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Paula: On Production

It’s early January, and our Production team is already well  into making chocolate. You might guess that we’d spend this entire month creating our chocolate production plan for the year...

It’s early January, and our Production team is already well  into making chocolate. You might guess that we’d spend this entire month creating our chocolate production plan for the year — but in fact, we just spent the last ten months of 2023 creating a detailed outline for the entirety of 2024. How do we ensure that we meet our production goals? What are our number goals for the next month, six months, year? What are we excited about?

Here to shine a light on our pressing production questions is our Director of Production, Paula, who heads our seventeen-person 16th Street Chocolate Making team.

How was 2023 for production?  Can you share some highlights?

It’s been a busy year — we’ve made the most chocolate in the history of the company. Our team has grown from six at the beginning of the year to seventeen. And everyones hard efforts have made this year really successful. That’s not to say that we didn’t have any challenges: A conche broke, causing two hundred forty kilos of chocolate to spill on the floor (we have photos to prove it). Pumps clogged, and foil crinkled on our packaging machine. It certainly keeps our days interesting. But on the other side of these crazy moments, our team is strong, dedicated, and always ready to work with the flow, re-focus while finding new learning opportunities along the way. 

It’s the first week of January. How does Production make a yearly plan? Where do you start?

It takes a team beyond just our core Production team. Christina, our Program Manager; Dave, Senior VP of Revenue; Greg and Ron, Chocolate Sourcerers; and myself think through: What origins do we make? How many beans do we have to buy and store? How many bars, chips, how much ground chocolate, and when do we produce it all? Many meetings, brainstorming sessions, and spreadsheets keep us in check.

I start to think, what will make our team successful? How many beans can we sort a week, how many conches can we make a week, how do we schedule everyone. I work closely with the team to make sure our day to day can be achieved and that the big plan makes sense for our on the floor operations.  

How do you organize the team to start working on such a detailed, complicated production plan? Who does what? 

We have a really skilled group of chocolate makers and packaging team members. Our processes are broken down into sections: sorting, roasting, refining, and all the way to packaging our chocolate. Every part matters in the process, so we know how much to sort, roast, and eventually have all the molten chocolate that we need to meet the plan goals. We break down the big goal number (say in a two-week period), and we know what we have to do daily for each team member. Most importantly we make sure that within our daily process of making chocolate, we have fun.

Like what kind of fun?  

Recently we went to see the new Wonka movie as a team !! 

We visit other makers and not just chocolate makers: ice cream, ceramics, etcetera, and we learn their production processes, which is very insightful and refreshing. We host education classes on chocolate, where we dive deeper into what makes chocolate so incredibly fascinating. Team members visit origin to meet the producers and get to spend time on the farms. We have team lunches, and big bean awards! 

How many origins do we have planned for 2024, and anything new?

At the 16th street factory, we have fifteen countries we are working with this year. At Valencia, we have six new origins, plus four special projects planned. Countries we are excited about this year are Mexico, Thailand, the return of Venezuela and Brazil, and of course Hawai’i. 

What makes the production team special?

High standards, a lot of care, a sense of humor, and having each others’ backs. We have full transparency in our team — the goals are clear and that is so important to me. It’s a physical environment and not always easy, but every team member works together to produce incredible chocolate. Let’s not forget that we eat a lot of chocolate everyday.

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