First off - thanks. We are overwhelmed with what has happened over the past 90 days.
Let's see, over 3,000 school kids have toured the factory, eaten chocolate and gotten a glimpse into a small team making some of the best chocolate around. We've created 45 new chocolates this year, added 50 new retailers and exhibited over 250 events in 2017.
Prior to Kyya, we spent 25 years in manufacturing, sales, engineering and operations (XBOX), which has given us a unique perspective to create a innovate true factory (with 7 chocolate conches/machines and 2 more on order). We built our own cacao roaster because we had built custom ovens at Baxter Healthcare early in our career and wanted to bring that technology to chocolate. We built our own winnower because quite frankly most commercially available stuff was junk.
We knew Master Brothers, Amano, Vosges, Askinoise, Olive and Sinclair and Tcho that had blazed trails before us. We knew we had to take a different path otherwise we would be one of the 100 or so copycats out for a quick buck.
And we came from a different place. Having 4 adopted daughters and spent 2 decades helping in orphan and adoption groups, ministries and non-profits. Our hearts were broken in 2012 in the midst of a slum in Kampala while serving on the board of a non-profit trip we took over the holidays. We had to do "something" more than a monthly donation and so we chose chocolate, but the chocolate would have to have our signature on it, not a copycat.
We spent 6 months doing batch after batch, understanding the chemistry, learning the delicacies of roasting, winnowing and recipes and pairing/flavors of chocolate. Learning the origin notes and searching for documentation that just didn't exist. We're not coming from pastry/culinary background. We're about the long game - foodies first, manufacturing people second with 10+ years of sales experience. We love meeting people, sharing what we learned in the 1500+ batches of chocolate we made in 2017.
But all that didn't satisfy people who love to create. So we started a custom bar program. Our first custom bar was for the Breast Center (MANA) - a fundraiser bar, then the JBU bars, and now it's 8-10 custom bars each month. We love the custom bars because 1) it's creative 2) deadline teach us process and program management and 3) we get to partner with other cool folks.
We invested in a digital printing press so that we had agility, giving us the ability to create custom packaging at a cost effective process without requiring ridiculous quantity minimums printers sometimes require.
Another thing that is interesting is how we measure things - it used to be bars, the first week we sold chocolate 20 bars (all we could make). Earlier this year, we changed from bars to weight - November was just a shade over 1.5 Metric tons. We changed it because we don't make just bars anymore and this is a better way to summarize - except we still mold and package each of our bars by hand.
Which brings us to the last 60 days. In early November, we started saturating NWA, and so now we are setting a new radius to "Share our Passion". and then these last 2 weeks have been crazy at events and in Elm Springs. Thanks for supporting our vision, thanks for stopping by and thanks for playing Mama Kyya contests. We still have a week to before Christmas and plenty of chocolate being made daily until we get to December 25th.
We won't forget our humble beginnings at the Bentonville Farmer's Market, where we heard the question every week "what's new"? That will always be part of our DNA.
One last thing, we're not great marketers. But we are some of the most passionate people you will ever meet. Because it's about the chocolate, not some tag phrase or graphic. We just love creating chocolate. And there's one more bar introducing soon, it's the "Andy". Andy is one of our biggest fans and his bar will be an 88% Bold Dark Chocolate with Blueberries, Cranberries and sliced almonds. Andy bought so many of these - we are going to name a bar after him so that others can enjoy his creation.
Happy Holidays from the entire Team at Kyya Chocolate.
We make or craft chocolate, starting with cacao beans from 12 countries, and follow a 12 step process converting beans to various forms of chocolate. We are FDA approved food manufacturer. We make 104 unique bars, each with subtle nuances and variations you will only find in hand crafted chocolate manufacturing. Each step builds on the previous, and with minimal automation, most are done by hand including the molding and packaging.
Why artisan you might ask? Because the big chocolate companies have equipment that is cost prohibitive and doesn't make financial sense until you get to a bigger operation.
How do you compete with the larger companies? We can't and don't. We have to find other ways to provide unique offerings apart from the herd. One way is diverse offerings, unique beans, unique flavor combinations and lots of innovation, similar to what you would expect out of a small cheese, beer or wine manufacturer. And we sample lots of chocolate - at last count we have given out over 50,000 samples in 2017 and still have most of December to hand out more.
How is Kyya Different? We spent 18 years in Tech and our family has been in the food business for decades. We take the approach that innovation is the only path to stand out from the crowd. We have introduced at least one new product every month since inception. We believe in trying new things and failing forward (meaning you learn from your mistakes). We were geeks before we started this journey and have become certified Chocolate Geeks over the past 5 years. We also knew that there are thousands of chocolate companies around the world, so we better be innovators or we will end up looking like a copycat. We even invested in our own digital printing press because the "art" doesn't stop at the chocolate, the package has to be world class because that is what initially catches your eye.
What's the best part of your day? This one is easy. We love meeting a new customer at an event, farmer's market or at the factory and sharing our passion for chocolate. Sharing the tasting notes of one of our chocolates and watching the look on their face as we describe the flavors and textures to a "T". We are not snobs around here, we love to educate and share what we learn through the monthly challenges of making 1.5 metric tons of chocolate.
