Chocolate for Change featuring Jean Joyce Thompson, Seattle Chocolate Company
Chocolate comes in all sizes, shapes, and qualities. It’s thrown around on holidays and binged on a bad day. But does it really have a purpose beyond a sugary treat?
Jean Joyce Thompson and her Seattle Chocolate Company are using their creamy and delicious truffles to make a difference. Within the company, Jean is cherishing and empowering diversity among staff members. The new jcoco line of chocolate has donated over four million servings of food to food banks across the US. And of course, the simple gift of chocolate can brighten anyone’s day.
In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, host Diana Fryc is joined by Jean Joyce Thompson, Owner and CEO of Seattle Chocolate Company, to discuss the adventures of the chocolate business. Jean talks about why she bought the company, lessons she learned during the early days, and how the business is building up communities.
In this episode we learn:
- Jean Joyce Thompson shares the history of Seattle Chocolate Company
- How the jcoco line of chocolate is supporting people in need and creating an elevated chocolate experience
- Lessons learned while working at Microsoft that helped Jean at Seattle Chocolate Company
- Why Jean decided to take over operations of Seattle Chocolate Company — and what the early days were like
- Bumps in the road that became important lessons
- How did Jean and Seattle Chocolate Company fare during the pandemic?
- The core values of Seattle Chocolate Company
- Innovative ideas that grew out of the pandemic
- How have the nationwide staffing shortages and supply chain issues impacted Seattle Chocolate Company?
- Jean’s proudest moments with Seattle Chocolate Company
- Why Jean is dedicated to always doing the right thing for the planet
- What’s next for Seattle Chocolate Company?
About Jean Joyce Thompson
Jean Joyce Thompson is many things: mother, entrepreneur, world traveler, and chocolate lover. A native New Englander, Jean graduated from Bates College before embarking on a career in high tech. Between software and chocolate, Jean was raising two children in Bellevue, Washington, and devoting her free time to nonprofit work. After the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake left the Seattle Chocolate manufacturing facility in ruins, Jean took on the job of owner and CEO, relocating the factory and running the daily operations of the company.
Jean’s determination, willingness to learn and adapt, and curiosity fueled her as she led the company into a new era. In the process, she grew from marketer to business visionary, and from chocolate eater to chocolate maven with a sense of purpose.
Guests Social Media Links:
LinkedIn Jean Joyce Thompson : https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeanthompsond/
Website : https://www.seattlechocolate.com/
- Jean Joyce Thompson on LinkedIn
- Seattle Chocolate Company
- Seattle Chocolate Company on Twitter
- Seattle Chocolate Company on Instagram
- Seattle Chocolate Company on Facebook
- Andrea Heuston on the Gooder Podcast
- Artitudes Design
- Ashley Rouse of Trade Street Jam Co.
- Diana Fryc on LinkedIn
- Retail Voodoo
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo.
Retail Voodoo has been building beloved and dominant brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness CPG industries for over 30 years. They’ve served multinational companies like PepsiCo. and Starbucks, startups like High Key, and everything in between.
Their proven process guides hundreds of mission-driven consumer brands to attract a broad and passionate fan base, crush their categories through growth and innovation, and magnify their social and environmental impact.
So, if you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, Retail Voodoo is here to help.
Visit retail-voodoo.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crush their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:43
Well, hello, welcome to the Gooder Podcast where I talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks kind Rei, PepsiCo high key and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food wellness, beverage and fitness industries. If your goal is to increase market, share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call. And let’s talk. For more information check out retail-voodoo.com. Now, before introducing today’s guest, I want to give a big thank you to my friend Andrea Heuston for making this connection. Andrea Heuston is the Founder and CEO of Artitudes a communications firm that focuses on content and design development, as well as Speaker Coaching for Business Leaders nationwide. Artitudes is considered every presenters partner for speaking and events for coaching content and management support for your next event or presentation. Check it out at www.artitudes.com. I hope I did you do well there Miss Andrea. Okay. Well today we get to meet Miss Jean Thompson. It who is many things mother, entrepreneur, world traveler and most importantly in this conversation a chocolate lover, a native New Englander Jean graduated from Bates College before embarking on a career in high tech between software and chocolate Jean was raising two children in Bellevue, Washington and devoting her free time to nonprofit work after the big 2001 Nisqually earthquake here in Seattle, which is a big one for those of you folks outside of Seattle might not know that. The Seattle Chocolate manufacturing facility was in ruins. Jean took the job of owner and CEO relocating the factory and running the daily operations for the company. Jean’s determination, willingness to learn and adapt and curiosity fueled her as she led the company into a new era. In the process Jean grew from a marketer to business visionary. And from chocolate eater to chocolate Maven. Yes. With a sense of purpose. Well, hello, Jean, how are you today?
Jean Joyce Thompson 3:06
Good. Hello, Diana. Hi.
Diana Fryc 3:08
So are you in Seattle proper?
Jean Joyce Thompson 3:11
Um, right now I’m in West Seattle. I’m working you know working from home. Okay. And Seattle Chocolate factory is located in toquilla. So just a couple of miles from the airport.
Diana Fryc 3:21
Oh, okay. Great. So I have to say, I’m a hazel that Hazel that everything by the way, but Hazel net, and malted milk ball. Truffle fan from your products. And last summer. I tried your I think it was new vanilla orange creme truffle, at the sweets and snacks show. And I was pleasantly surprised. So big fan of Seattle Chocolates for a long time. Of course, it’s Northwest brand and love what you guys are doing over there.
