!  Thus, I tossed my nonprofit management job aspirations aside and now  head our growing caramel venture. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s truly the best job ever!

Can you tell us a little bit about The Caramel Jar and what sets your products apart.

The time and care put into the production of each small batch of caramel is truly what differentiates our company. From start to finish, our  products are 100% handmade by myself or one of my talented production  assistants. Our caramels are then hand-wrapped in natural parchment  paper, something that was unheard of until we started the brown  parchment wrappers trend in 2010. Until then, caramels came in white wax or cellophane wrappers. In addition, we use reusable classic mason jars and compostable natural unbleached wax paper bags as part of our  packaging. Our commitment to being an eco-friendly company was  established from the very beginning!

Since this is Wedding Week on Small Food Business, do you mind sharing with  us what percentage of your revenue comes from wedding-related orders.  

I shy away from disclosing specifics about percentages of revenue {unless you’re an investor} but am happy to say that weddings comprise a  significant portion of our revenue portfolio. Other meaningful revenue  categories include baby showers, year round holiday gifting and  corporate/client gifts.

Was selling to weddings part of your original business plan?  Did you anticipate the market was as big as it is?

Not necessarily, but we’re thrilled to have solidified a clientele within the industry. 🙂

food wedding favor

Why do brides and grooms purchase from you – are they usually buying  wedding favors, do they include your caramels as part of a dessert bar,  any other ways you’re hearing that your products are being incorporated  into weddings?

Our bride/grooms are very creative! They’ve used our caramels in a wide  range of ways beyond traditional wedding favors that are set at each  place setting. We’ve seen them used as grooms dinner favors : candy or  dessert buffets : welcome gifts : escort/table seating : shower favors : engagement gifts : and thank you’s for wedding planners, photographers, florists etc.

There has been more and more of a focus in the wedding industry as of late  not to have a ‘cookie cutter’ wedding but to really make it  customizable.  How much customization are you willing to do for a  wedding order?  Is there a point where it doesn’t make sense for you to  go out and buy, for example, a certain color ribbon because you’ll just  never use all of it?  

We believe in customization for any client. There are a few things that are difficult; we’re located in a very rural town, so last minute  requests are not always able to be fulfilled, however, given enough  time, we’ve done pretty much every customization you can imagine!  Knowing the bride/groom are delighted with the end product is what  continues to drive my creativity and growth for our brand.

How do you market your company to brides and grooms?  What resources outside of Etsy do you use?

We’ve been really fortunate that we don’t have to do too much marketing! We  take a select number of weddings/events per weekend based on my schedule and my team’s schedule and book accordingly.

However, if I were starting to focus on the wedding industry, I would suggest  seeking advice from a business consultant in the industry or industry  professionals on the best ways to inform the wedding industry that your  product is available for weddings.

You’ve had some phenomenal wedding-related press in magazines like Martha  Stewart and Brides Magazine.  Have you found that having that level of  ‘outside validation’ has helped build trust in your brand and brought in more sales?  Did you actively seek out that press or was this a case of an editor happening to see your products and loving them?

Absolutely! There is nothing more important to the growth of our business than  credible press. The validation that our product is worth the splurge has driven sales each and every year. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve never had to seek out press {YAY!} The editors for each opportunity saw our  product on Etsy and/or received our product as a gift, requested samples and fell in love enough to include our company in their respective  magazine.

Obviously, a wedding is just one single day so your products can’t get held up in  shipping or they’ll miss the Big Day.  How have you designed your  logistics with regards to how far in advance a wedding order must be placed to how far in advance of the actual wedding you ship the products to ensure they arrive on time?

Haha! Yes, we ship so close to the date of the event to make sure the  caramels are as fresh as possible, that there is very little room for  error. Twice in the history of our company, we have had to recreate the  wedding favors and reship or deliver in person. It’s something that is  worked out in our weekly production and once we ship the initial package we have a system of follow up to ensure that if there is a shipping  concern, we’re able to recreate and reship in time for the event. Whew,  talk about stressful!

The rest of the logistics we’ll keep under wrap, but honestly, we start  talking logistics with our clients immediately after they contact us to  ensure that the process will be as seamless as possible. 🙂 Considering  our wedding clients come back time and time again for favors, gifts and  additional family member’s weddings, I think we’re delivering as  promised.

small business weddnig food favorDoes your wedding sales have seasonal fluctuation or is it fairly stable throughout the year?

We book weddings throughout the year, so I have to plan accordingly on the financial side to make sure that I’ll appropriate cashflow through the  year to create, staff and ship our wedding products to our clients.  However, yes, our wedding season runs strong from May – Nov. Now and  then there will be a few light weeks, for which we’re always thankful!

Your packaging is picture-perfect, both in real life and on in your Etsy  storefront.  Do you take your own pictures or do you have someone else  take them?

Awww..thanks! I take 50% of our photos displayed on Etsy and all of the photos on our website http://thecarameljar.com and the rest of the Etsy photos are taken by the fabulous Jonathan Young of http://youngepicurean.com or http://jyweddings.com. Jonathan and his wife Elisabeth Millay are both wedding photographers,  and former wedding favor clients of mine. Jonathan offered to take  photos of our products in 2011 and it’s really been the best investment  for our brand! He really delivered amazing photos that will be used for  years to come by The Caramel Jar!

Any other recommendations or words of advice for specialty food producers  who think their products might make a nice addition to weddings?

Be prepared and you’ll do great! Learn from your mistakes! It’s a very very very steep learning curve, but very rewarding.

Got a special event of your own coming up or you just want to drool over some delicious-looking caramel?  Click here to check out The Caramel Jar

Initial photo credit Leila Brewster.  Two additional photos were taken by Jonathon Young. All photos printed with permission by the Caramel Jar.