Why Elm Springs? Our founders spent 20+ years in Tech (General Electric, Microsoft, Dell, VMware) and 10 years in pharmaceuticals (Baxter, Boehringer Ingelheim). They traveled extensively and wanted to create one of those places that would be unique find on a lesser traveled back road. We found an old gas station in Elm Springs that we renovated into Arkansas' first chocolate factory. It's not pretty, but it was cheap and we spent the money on the best raw materials in the world, equipment, high quality process rather than some glass enclosed stainless steel fancy places where it was about the perception rather than the chocolate.
What about the Chocolate? Kyya produces chocolate in small batches, taking 72 hours (3 days) to make each batch using traditional methods. Most mass produced chocolate is made in 4 hours and no one touches the chocolate at any step in the process. We source our beans directly where possible, improving the farmer's wage and leverage our skills running logistics at XBox. Close to starting our sixth year, we still don't have any automated molding or packaging....yet. Our chocolate makers still hand infuse each bar (like our Sea Salt and Almond Bar and our wildly popular new offering Sweet Caramel and Sea Salt. Something is working, because we now can say "award" winning chocolates!
What about the name? Kyya comes from the original Greek name KAIA, and means simple or pure. We'll talk in a separate blog about our mission, but our chocolate is simple and pure and we continue to learn more every day here in Elm Springs.
Who is Mama Kyya? She is our leader and visionary. Mama loves chocolate, has four amazing daughters, is a great friend and guides the team, but one of the hardest servant leaders we have ever met.
What else? Stop by - there is nothing like experiencing the vast collection of Kyya chocolates and make sure to ask what's new - we're always creating something new..
Last Wednesday was Peppermint Chocolate molding day in the shop. We make a lot of White and Dark Peppermint infused chocolates around the holidays and well, to be honest, it can get a wee bit boring pumping out 250 peppermint bars in a row.
I have some good friends who are "in the fruit business" and we got to talking about oranges and bananas Tuesday afternoon.
Tuesday evening, I was having "fruity dreams", probably to get my mind off the peppermint. During my dreams I started thinking about "smashing" in fruity flavors to our chocolate. Lots of our single origin chocolates have fruity notes, but could we put the fruit in the bar?
We got up early last Wednesday morning to knock out the peppermint bars. We started molding peppermint at 4AM and by 8AM, the peppermint bars were molded and we began experimenting with what is now called the "Fruit Implosion".
We decided to create a trio of flavors; Tangerine, Mango and Pineapple in a dark chocolate. Since we were combining rather than blowing up, the word implosion kept coming to mind (instead of explosion). We let customers sample a few bars on Friday. By mid-day, we had a winner. We sold all the bars we made that morning, and we knew it was time to share with all of you. Next time you are in the shop, look for this package.
Enjoy the chocolate, we love sharing our passion !!!
At Kyya we are always studying chocolate in every possible angle. It's our tech background. We were kicking around some numbers today and something caught our attention. There's a trend going on around the industry where folks shrink the bar and add "new packaging". People look at the packaging and miss the price hike.
While you might not think about it at first, this is a bad and the loser is you. The calculated rate for some of these bars is upwards of $68 per pound. Take a 2oz bar at $8.50/bar and multiple by 8. Anyone knowingly pays $68/pound for chocolate should also consider some swamp property for sale in Florida. Heck even the best Jamaica Blue Mountain Estate Coffee costs $59/pound. "Caveat Emptor"
We are excited to have six (6) new origins inbound to the shop, and really seven, because we have a new Uganda farm origin, that just might arrive by the end of the month. While many in the chocolate world try to find the "perfect" number (the ratio of chocolate to sugar), we approach the process a little differently.
First step in the process is to test roast a few batches in our purpose built roaster (our founder was an electrical robotics engineer and a pharmaceutical process engineer in a previous life). He hates off the shelf equipment which limits innovation and process options. Our roaster lets us gently bring flavors to the surface that standard approach just cannot accomplish.
From there we winnow and start making test batches of chocolate. While we have nailed the process on the first batch, it normally takes 3-5 batches before we figure out the "recipe". btw: our Sugar free and patented wine infused chocolate took over 2 years of development. You gotta love product development to pursue a goal for 2+ years in a era of instant gratification.
Once we nail down the process - then we make a 72.5% Midnight Dark Chocolate. While you can pick any chocolate darkness, this has become our standard for our dark chocolate (7 single origins on the counter today). This approach gives us a apples to apples comparison between chocolates and helps us see if we also want to make the origin in our other darknesses. We found that our new Colombian Origin was very good for our 33% milk chocolate, because we you can taste the honey and molasses notes in addition to the underlying cane sugar.
There are a smorgasbord of single origins chocolates we are adding to the lineup this month ( in addition to our Uganda, Madagascar, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica).
Theobroma BiColor - #1
Philippine - #2
Our original vision coming home on the plane 5 years ago was to find 40 single origins chocolates, and while not every relationship and lead works out, we have made 23 unique single origin chocolates (missing are Haiti, Belize, Papua New Guinea of the 85 or so we believe are there to bring home.