PHOTO by Clare Barboza

“Vermont Chocolatiers Turn a Promising Product into a Business”

by Amanda Kuhnert

With a shared background in the arts, biology, and chemistry, John Singer and Dar Tavernier-Singer were fascinated by the chocolate-making process. Dar, a life-long baker and chocolatier, began experimenting with truffle-making in the couple’s home kitchen. One thing led to another—holiday gifts for friends followed by a dessert catering gig or two, and voila, a veritable chocolate-making business was born. Or at least the makings of one.

The couple knew their product had a rightful place in Vermont’s specialty foods market. Tavernier Chocolates are handcrafted in small batches, using all-natural ingredients and aromatic fruits and herbs, like wild mint and calendula flower, collected from nearby farms and woodlands. But building a viable business would require more than a saleable product. 

Dar and John needed help getting their business idea off the ground. So, in 2014, they reached out to the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC). “We had years of business experience between us, but had never started our own company,” Dar said. “We wanted to tap into the knowledge base and great ideas our VtSBDC advisors have given us.”

VtSBDC advisor Debra Boudrieau helped the Tavernier-Singers walk through some of the critical decision-making and planning involved in bringing a new product to market: pricing and costing, financial planning, creative branding and marketing, and market segment distribution. Even today, several years later, the couple continues to meet with Boudrieau on a quarterly basis to plan for their next phase of business development. 

“Working with our VtSBDC advisors has helped us through early pivots and growth, and kept us focused on the goals we set for ourselves,” Dar said. “Their experiences as business owners and entrepreneurs have translated into real, working tools and advice that we can use, as well as creative inspiration. We really value our sessions and feel they’ve contributed to our success–VtSBDC is our partner!”

Dar and John are “an advisor’s dream,” according to Boudrieau. “They are so smart and so creative and so willing to roll up their sleeves and strategize,” she said. “The specialty food market is not an easy one; it’s highly competitive and complex, and they are consistently meeting the challenge both from a business/production systems side and the full-on, amazing way Dar approaches chocolate.”

This fall Dar was featured in the magazine “Where Women Work.” And she was recently asked to join other major chocolatiers on a trip to South America to explore new sourcing opportunities. “They are growing all the time,” Boudrieau said.

To learn more: tavernierchocolates.com.