Jean Joyce Thompson 3:49
Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Diana Fryc 3:51
Of course now, I always have to start we always have to start with the brand. Can you tell us a little bit about Seattle Chocolate company and why it exists?
Jean Joyce Thompson 4:01
Yeah, so Seattle Chocolate Company is in its 30th year. And I’ve been involved with it for the last almost 20 years. And it really has two brands. One is has been around since the beginning. And it’s called Seattle Chocolate. And is really, its reason for being is really all about brightening people’s days. It started as a chocolate gift company 30 years ago, gift boxes are kind of our specialty, little twist wrapped truffles you were referencing a few minutes ago. Those are kind of our specialty 15 different flavors, lots of variety. And all the flavors are both the bars and the truffles on the south chocolate line or Meltaways or truffles as we call them, meaning that they just melt away in your mouth. And so they’re really creamy and delicious. And it’s all about brightening people’s day through gifting or eating it yourself. And then we came up with another line 10 years ago called jcoco. And really the intention behind that was to take it away from a regional name in case it was providing any limitations. And also to have sort of a different sort of product line. We call it jcoco J for Jean and Coco for chocolate. And it’s basically our culinary line. So that one had a built in philanthropic mission of stopping out hunger in the US from the very beginning. And we’ve already donated, you know, over 4 million servings of food to three American food banks in New York, San Francisco, and in our own backyard Northwest harvest. Feel so good. So affirming. And this is so interesting, because you really can leverage the popularity of chocolate. Yeah, and give your consumers who are going to buy and eat chocolate anyway, the power to help their neighbors and their time of need. And that one is our, our culinary line. By that. I mean, it’s a solid bar. It has whole pieces of fig and pistachio or crisp cane one sesame, or is an 85 has an 85% dark it’s based on chocolate that was both grown and post harvested and made in Peru. Oh yeah, it’s a it’s a it’s a very premium fine chocolate brand. So both of them sort of serve a purpose. Two different purposes for us in the world of chocolate.
Diana Fryc 6:06
Yeah, I remember when jcoco came out. And I called I called it the grown up chocolate. I know, you know, definitely targeting the foodie. But what if I remember correctly correctly, it was kind of one of those first brands that started to integrate, kind of not an inclusion. I’m using the wrong word here. But it’s a right word, actually. Okay, press. Yeah, yeah. Inclusion? Well, we’ve worked with a number of chocolate types of brands. So I have a general not anywhere near close to understanding as you but kind of like those whole pieces in the sophisticated rather than just a knot or raisin or marzipan or something like that. Is that correct?
Jean Joyce Thompson 6:47
Yeah, um, what we try to do with that, as we think of ourselves is sort of the chef’s at the end of the line on the tears. And so we will pair a particular chocolate with a particular group or two or three different inclusions on that complement each other much like a chef would take fine ingredients and a whole foods from wherever he feels the best chicken or the best, you know, spicy mom. And then he or she combines them in a way that sort of elevates the whole experience. And that’s our goal with jcoco. And a really great example of that is that we used to have chocolate from Nicaragua. And we were trying to do our most popular bar is a fig and pistachio bar. And we tried to do that in a 80%, Nicaraguan chocolate, you could no longer taste the fig, because it was a Figgy kind of profile on the chocolate, delicious chocolate. But then we had to go back to our sort of Belgian chocolate that we use in our sales chocolate line. So that sort of neutral and fudgy. And you could hear those, you could taste those accents. So now we sourced from Peru, and we have a 72% premium chocolate, and all of a sudden the figs are exponentially more flavorful. Really, it really matters which chocolate you choose and specify to go with which gradients.
Diana Fryc 8:02
I would love. I don’t know if it’s at all possible. But wouldn’t it be fun to do like different chocolate regional chocolates or regional cocoa with a single inclusion and just be able to like a wine. But instead of trying to 75 versus a 3% versus you know all of the different variables but like treat the same variable with the same inclusion and just have that moment. I think that I mean, I know that’s what your innovators innovation team is doing all the time. But as a consumer and a foodie, that would be a fun journey to have as well.
Jean Joyce Thompson 8:35
And I love that you’re saying that because I feel like I did a TED talk a couple of years ago that was called Imagine a world without chocolate and talking about needing to pay the farmers fairly, because the amount of work and craft and science and honestly black magic at times that goes into making a chocolate bar is incredible. Like people have no idea. They have no idea that it’s a fermented product, they have no idea that there’s so much craft around roasting it and then even the post, you know how long you fermented, how long you dry it and all of that really impacts the resulting flavor, not to mention the genetics of the cacao of which there are 10 different genetic varietals that have been really just in the last few years really much like wine. And so our goal with jcoco is to elevate the whole experience so people treat chocolate like a craft food, rather than that cheap Halloween candy is not that there’s anything wrong with it. But it we love it. I mean, I still love an m&m, right it’s yes, great quality little confection. But chocolate is really more like a food, you know it is in cooking. And of course in baking, you can sprinkle or graded onto a salad and you can do it as a rim around a really delicious and innovative cocktail. So I love the fact that you’re like your brain immediately went to wait a second, what if we could compare what have been from Peru versus Nicaragua versus Dominican Republic, all of that at 72%. So you’re sort of isolating some variable. Yes. Really interesting.
