Innovation in the chocolate industry has come a long way since the cocoa bean was discovered. In the Mayan and Aztec cultures, processing the cocoa bean involved harvesting the bean from the pods, fermenting the beans, roasting and grinding them into a paste that could not be done by hand. They had to use primitive tools to get the job done.
The process has not changed, but innovative techniques have been developed to increase production, keep the integrity of the product and produce a chocolate that consumers will enjoy.
Although Sarris Candies does not process the beans in our facilities in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, we do oversee the production of our chocolate and the sourcing of our beans and milk — two of the most important ingredients in our chocolate.
More equipment, same product
My father, Frank Sarris, started making chocolate in the basement of our home over 50 years ago. He had a small pot to melt the chocolate, a slab of marble to temper the chocolate, a couple of square flat trays lined with parchment paper to hand dip pretzels and nuts and, of course, a simple refrigerator to cool the product.
As the business grew, the pot turned into a chocolate melter, the marble slab was replaced with a marble table and a copper kettle and a gas cooker were added to make other products, such as caramel, creams and fondants. These innovations allowed him to employ people to hand dip these centers into finished chocolates.
Quality is always the key factor when looking to grow your business, so we purchased metal candy moulds in the shapes of Santas, Christmas trees, Easter bunnies and crosses. As a child, my job was to fill these moulds one at a time, place them in a cooler, remove them when they were ready and repeat the process.
As the business continued to grow, we moved from the basement and built a storefront, but now we could not produce enough product for the demand.
We had to go out and purchase a coating line that would replace hand dipping. This allowed us again to hire more employees to use the equipment to produce a more consistent-looking product without changing the quality.
Keep the integrity
I also traveled extensively to Europe to learn and develop equipment specific to our needs to be able to increase production, especially with seasonal solid chocolate figures and novelties. Today we produce over 3,500 types of chocolate items.
We now have over 19 production lines, 400-plus employees and 200,000 square feet of operating space, which is very different from the small basement where it all started. Yet our philosophy stays the same, to produce top-quality chocolates without changing the product to increase production.
We use innovative techniques,processes and equipment to help our employees do their jobs more efficiently without changing the integrity of our chocolates.
Bill Sarris is the President of Sarris Candies Inc. While focusing on growth in several areas, from fundraising programs to new retail territories and corporate sales, the Sarris family maintains the old-fashioned values and customer service standards set by the company’s founder, Frank Sarris.