Even a business as basic as chocolate can get awfully complicated awfully quick. There are multinational giants (Mars, Nestlé) and big brands (Godiva, Hershey's). And then there's Joseph Schmidt Confections — a fast-growing company that is simple by design.
Since 1983, San Francisco-based Schmidt and his team of chocolatiers have created and hand-painted millions of works of edible art. His large truffles — which sell to the tune of 14 million pieces a year — are 1.5-ounce concoctions of the smoothest Belgian chocolate. Schmidt's other trademark items, such as disc-like "slicks" and small square "mosaics," are studies in abstract expression featuring hand-painted strokes of chocolate color.
Schmidt's business success is as sweet as his products. The company sells two million pounds of chocolate each year through 7,000 retail outlets. Revenue has been growing at an average annual rate of more than 15%. Schmidt believes in the power of common sense to drive his business. "I create the chocolate and the simple directions to help my staff re-create it," he says. "That's my mantra: Make it simple. Make it successful."
And package it just right. Each group of chocolates comes in handmade boxes from places such as Bali, France, and India. The boxes, like the chocolates, change with the season. This Valentine's Day, shoppers will find chocolate treasures tucked away in luscious lip-shaped and adorable teddy-bear cases.
Schmidt's one retail store can be found in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood. The store is worth a visit not just for the gift boxes, but also the three-foot-tall chocolate replicas of buildings from the city's skyline. "If you see someone walking around San Francisco with a smile, you know that their love life is great or that they've been eating something from Joseph Schmidt Confections," explains the company's founder.
Visit Joseph Schmidt Confections on the Web (www.etruffle.com).
A version of this article appeared in the February 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.