Diana Fryc 10:02
Yeah, very much like what we’re doing with coffee these days a lot.
Jean Joyce Thompson 10:06
Sadly, coffee and chocolate have a lot in common. Yes. Well, so now,
Diana Fryc 10:11
I love this the chocolate Mavin came right out right out the chute. I
Jean Joyce Thompson 10:15
love no time. Yeah, the wasting and small talk.
Diana Fryc 10:20
Now, before so let’s stop, go back just a little bit, your story sort of starts I mean, there’s a little bit before Microsoft. But for all intents and purposes, there’s a good part of your journey that is at Microsoft. That is the precursor to your time here at Seattle Chocolate, can you tell us a little bit of that journey from Microsoft, and maybe what kind of has stayed with you or carried you over? That kind of helped you into the Seattle Chocolate world a CPG product versus a tech product?
Jean Joyce Thompson 10:55
Yeah. And when I was at Microsoft, I was in corporate communications. So advertising package design. So you can actually see how that job prepares really well for a CPG kind of product and company. And then also just working in marketing was extremely helpful. I mean, that is the area of the company that I am probably most involved with it. I have the most opinions on Much to the chagrin, and packaging, design and all of that very, very important to me because of my background. And it’s my strength, right? Yeah. But I yeah, I came to the party with so that was initially I think Microsoft at that time, was only about 2000 employees. Wow. So it was the early days, we still had to learn and how to work with many different types of people. Because I was the advertising agency within Microsoft, which there were 100 of us. At that time, it was the biggest ad agency in all of Seattle. Can you believe it? It was internal. And I used to work with the product managers on products like SQL Server and land manager. Oh, yeah, I remember C and Fortran. But also on Excel. I worked on the launch of Excel, I worked on Word and all these really fun that really are CPG products. Mm hmm. But they were sort of in that mode of changing from a it kind of purchase to Yes, on the shelf. So pretty good direct experience for me.
Diana Fryc 12:11
Mm hmm. Different needs state. But technically, yes. The the talking with the consumer, and the drivers and what entices people is absolutely linear.
Jean Joyce Thompson 12:22
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I loved working at Microsoft. In those days. It was so exciting. And I was in my 20s and has so much responsibility. And, you know, I don’t know what it’s like today. But it was a great place back then. It was like the wild west of Microsoft.
Diana Fryc 12:36
Oh, my gosh, I bet you probably know I used to work with I worked at Safeco down the street from that main campus. And, of course, new many people there still do. Sort of great, great times when it was young. Yeah, it’s different now, but it’s larger. So a little. Now, it’s really important for people to understand that the Nisqually earthquake that happened here in Seattle, it was pretty, I mean, it’s been 20 years now. So it’s not on everybody’s radar, but it was a pretty shook up the the or the region pretty well. And then that Starbucks building that area down there and Soto which everybody outside of Seattle, Soto is like kind of really where a lot of commercial work is done in the city, the businesses in kind of the core, and manufacturing is outside and now even moving to the Kent area where you are so Jean, you stepped in in this pivotal moment for Seattle Chocolate. We and and can you share what happened to the company of the tenant and why you personally you know, what was? What was it about the situation that had you stepping into that role? Like you were you weren’t working there? I don’t think you were no. So can you tell? Why did you want to bring this brand out of crisis? What what was going through your head at that time?
Jean Joyce Thompson 14:05
At the time, we were an investor, like maybe one of a dozen different investors that were there from the start of Seattle, chocolate and chocolate really suffered, like struggled I should say for the first 10 years and never had an easy if you think about they had 911 the exact same year as right, like seven months on the heels of an earthquake that destroyed their building. Right. And they didn’t have insurance for earthquake.
Diana Fryc 14:31
A lot of didn’t Yeah, I do
Jean Joyce Thompson 14:33
anyway, and then somebody had to step in and move it which is extremely expensive when you have two large plants that you need to move and you have to move into a building this insulated and temperature controlled, took a lot of money to fund that and for whatever reason I can prescribe been a chocoholic and chocolate fan my whole life and I thought that the company had a tremendous amount of potential. I liked the products and it just seemed a shame and at that time, my ex husband and We’re sort of dabbling in Angel investing and that kind of thing. So we looked at it as that kind of an opportunity. And then when we did that we became the owner. Okay, yeah.
Diana Fryc 15:10
So you saw it as an opportunity.
Jean Joyce Thompson 15:14
Really think through like, oh, I have an opportunity through this. I mean, when I say really, I didn’t think that at all. Oh, this company needs it will start, you know, we’ll put it in. And it wasn’t for another year when they came back and said, hey, you know, we still can’t cover payroll, something snarky, like, Oh, for God’s sake, how hard can this be? It’s chocolate, right? Believe me, I have rue the day that I said that many, many times. Because it’s actually ridiculously complicated. Its manufacturing, its warehousing. Its CPG is everything in a tiny, small company. And you’re doing it in an expensive city, and also in the upper left hand corner, incredibly far and difficult to ship. So everything about it was extremely complicated, which I totally respect now, that at the time, and then I thought, well, you know, my youngest went off to kindergarten a month later. And I thought, well, just help them. I’ll just, you know, help them with their marketing. Yeah, I won’t even collect a pay check. I’ll just after kickboxing and before Ellie and Danny are done with school, I’ll just work for three hours. Yeah. And within six weeks ago, I quit. And I was I was faced with a decision on what to do and choose Oh,
Diana Fryc 16:18
really? Yeah. Wow. Okay. Moments. Yes. Well, let’s so let’s talk about your leadership, then, in that moment, you know, what sort of tools are you using? Or what sort of tools did you bring in with you? Or did you have to create to kind of calm and manage the employees?
