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Updated: May 15, 2023 On the record

On the Record: Westbrook’s Ragged Coast Chocolates expands into baking mixes

Photo / Jim Neuger Chocolatier Kate Shaffer displays a fresh batch of confections at the Ragged Coast Chocolates production facility in Westbrook. She and her husband, Steve Shaffer, have one full-time employee and two part-timers on staff.

Kate Shaffer owns and runs Ragged Coast Chocolates in Westbrook with her husband, Steve Shaffer. Mainebiz caught up with her to find out what the small business is up to and about its recent expansion into baking mixes for brownies, cake and scones.

Mainebiz: How do you keep your brand fresh in a crowded market?

Kate Shaffer: For me, keeping it ‘fresh’ means working with fresh seasonal ingredients. We source our produce, herbs, dairy and other ingredients straight from the farm. These are whole, unadulterated foods that vary in flavor and texture year after year. As the recipe developer, the challenge is creating a confection that communicates the same flavor and elicits the same pleasure that its counterpart did with last season’s raspberries, mint or apples. Some of our customers may detect slight differences year after year, and that’s a good thing. It’s a reminder that our chocolates are made by hand, from real things.

MB: What’s the breakdown of retail versus wholesale revenues?

KS: About 73% or our sales are direct to our end customer. The remaining 27% are wholesale, to retail stores in Maine, New England and across the country.

MB: How are corporate orders doing, and who are some of your customers?

KS: About 15% of our business-to-consumer sales (or just under 10% of our total sales) are to what we call our corporate customers. These are customers that purchase assortments regularly throughout the year for their business or institution-related functions or campaigns. For example, Bates College has its own customized Bates assortment, which includes chocolates decorated with their logo. Many of these clients are perennial. Some come to us with a one-time order for a large special event.

MB: What sparked your expansion into baking mixes?

KS: In 2019, I had the opportunity to visit Ecuador and meet not only the folks who make the chocolate that we use in our confections but also connect with the family farmers that grow the cacao, harvest the sugar cane, and run the Andes Mountain dairies that produce the milk for our milk and white chocolate. When I returned from South America, Steve and I decided to package the bulk chocolate for retail sale, so that we could share it with our customers, many of whom are home cooks and avid bakers. So many of those customers would ask me why more people didn’t know about it. And that’s when I decided I wanted to find a way to share these incredible products with home cooks in a way that was affordable, accessible and gratifying. Baking mixes are a great gateway to home baking.

MB: Who is your target consumer for the baking mixes?

KS: These are mixes for self-professed chocolate ‘snobs’ and passionate home cooks who may not have time to make a cake from scratch for their dinner party but need one that’s just as good as their best effort. It’s exactly the kind of mix that I would use if for some reason I couldn’t bake from scratch.

MB: Longer term, do you have any plans to expand into gluten-free or other mixes?

KS: We have plans to grow the baking mix line significantly in the next few years. We’ve just been awarded a CEI Tastemakers grant for marketing the line specifically through our ecommerce partners. And while I’ve learned over the years to never say never, the truth is, I’m a chocolate expert, not a gluten-free baking expert. I have a handful of tried-and-true gluten-free cake and pie recipes that I use at home, but it really isn’t my wheelhouse. That said, I hope to visit friends’ gluten-free kitchens for our YouTube channel, where they can teach us how to use our chocolate and cocoa powder in their favorite gluten-free recipes.

MB: Any supply-chain challenges during the pandemic?

KS: Yes, for paper goods and packaging. The supply chain is still very sluggish and lead times are quite a bit longer.

MB: What’s next for Ragged Coast Chocolates?

KS: We hope to grow our baking line. This seems like a scalable model for our maturing company, and it’s a fun project on a personal level as well. We also hope to keep improving our digital presence.

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