Artisan Chocolate Maker Sweetens Profits by Using QuickBooks

Running a chocolate company can be a truly sweet gig, but the competition is fierce. So when Sarah Endline launched Sweetriot in 2005, she decided to differentiate her business by making its candy available in smaller, more controllable portions and highlighting its socially responsible business practices. The latter includes buying Fair Trade cacao from a South American producer and partnering with organizations working toward social justice.

Endline, who previously worked in product development and marketing at Yahoo, also introduced innovative package designs (tins and bags) by commissioned artists. Sweetriot’s products — chocolate-covered cocoa nibs and chocolate bars and squares — are now sold at Safeway, REI, Whole Foods Market, and Cost Plus World Market stores, as well as online.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently caught up with Endline in between flights (to date, the Michigan native has lived, traveled to, or worked in more than 50 countries) to chat about how QuickBooks helps her to keep track of the business’s incoming and outgoing payments.

ISBB: How did you get started in the chocolate business?

Endline: I wanted to create the next Ben & Jerry’s, a not-just-for-profit company with a global social mission, as well as fantastic, delicious consumer products based on cacao beans. I set out to reinvent the candy category with healthy, all-natural treats that make a difference with farmers, artists, and consumers.

I used techniques I learned at Yahoo about human-centered design. Rather than creating chocolate as a chef — where you go back in the kitchen and create a piece of artwork — I wanted to go into the marketplace and talk to consumers about their problems with chocolate and candy, their lifestyles, and even their greatest memories with chocolate and candy. From this learning, I decided to create a new category in premium, natural chocolate: on-the-go healthy, all-natural bite-sized treats sold in small, controllable portions in an artistically designed package.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?

A riot never sleeps! I created a business around things that I love. Even if I work 18 out of the 24 hours in the day, it doesn’t feel like “work.” I have surrounded myself with a lovely support system. A “sweet” riot is all about celebration of life, travel, art, great people, and amazing experiences.

I always knew that business had the power to promote change and function in a socially responsible way with values at the forefront. One of the greatest ways to promote change is building a community of people who have similar values. I really enjoy our relationships with our retail partners, some of which I have worked with since the company launched in 2005. We continue to work together to grow and promote positive change through all-natural, delicious dark chocolate. I truly value these relationships and their feedback, which helps the company to learn and evolve.

Why do you like QuickBooks?

As a small and growing company, you rely on tools that really enhance and support your businesses operations. At Sweetriot, we practice open-book management. QuickBooks allows us to run various reports that the team uses to analyze the state of the business and to make informed decisions. QuickBooks functions are intuitive, and my team and I can access it online, since we are always on the go.

Tell us a creative way to eat chocolate nibs.

One of my favorite indulgences is making chocolate-chip cookies with dark-chocolate covered nibs and sea salt. There is something about the extra crunchy, nutty essence of the nib and the burst of sea salt that adds to the joyful experience of baking and eating a chocolate nib cookie. It’s the perfect 4 p.m. pick-me-up.

Sweetriot Cacao Nib Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cup Sweetriot nibs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Stir in nibs.

Drop batter, by rounded tablespoon, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then move cookies to wire racks to cool completely before eating or storing.

About Kristine Hansen

A Wisconsin-based freelance writer, Kristine Hansen contributes business stories to many food and drink trade journals, as well as CNN.com, and blogs about mindful travel at Psychology Today. She also dishes out advice for writers at The Writer Magazine about running a successful writing business.
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