Jean Joyce Thompson 16:40
No, I didn’t have any tools. Nothing. I knew nothing. I’d never stepped foot in a manufacturing facility until that one. The only warehouse was Costco. I really didn’t know anything about business. I was always the sort of creative, yeah, you know, more right brained person, okay, on an assignment or whatever. Yeah. And I’d never even read a financial statement at that point. So I went in as a total noob. And the thing I had going for me was that I am an undying optimist. So I was like, Oh, how hard can it be? Right? That attitude? And yeah, I can do it. And the other thing that was key for me was that I didn’t have anybody else to report to there was no board. I was the owner. So whatever I chose to do, I didn’t have to answer to anybody. And yeah, that was really critical. Because I had no confidence. I felt like an imposter the entire time, of course. But I was like, Oh, I think it’s a good idea. So no one else really needs to agree or not agree. That was key.
Diana Fryc 17:36
So curious. What were there any were there? Was there any one or a couple of choices that you made at that time that looking back now that you have all your business knowledge that you’re like, if I would have come into this with this knowledge, I wouldn’t have made that move. And then this would not have happened
Jean Joyce Thompson 17:55
on this list. So long? Oh, is it embarrassing? Someday I should write it down just as like spoof, sir, you know, yes. But then one that sticks in my mind, which just shows how foolhardy and optimistic I was was we, we got an account with target. And it was a private label bar that they wanted to do. And they came to us, and we figured out how to do it. And the thing that was killing us was the freight still true story today, I mean, the most expensive thing, and it’s just ironic that everybody expects it for free. But so I thought, Well, I’m just gonna buy a truck. Or how hard can this be? Right? So I literally bought two semi trucks. And then I went about learning the rules of the road and finding, you know, commercial drivers, which were really hard and probably still very hard to find. And then there’s all these rules, you can’t deliver, you have to drive this long, blah, blah, blah. You learned all of that. And because I had 12, I think different warehouses that I needed to deliver to and so they went about doing it crossing the Rockies in the winter, all this stuff I hadn’t factored in. Yeah, I think it took me nine to 12 months before I sold them for pennies on the dollar and was like, okay, respect to the transportation industry. We’ll never do that again. However, when I’m talking to them, Hello, Doc. When I’m talking to people who are in transportation, yeah, I understand. Right. So while it was extremely costly, it was also great. Like, I’m like, wait a second board about this. Are you allowed to enter? I understand. Yes. I said that because I had Yes, I had to do it. So that’s number one favorite example.
Diana Fryc 19:24
I was I was half expecting to hear that you actually drove? I would have, I would.
Jean Joyce Thompson 19:32
If I didn’t have two kids at home, and if I had a CDL I would refer.
Diana Fryc 19:38
I find that to be true of a lot of business owners. But typically I find that sort of gumption happened with the founder owners right not Nessus so it’s so fascinating to me to hear you’ve adopted this brand as though it were your own very much so.
Jean Joyce Thompson 19:54
Yeah, no, I actually I was also under joined this organization called entrepreneur organism issue, which is how I know, Andrea, Andrew, thank you. And it’s been super helpful to me. But I was like, I’m not an entrepreneur, I didn’t start the company like, I’m not even then I’m an imposter. But what I came to realize is that it’s really a state of mind. And it is an attitude. And I definitely had it. And I had a lot to prove to my son, to my family, to the company and employees and to the world that I could do this, because there was really no reason to believe that I could.
Diana Fryc 20:27
Mm hmm. Interesting. Yeah, I It very much is a state of mind. But I would say that Seattle Chocolate is incredibly lucky to find somebody that can have that commitment and compassion for a brand in that way. Because it’s not common. And it’s, it’s certainly something special and one that people should know more about, like, I think it’s possible to own a brand and love it the same way, as a founder, I really do think, Oh, 100%,
Jean Joyce Thompson 20:57
you know, I mean, and what it’s done for my life, how it’s changed every aspect of my life, how I feel about myself, the future, my contribution for my life on how I will help the community or the world of the environment is, has been so influenced by Seattle Chocolate and jcoco chocolates, my tool, it’s my, my great privilege to be able to use such a popular product like chocolate and make a difference.
Diana Fryc 21:25
Hmm. Well, I wonder now we’re kind of going through another crisis. So are we coming out of another crisis? In this COVID moment? Are you finding any similarities between when you first came in during that crisis moment, and now whether it’s the dynamics of the employees, or the business culture or anything like that?
