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tinyB Chocolate Rolls Brigadeiros Virtual Team Building Experience to a Sweet Spot in the Boutique Chocolate Marketplace
In this season 3 episode of Back of the Napkin, Renata and Andrei Stoica from tinyB Chocolate in San Francisco, CA, share how they built a thriving online retail and virtual teambuilding business from a hand-rolled Brazilian delicacy and giving adults permission to “get messy.” Listen Now.
Cities across the globe delight with tasty treats unique to their culture and geography. Wisconsin churns cheese. Illinois delivers Chicago deep-dish pizza. Michigan plates up the Detroit coney. Brazil, the largest country in South America, rolls with the brigadeiro.
A brigadeiro is similar to – yet distinctly different from – fudge, ganache, a truffle, or a bonbon. The sweet, creamy, intensely flavored bite is perfect to scoop from a jar (spoons optional), gently shape into a ball, and roll in a variety of sweet or savory toppings.
Renata and Andrei Stoica, the husband-wife team behind tinyB Chocolate, introduced the Brazilian treat to residents and visitors to the San Francisco Bay area, and quickly expanded the business to 31,000 orders across 52 countries. Without question, tinyB Chocolate has found a sweet spot in the competitive boutique chocolate marketplace.
Don’t Touch the Brigadeiro!
Renata Stoica grew up in Brazil, and along with her sister, helped their young, single mother hand-make chocolate—more than 2,000 pounds annually—to support the family. She developed a lasting love for the craft and artistry of chocolate that’s extended through career stops as a registered nurse, realtor, and photographer. The life of a chocolatier ultimately lured Andrei from his career in the tech industry.
Renata and Andrei met in San Francisco, where Andrei was a tech entrepreneur and Renata was on sabbatical. About a year into their relationship, Andrei took a break from his company to go with Renata for an extended stay in Brazil. “I figured three months, learn a little bit about the culture, maybe pick up a little Portuguese,” said Andrei. “It was clearly a serious relationship, but we didn't quite know where it was going.”
Unbeknownst to Andrei, the relationship almost went down the drain when he tried to help by doing a bit of kitchen clean up. It turns out that in Brazil one man’s dirty pot is actually a receptacle of a woman’s tasty treat. A scream and gasp from Renata when she entered the kitchen startled and confused Andrei. “She had been thinking the entire day that she was going to come home and have that last spoonful of chocolate straight from the pot,” said Andrei. “And that's when I learned that a brigadeiro is very, very important to a Brazilian woman and her heart.”
To Andrei’s credit, he has never made that mistake again. As their time in Brazil continued, he also learned how important and popular the brigadeiro was to Brazilian culture, always present at weddings and birthdays. When they returned to the US about two and a half years later, Andrei planned on starting his next software company, but Renata thought about starting a chocolate company. “I thought, wow, that sounds so much more fun than software,” said Andrei.
Taking Their Business to Businesses
Taking a Brazilian delicacy and turning it into something that Americans can wrap their head around was a challenge, and it eventually took combining two disparate visions to make it work. “I just wanted to have a store or sell at weddings and parties,” said Renata. “You can have a brigadeiro at every single party you go to in Brazil and that's exactly what I wanted to do here.”
However, it was difficult to introduce the product and convince people to buy their chocolate, instead of all the other chocolates on the market. Andrei’s vision was to expand beyond the store. A thoughtful gift-giving to customers who referred other customers eventually opened the door to another avenue for growth.
An executive assistant at a company who received a gift asked whether they could teach a class on brigadeiros as a fun activity in a small meeting they were having. “At that point we were like, ‘Yeah, why not?’ We'll simplify it and offer it at this meeting," said Andrei. “They really liked it and they wanted it to be an event that they could offer to their employees. We switched away from the idea of selling truffles as gift boxes and more into an interactive experiential thing.”
The Pandemic and Virtual Team Building
Just as the business started to bloom, along came COVID-19, almost instantaneously ending the in-person brigadeiros experience. “I'll never forget getting one call after another from clients who all said, ‘Sorry, the event is off,’” said Andrei. “And then that was it, it was dead quiet. Dead quiet.”
Undeterred, Renata and Andrei imagined plan B. “We had to take a deep breath,” said Andrei. “And then we thought we could package this up in a box and mail it and that's how the DIY kits came into existence."
The idea was a winner. While many small businesses suffered, tinyB Chocolate struggled to meet demand. By the end of 2020, the business had grown tenfold.
The tinyB Chocolate team building experience differs from others in the category because there is no fancy corporate messaging, no hidden agenda to debrief, nothing that is masterfully facilitated to illicit responses from participants. People simply connect over chocolate and conversation.
“We saw the need in the market and it's exactly how we do it in Brazil,” said Renata. “We have people around the table and just get messy with chocolate. It's a way of bonding, creating good memories and disconnecting from the day-to-day work. Just have a good pause on the day and enjoy some good chocolate.”
A Path Forward Through Collaboration and Libations
With a solid foundation in place, Renata and Andrei continue to look for new ways to build on their success. One of the constant thoughts they have is “what if we combine a brigadeiro with…” That has led them down several paths and collaborations, one with a woman who builds wooden toys. “We're going to have a kit with chocolate and this wooden toy that's a tray and also a tic-tac-toe,” said Renata. “I'm really excited because I think kids are going to love to play with chocolate and the wooden tray that comes with it.”
Children, playing with chocolate and wooden toys? What’s not to love?
Moving to the other end of the spectrum, they are also looking to make some adult-friendly products for the holidays that add alcohol to the experience. The holiday kits are packaged with pipettes— similar to tiny turkey basters—used to fill the brigadeiro with a chosen libation.
“Imagine a chocolate shell that's about an inch, an inch and a quarter diameter and it's empty inside, but it's a hard shell,” said Andrei. “They are made by Valrhona, which is an excellent quality chocolate. You fill it with wine and then you wrap this brigadeiro chocolate on the outside and you bite into it and pop, you get all the wine and liquor that comes in your mouth. It is so yummy.”
Adults, playing with chocolate and liquor? Again, what’s not to love?
From humble beginnings of a man trying to help and clean a few dishes, tinyB Chocolate has risen to a successful business that continues to grow. And Andrei has probably never been asked to clean the kitchen since. Well played sir well played.
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