Chocolatiers Pivot from Retail to Mail Order during Covid-19 Crisis

By Amanda Kuhnert

Less than three months ago, Dar and John Tavernier of Tavernier Chocolates, based in Brattleboro, Vt, relied on in-store sales for the bulk of their revenue. You could find their gourmet chocolates in shops and markets throughout the Northeast. Today, with diminished retail opportunities due to the Covid-19 crisis, their mail-order business has taken center stage.

“We’re fortunate that our mail order has picked up substantially, and that we have a loyal and growing customer base,” Dar said. “It’s been great to have our chocolate be a go-to gift for families and friends who are separated from loved ones, and the attached notes have been heartwarming.”

The couple has ramped up their social media presence to help drive mail-order sales and keep their customers informed about new products. “It’s a delicate balance to maintain with our customers—we’re dependent on their support, but know their resources are being strained just like ours are,” Dar said. “Hopefully by sharing our story and listening to theirs, we can offer some relief with our chocolates.” 

But the workload can be intense. Forced to lay off their two employees, the Taverniers now handle all aspects of the business themselves, from production to marketing to shipping. Easter and Mother’s Day were so busy that the pair could barely keep up with orders. Along with seasonal favorites, they continue to offer creative options, like their Forage Collection, chocolates blended with various mushrooms, and their Total Eclipse bon bons, featuring black garlic blended with chocolate. 

All the while, they’re adapting to a new business model and unpredictable market. “The types of chocolates we’re selling have changed, making it difficult to adjust to a demand we can’t predict,” Dar explained. “With short shelf-life items, such as filled chocolates, knowing when and how much to make has gotten skewed. It’s challenging!”

The couple is using past successes, in light of current realities, to inform their business decisions moving forward. “As summer has always been our most creative time due to the wealth of crops from our local farmers, we’ll be doing more special short-run boxes available for local pickup and shipping,” Dar said. She said they’re also exploring opportunities to collaborate with other local vendors to create co-promoted product packages. 

Support during challenging times

The Taverniers have been working with Debra Boudrieau, an advisor with the Vermont Small Business Development Center, since they launched their business in 2014. They’ve continued to lean on her for guidance and support during the current crisis. “She’s helped us through the constantly changing parameters of the EIDL and PPP programs in real time, and helped us view the balance between possible immediate financial help and future debt,” Dar said. 

“We’re all going to be walking a tightrope with very little practice, and it’s great to have someone there to advise us. Beyond that, we know we have an outlet to share the personal side of this crisis, how we’re holding up and getting on.”