Jean Joyce Thompson 21:47
Well, this was definitely a lot easier, for sure. By then I’d already been around for 17 years, 18 years, and my people were rock solid. They really, were just so there for me. I mean, we had to bolster our infrastructure, I would say, Yeah, more meetings, more more items to meeting and copy more people so that everybody knows what’s going on. Because that hallway conversation anymore. We started with happy hours, those weren’t really necessary. We learned just like people were like, yet another meeting. Thanks for that. No. So that didn’t work. We tried different things. Every week, I send out a weekly note from the CEO, highlighting what’s going on. I mean, it’s kind of long, and I think people probably skim it. And the other thing I include in that, but they know it’s all there, all the information, everything that happened that week. And then at the end, I have what’s called the Jeans list, as the plan the Dean’s list of people who represented our values really well, oh, nine, I cannot get over how much that means to people like really, it’s never inauthentic. It’s always something that they did that represented our values really well, that would stand out that was above and beyond. And people I think in general, would rather be recognized and appreciated than to even be paid if there was a way you would write. So those little things that we did helped. And we kept up the quarterly planning and the business planning that we have always done, made them circle a little bit bigger, not just our leadership team, but a superset of that of people who then know what’s going on. And yeah, I guess it’s really about over communicating and over inclusive? Include Yeah,
Diana Fryc 23:19
yeah. Are you? So? Of course we do. We are big brand builders. Well, that’s what we do as a core at Retail Voodoo. And I hear you say our values. One, are you able to share some of those core values with us? Like, you know, what are those things that you see exuded most frequently by the employees kind of in either internally or outwardly?
Jean Joyce Thompson 23:43
Yeah, our values are, like, right there in our one page strategic plan. And if I can remember that off the top of my head, I should, first would be working in a spirit of collaboration. We’re a small company, there’s not a lot of employees, if you know, someone’s really busy over here, then someone should ebb and help them and they, they really, really do and they’re always recognized for it. They recognize each other for it and they think Oh, that’s wonderful. Yes, key as a small company stop at nothing for actually let’s just say stop at nothing. We revised the customer service thing to mean do the right thing and customer service because the stopping at nothing you can actually get taken advantage of. Okay, yeah, that doesn’t feel good. So we you know, we want to do the right thing by the customer each and every time as long as they’re being fair or not. Yes, Spanish of us. Yes. Then there is cherishing and empowering diversity. So not just having them on staff but hearing them because that’s what we want them they offer such a different point of view and perspective and they help us you know, sort of mimic our audience right so that we can we have to hear them and and celebrate them and then innovation so we pride ourselves of being very creative and innovative and we are We hold those things up in the highest regard. Yes, efficiency is important. Yes, it’s good to make money. But really, if we feel like we’re innovating, we’re so happy. And the type of people that do well there are people who, who are like that, or at least understand and accept and embrace that. And then finally, I think the last one is always kind, meaning kind to the planet kind to our vendors. Oh, be kind right there. But always because we say it’s just chocolate, right? I mean, we super value and respect, right. But at the end of the day, it’s not. We’re not saving lives. Yeah. You know, the cure for cancer. So let’s just be kind to each other. Because there’s some times when it gets hairy and the chocolate, yes, fourth quarter, you know, that kind of thing.
Diana Fryc 25:43
Oh, my goodness. And tradeshow season. Yeah, that gets pretty hairy. Yeah. Well, I think that’s what I love hearing is this kind of inclusion of your tenants in your weekly comms and that it’s not just something that’s printed somewhere on the website, discussed once a year in an annual meeting, that you guys are living and breathing. And I think that’s super foundational to the success of any organization. Thanks for sharing those. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So now, the chocolate industry, you know, we’re gonna talk a little bit more about COVID. I think in those first few weeks, when everything went into lockdown, I think things got a little bit scary. I don’t know how you guys are, how you handled it, or how your team handled it. I know you’ve built something over the long term. We’re, we’re How did you guys come together in those few, first few weeks before we started to see like, DTC sales start to go like this, I believe there was a 12% increase in chocolate sales overall, I don’t know about your particular segment. But I’m assuming it was on par with that, if not higher, because of the nature of the quality of your product. But how did those first few weeks ago, how did you calm people down?
Jean Joyce Thompson 27:01
Wow, yeah, I actually was really, of the belief and it completely changed, that we were going to be, you know, inefficient, working from home and that it was going to be really detrimental to the company. And it kept me going that we kept hearing it like one month at a time. So it is March, but we’ll be back by June. And I was like, Oh, can we make it that far. And then September, and then people got wise, and we’re like, you know, it’s gonna be another year, don’t worry about it. And so it was a little, it was course, very uncertain, we didn’t know. And luckily, a lot of us had laptops, and we had a great with great IT guy that could get us sort of set up and meetings, and we quickly, you know, rally to get zoom and different sorts of Trello kind of tools. There’s all that going on. And then we also, we knew that this working from home thing was gonna be a great opportunity for E comm. So we immediately came up with like three or four different what we called care packages at the time. And now, gift boxes that people could share, like normally we’d be together for your birthday, but I’m going to send this instead. And so our e-commerce sales, like you said, they just grew, they doubled, right? They doubled. Yeah. But the rest of our business didn’t double right. I mean, it was definitely down. And part of that is our name Seattle Chocolate. We’re really big in hospitality. So we have our own store at the airport. Yes, Hudson news as an important customer. And as is Alaska Airlines. Oh, all of us. Were just crushed. Yep. So it really impacted our business a lot. So we were very thankful for the PPP. But we had a lot of fun. And I think it was quite distracting. And everybody was really proud of our innovation. And so that kind of and we shared it with everybody. So production was is cool. We’re doing we’re we’re out there growing. And somehow we’re not just sitting back hunkering down and being defensive, we’re actually being aggressively innovative. And so I think that was really company.
