Missouri Business Owner Brings Sweet Success
COLUMBIA - If chocolate is the way to a woman's heart, Alan Patric McClure thinks that path to love should be a little more refined.
McClure is the brains behind Patric Chocolate, a mid-Missouri business experiment that brought the gospel of better sweets to mouths across the U.S. and small business success to the community.
"Don't think of what we do as chocolate in the way you are familiar with chocolate, but rather think about it as something like coffee, something like craft beer, something entirely different," McClure said. "It's something where a lot of care is put into it, where quality is of foremost importance to us."
That commitment to a better artisanal chocolate bar transformed his business from a one-man operation into one that sold a quarter of a million dollars worth of chocolate in 2011, doubling his sales from 2010.
The University of Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers (SBTDC) helped McClure build a business framework to set realistic goals and make accurate financial projections.
"We help small businesses like Patric Chocolate with one-on-one counseling, take them through the process of writing a business plan, look at the financial start-up costs, and estimate sales and expense projections to decide whether a business can be profitable," said Virginia Wilson, a counselor with MU Extension's SBTDC.
Fresh out of college, the religious studies major knew he was interested in food and, in particular, chocolate. Two years spent in France after college exposed the Kansas City native to the art, flavors and variations that chocolate could offer to a person's palate.
"I never had French chocolate, never had a lot of their brands, and when I was able to try them in France it really opened my eyes," McClure said. "[Cocoa] beans have all those flavors inherent in them based on the variety and also the post-harvest processing."
After he returned to the U.S., he was hooked on the concept, and spent much of his first year perfecting his process. Wilson helped McClure refine his business plan, using financial tools to develop realistic goals that took operational costs and cash flow into account. This work helped Patric Chocolate secure loans to get the business up and running.
"I did get loans because she told me how to get my financials in line in a form that would be decipherable by people at a bank," McClure said. "SBTDC really helped me through some tight spots to make my business as successful as it could be."
By mixing nibs with sugar, grinding the mix into a finer powder and conching - intense, heated mixing - his employees prepare the chocolate mix to be aged, tempered and molded into bars stamped with the Patric logo.
Now Patric produces 10 varieties of chocolate bars that sell online and in more than 40 local stores including Clovers, Hy-Vee, Root Cellar and World Harvest in Columbia.
Patric Chocolate has garnered national recognition, starting with being named "Best New American Chocolate" in 2010 by Food and Wine Magazine. Buzz from Forbes Magazine and national Good Food Awards in 2011 and 2012 followed. His bars now sell to consumers in 49 states and internationally.
McClure isn't the only small business reaping the benefits of MU Extension's help.
Missouri's economy generated $2.4 billion in economic impact from 2009-2011 thanks to the Business Development Program. It helped clients increase sales by $885 million, gain $978 million in government contracts and create or retain 35,008 jobs.