Cowgirl Chocolates was started in 1997 by Marilyn Lysohir and her husband, Ross Coates. Marilyn and Ross are artists and devote much of their time to their artistic endeavors. Marilyn is a ceramicist and lecturer who is internationally known and has a successful ceramic art business. Ross is a sculptor and a professor of fine arts at a nearby University. As a labor of love, Marilyn and Ross began publishing a once-a-year arts magazine called High Ground. More a multimedia product than a magazine, the 600-copy production of this product does not pay for itself, so Marilyn and Ross have continually sought other ways to provide income to cover the costs of production for High Ground. Cowgirl Chocolates began as one of those ways.
Marilyn had experience working with chocolate and, in a prior job, created chocolate sculptures. From this experience, she saw the love people have for chocolate. Because of her love for hot and spicy foods, her brother suggested she combine hot and spicy with chocolate and develop a product. She began experimenting with different combinations and recruited neighbors, friends and acquaintances to try her creations and give her feedback. She received mixed responses – many enjoyed the hot and spicy chocolates, while some felt the combination didn’t work or that they were too spicy. Marilyn was able to find a local candy company to produce the chocolates in quantity and, with that, Cowgirl Chocolates was born.
Cowgirl Chocolates’ motto – “Sissies Stay Away” – matches the image of the company’s logo. Looking tough, May Lillie, a turn-of-the-century cowgirl, graces the packaging of every Cowgirl Chocolates product looking down the barrel of a pistol.
Cowgirl Chocolates offers a variety of products including individually wrapped truffles, chocolate bars and a hot caramel dessert sauce. The truffles are available in chocolate, mint, orange, lime tequila and espresso. All of these truffles are hot and spicy, with espresso being the hottest. Truffles can be purchased in gift boxes, in drawstring muslin bags, or in a collectible tin. They can also be ordered in a plain plastic bag. The ¼ - pound muslin bag is the most popular truffle product making up 16 percent of total revenues, while the ½ - pound tin makes up 12 1
percent of revenues. A sampler bag made up of four assorted hot truffles makes up 7 percent of total sales. Overall, truffles make up 40 percent of the company’s total revenues. Spicy Chocolate Truffle Bars are sold individually and come in two varieties – orange espresso or lime tequila crunch. Sales of this product account for 50 percent of total revenues. The Hot Caramel Dessert Sauce is sold by the jar and equates to 10 percent of total revenues. The company’s retail pricing is set to achieve an average gross profit margin of 65 percent after ingredients and packaging. Although gift boxes, buckets, and baskets make up a small percentage of total truffle sales, these items are made up of a combination of existing truffle and bar products, so the additional cost to the company is the cost of the box, bucket or basket. Cowgirl Chocolates has won numerous awards in both the Fiery Food Challenges and the Scovie Award Competitions held annually. Additionally, the company’s distinctive product packaging has won several awards. Although the company has had some success with its hot and spicy product line, many potential wholesalers and customers have commented that the product is too spicy. With this in mind, Marilyn is in the process of developing a “mild-mannered” truffle without the spice.
The market for chocolate is vast. Gift baskets are popular purchases, especially around the holidays, and Cowgirl Chocolates has positioned its product as a gift-type purchase. Yet, while the market for chocolate is large, the market for spicy chocolate is markedly smaller. While doing initial product testing, Marilyn discovered this...
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