Diana Fryc 28:55
Hmm. And how are you guys handling this the scale or the, you know, the velocity of growth right now. And you’ve got not only the increase in online sales, that but we’ve all of us are struggling with supply chain and employee retention and yeah, all all the things are, have you guys stabilized somewhat? Are you is it Are you still a little bit rocky like most of the other folks out there?
Jean Joyce Thompson 29:23
Um, so in terms of our staffing, we’ve been blessed. I mean, during the whole thing, I mean, our we have probably a dozen different people in retail, and they would have been out of work, you know, but we never laid them off. We wonder if they just stayed at home and waited and waited. And you know, some of them went to our office and helped people pick incense samples or, you know, helped in other ways. So nobody was ever laid off. And I feel like I have such loyalty from them because of that, like, yes, they stick with us. Yes. And we haven’t we’ve only lost like maybe a handful of people and that could have happened anyway. Just Yes. One of them has been with us for over 15 years. and was ready for a change kind of thing. Yeah. So the people thing has been an I’m knocking wood like crazy. Because I feel like of course, nothing’s more important than our employees. Right. But they’re sticking with us is has been, you know, really make make or break it for us as far as the supply chain. That was that was a nightmare. Yeah. And that, of course, didn’t really hit us till 2021. Really literally, we’re told in September. And I guess that doesn’t mean as much to the listeners. But for us, it’s a very seasonal business. And yes, September through January is where it all comes down for chocolate, you got Christmas, you got Valentine’s, certainly on the heels. And it’s It’s the busiest time of year. And so in September, we were told that we wouldn’t get to have our chocolate shipments. We’re like, what you can be.
Jean Joyce Thompson 30:47
So anyway, we had to rob from Peter to pay Paul and discontinue this slower, spicy selling chocolates. Yeah, to give that chocolate to the better selling. And I have to say our brokers or distributors, our customers were so understanding. We didn’t lose customers because of it. We lost business and sales as did they. Yeah. But everybody understood like we were all kind of in it together. It’s one of those rare unifying moments, I think, in our country that we get it transportation super slow. We can’t rely on it showing up that kind of thing. So we survived. I think we’re largely out of it. But we don’t trust anybody anymore.
Diana Fryc 31:26
Yeah, we don’t trust anything either. Not because we don’t trust our partner. But we just don’t know what that partners partners partners. Yeah. And I I’ll be I’m learning so much. i In August, I went back to school to get my MBA. And in my cohort, thank you. In my cohort is a group of people from Expeditors International, which you may or may not be doing business with, they do global transportation. And I listen to on my team, one of the people on my team just talks about the actual just the pain that is happening, like who would have known that shipping and global transportation would be in the center of the spotlight, and there’d be any issues but everything from tariffs to just not finding employees and like their biggest problem right now is they can’t find people that want to come into the office to place the orders. They have these orders. Yeah, so like they have managers and director levels that are sitting in the seats and plugging in the orders. And you just got to do what you got to do to make sure that business keeps going at because without them, there’s no commerce. It’s not like you just don’t do it. You know, you just got to do it.
Jean Joyce Thompson 32:40
I mean, we had ships coming from Peru. Ironically, our Peruvian much smaller chocolate maker was super reliable had his stuff on the water but interesting. took an extra six or eight weeks. Oh, unload it. Yeah, it was even just get it off the ocean and onto a truck. There’s no truck drivers, and oh my gosh, it was super frustrating. But hopefully kindness.
Diana Fryc 33:01
I can’t Yeah, well, and then there’ll be the next thing, but we’ll be better prepared for the next thing.
Jean Joyce Thompson 33:06
I hope nothing surprises us. Yeah, that’s basically the silver lining. Yes.
Diana Fryc 33:11
Well, you know, as you’re looking back over the last few years, is there is there any one moment that you’d like to highlight that, that you are especially proud of? About your the work that you’re you’ve done either with Seattle Chocolates or about the brand itself? Hmm.
Jean Joyce Thompson 33:29
There’s so many moments in terms of the brand and the product that I’m proud of. We have so so many fun flavors, so much innovation, we partner with artists, you know, to really bring, you know, color and interest to the shelves of a grocery store. I love working with them. I mentioned jcoco’s giving mission is a big source of pride for us. And I guess I would share it maybe it’s going into the future a little bit but um, it just happened last month, we launched a giving mission for Seattle Chocolate. So Seattle Chocolate was always like super generous. And if somebody had an auction we needed something we are one of the products was about pride we’d give to an organization there one of the products and it was very a little bit scattered. Okay, and we decided, like we learned from jcoco and how good that felt to actually make a difference to radio size check, right? So we decided to donate with each and every item, whether it’s a single truffle a bar gift and everything in between for sale talk that we donate to Girls, Inc. Oh, national organization, hopefully familiar with it, where they’re all about lifting girls up, right? Knocking down some of the obstacles that our society does throw girls way still, and helping them find their voice and be bold and have opportunity and be the future leaders. And we feel like that’s such a good fit for who we are. We’re largely I mean, we probably are 75 to 80% Women at our company, not by choice or selection at all. For the best candidate. Yes. And for whatever reason, probably because they’re drawn to me as a female business leader. Oh yeah. that I tend to get more have more women. And I’m sort of like, you know what we we want the next generation of women. It’s just difficult to find women leaders. I mean, isn’t there’s some statistic that there’s more CEOs named John, than there are women CEOs.
Diana Fryc 35:14
Yeah, in the United States. Yeah, I wrote a paper about it recently, it’s the, the disparity is still pretty alarming. What I have noticed is that and this is where girl girl is girls anchor girl, think girl thing. The reason why it’s so important to start it then is, and we can understand this as business owners is it’s about pipeline, if we don’t start the conversation early enough, it’s just not on their radar or even an area of interest, right? So if we only have x percent 3%, or 4% of women in the Fortune 500. C suite, then they’re only able to create visibility to that many people. So we just have to create a pipeline, we’re seeing the same thing in professional football, with black coaches. Like if, if there’s no pipeline, it doesn’t, you know, we’re getting every 10 years, it doesn’t ever get better. So I think starting earlier and having those conversations and and you probably you know, I’m a big fan of Girl Scouts, same thing, where they talk like the whole entire cookie program for Girl Scouts is at is all about business ownership. I was helping my daughter with it, you learn about entering into inventory management, marketing, we went and did a SWOT analysis in the aisle as part of our badge earned. It was like love it phenomenal. Yeah. So build it in that early and I love that Girls Inc is doing that. And I love that you guys are participating in that. Tell me? What is something that you wish everybody knew about Seattle Chocolates like? Like, I don’t, you know, cuz sometimes everybody, okay, your chocolate company, your women owned, blah, blah, blah, those are all very forward facing. But oftentimes you’re like, boy, I really wish everybody knew blank.
Jean Joyce Thompson 37:06
about our company specifically.
Diana Fryc 37:07
Mm hmm. And that might not be something off the top of your head. You guys might be really transparent about all the things that are really, really important.
Jean Joyce Thompson 37:15
We’re working on that. But I guess this is one of those things that if you say it’s not necessarily believable, but what is true, and always has been about our company is that we will always do the right thing. It may cost us market share, it may cost us profitability. It often does, like a good example is our little twist strap truffles. They used to be in plastic. And I’m a tree hugger. I was like what? Oh, nobody’s doing. So we found there’s literally one vendor in the entire world and they’re in France that makes a compostable twist wrap no or a compostable substrate? Yes. Then our twist wrap vendor could buy Yes. And it’s made from eucalyptus tree sustainably grown eucalyptus tree No, put our twist wrap in your compost bin. It’ll disintegrate within five or six weeks. No, when we got that stuff. It was like it didn’t work very well on our machines. It was it’s different. Obviously, it’s a different tension, a different everything. And we had a lot of waste. And so my operation seems like this stuff is a twice as expensive. Be there’s waste associated with it. We can’t do it. And I’m like, Oh, yes, we can. And I’ll tell you why. Because if we don’t, then where’s the consumer gonna go? Right? Find the product? You know, it’s up to the businesses. Yep. To provide consumers with good choices. Yes, we’re making the man world so You’re darn right. We’re gonna do it if we don’t make as much money. Yes. Which is more important money or the planet?
Diana Fryc 38:39
Yes. I was just at a conference in New Orleans, a packaging conference about in environmental substrates and packaging. And the biggest thing that all and these are all multinationals that were there with Pepsi and Coca Duracell was their really big name brands. And the number one thing that was talked about is the CPG. Industry has made waste a consumer issue.
Jean Joyce Thompson 39:02
Yeah, we sample it or throw it away. Sorry. Yeah, our job,
Diana Fryc 39:07
but we don’t make it easy for him. That’s the thing is we put our little chasing triangle on it. And there you go. But sometimes it’s multi, you know, multi, material packaging or all of the things
Jean Joyce Thompson 39:21
and so it’s such a fun story to tell you on this. So there’s a woman oh my god, what was her name? It’ll come to me. Okay. Um, she wrote me a letter and she wrote it longhand. And she included one of my bar wrappers. This is a few years ago, and she said, this is garbage. And I’m like, Ah, felt like a hate crime. And then I read on and she was explaining that it’s got like a plastic layer on top of the paper which is keeping it from being recyclable. Well, luckily, we never said it was recyclable, but I thought it was Yeah, assign it to her Betty. Her name was Betty. And I said, Betty, thank you so much for reaching out but it actually I first I checked with my you know, yes, vendor and they’re like, Yeah, It is, as it actually is Betty. And she responded back an email. And she said, I didn’t want to say, but I’ve worked my entire career at the Oregon, you know, recycle plant. And I know that it’s not. Right. I reached out to my vendor. I’m like, Betty says, and they were like, oh, yeah, by the time you would hear the plastic rights for both the plastic and the paper are recycled, but together, they’re not. I’m like, Well, that’s an important detail. Yes. So it took us about a year to source a paper that was going to be heavy enough, that’s not going to get torn at relay. Right. Right. Right considerations. And we did it. And I wrote Betty a note. And I said, just so you know, took me a year. But I figured it out. And thank you for telling me. So I didn’t know I was told otherwise. Yeah. She said she was stressed out. She’s a teacher like an Oregon universal. My goodness. She’s now going to use it as a case study. Yes. communicating with people or whatever. Yeah. So it’s, it’s one of those fun, like, do the right thing. Exactly. Yes. Yeah. Well, yay, Betty. Yay, Betty. Yeah. And yeah, you for doing something because you could have easily just
Diana Fryc 41:06
decided to do this. It’s gonna cost me two more cents per unit. Sorry, you know, could very easily
Jean Joyce Thompson 41:12
so does matter in the world of chocolate bars. Yes. So thank you.
Diana Fryc 41:17
Thank you for doing something about that. Well, so what’s next for you? What’s next for Seattle Chocolates or jcoco? What’s exciting? What can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
Jean Joyce Thompson 41:27
Well, the big thing this year was the Girls Inc, launch for sale. Okay. And we also have like a new bar called the sunshine bar, which is Cheerios. It’s not Yes, I
Diana Fryc 41:36
saw that on your website, how
Jean Joyce Thompson 41:37
to clean ingredients. But yeah, you know, honey, nut cheerio bar, and it’s really all about, like, you know, sending a sentiment of your sunshine to somebody, we also are updating. So that’s kind of one of the things that we’ve done. That’s a bit unique to us, although people are copying. And that is a sentiment bar. So you’re going to spend $4.50 on a chocolate bar. Oriental spent $7 on a card that you’re gonna throw in the recycle brain. They both say happy birthday or thank you or you are sunshine. So that’s a new line. I mean, the new Happy Birthday, thank you and celebrate bars are going to be new in a couple of months. Okay, I have some really exciting things, but it’s too soon to say Oh,
Diana Fryc 42:14
okay. And then um, when When? When? summer
Jean Joyce Thompson 42:18
this year, okay. Yeah. Okay. this year and next year. Okay. And then, for jcoco, we just finished doing a complete remodel on that brand after 10 years. And it starts shipping in September, okay, in October of 2021. And it’s all Peruvian chocolate that are unique blends of these Peruvian beans, to us, partnering with a world class, chocolate maker down in Lima, which is unusual for the chocolate makers to be in the same place as the beans and be good. And so that one is really exciting. And we we have an 85% That’s a single variable. Yes, very often. And it’s so delicious. So love it. Yeah, the taste innovation. There has been amazing, huh?
Diana Fryc 43:03
Thank you. So as we start wrapping up our time together, I just want to thank you again, for just really all this work that you’re doing out in the marketplace. I’m playing with my hair here. I don’t know why, but I’m good getting really comfortable with you. I love it when my guests share kind of a fun, interesting, I like it call it a cocktail. Fact or happy hour. Fact. Do you have anything that you can share about either Seattle Chocolate or just the chocolate industry in general?
Jean Joyce Thompson 43:38
Yeah, I think chocolate is the suit so little is known. I mean, you do have more knowledge than most people but so there’s always lots of little tidbits that people don’t know. Right. So chocolate is America’s favorite flavor, huh? Yeah, no one even comes close. Vanilla is the next closest, and cacao which is the root seed for chocolate. Is the food highest and antioxidants of any food on the planet for walnuts higher than blueberries higher than Acai Berries higher than all of those higher than kale.
Diana Fryc 44:10
Jean Joyce Thompson 44:12
no, no, you’d love your kale. You’d rather that than a chocolate bar. But I’m telling you, I’m empowering you to eat chocolate. Excellent. Just eat it with a higher percent cacao and you’ll get more of the good stuff.
Diana Fryc 44:21
Okay. Wonderful. I and I will take that to heart believe me. Now, I wonder Are there any of you know, this show is about elevating women leadership in CPG? Are there any women leaders or rising stars out there that you would like to elevate or just simply admire for the work that they’re doing?
Jean Joyce Thompson 44:41
Yeah, we just did a partnership, a collaboration I should say with Trade Street jams, which is a New York company and their founder is Ashley Rouse, and she herself is a chef. And so she applies her expertise and knowledge and inspiration around food to her jams such as some unlikely pairings and they’re really, really delicious. So it reminded us a lot of jcoco. So we did a jcoco and Trade Street Jam collaboration, but she’s, she also we felt a synergy with her because she helps kids, she underprivileged kids, she teaches them how to make jam. They’re just really on with them. And then if she has any sort of residual jam, she donates it to less fortunate people kind of along the same lines as what we do. Yeah. Yeah. So we really admire her. We think her product is great. And she’s a woman of color running a company. So that’s rare.
Diana Fryc 45:39
Wonderful. Yeah, that is really rare as we were talking about before we started recording. Thank you for sharing that. Well, we’ve been talking with Jean Thompson, owner and CEO of Seattle Chocolate company, Jean, where can people learn more about you and your company’s?
Jean Joyce Thompson 45:54
Our website, Seattlechocolate.com. And we’d love more followers on Instagram and Twitter. It’s @Seattlechocolate. And on Facebook and Pinterest is @Seattlechocolate. So join us we have some gorgeous photography that
Diana Fryc 46:10
yes, Uri. Yeah, yes, you do. Thank you for your time today. Jean. I’m so happy to spend this time with you and look forward to seeing what’s next. And I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled. It’ll be hard not to Seattle Chocolates here in the Seattle marketplace are everywhere. Literally. You can’t miss them. And so be fun to see what happens in the next year. And I want to thank all of you listeners for your time today. If you’d like this episode with Jean please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Gooder Podcast. Thank you Diana.
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