Ready to try air-filled chocolate? Paul Pruett sure hopes so. He is the co-founder and CEO of Bubble Chocolate, a Salem, Massachusetts–based company that makes aerated chocolate bars. The hundreds of tiny air bubbles in each bar create an unusual texture. Pruett got hooked on aerated chocolate about a decade ago, while attending business school in England, where the confection is ubiquitous. When he couldn't find the treat back in the U.S., he decided to create his own.
A 2.8-ounce bar of milk or dark Bubble Chocolate retails for about $3. The bars are made in Belarus, using a high-quality European cocoa. Since launching in October, Pruett has been able to get Bubble Chocolate onto the shelves of more than 1,000 retailers -- mostly independent stores, but also a few large chains like Whole Foods. So far, he hasn't done much marketing except for some in-store demonstrations. How can Pruett persuade Americans to pay a premium for chocolate pumped full of air? We asked four entrepreneurs to weigh in.
Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of WineLibraryTV.com, a wine review site based in Springfield, New Jersey
Pruett should have an employee or intern devoted to social media. Instead of posting press releases on Facebook and Twitter, tell the Bubble Chocolate story. Search for people talking about chocolate on Twitter. Interact with them and tell them about Bubble Chocolate. Anytime someone discusses the brand on Twitter, someone from Bubble Chocolate should respond. It's a huge opportunity to engage customers and create word of mouth, which will translate into sales.
Robert Ehrlich, CEO of Pirate Brands, the Sea Cliff, New York–based maker of Pirate's Booty and other snacks
This is a premium product adults would enjoy, and it should be promoted that way. Pruett should go to high-end retailers and do actual tastings. Walk people through how to eat Bubble Chocolate -- by letting it rest on their tongues until it melts -- to get the full experience. Explain how it's like drinking champagne: Gulping doesn't let you get the full flavor. Make Bubble Chocolate a sophisticated indulgence, and adults will get hooked.
Guy Barnett, founder of The Brooklyn Brothers, an advertising agency based in New York City
Because this is a different kind of chocolate, Pruett needs to create some excitement and get people talking. Show people the power of having air in chocolate by floating a big hot-air balloon with your logo on it in 10 of the biggest U.S. cities. Pruett could even hold a contest in each city and offer a ride in the Bubble Chocolate balloon as a prize. While it's in the air, have a street team hand out samples or hand out helium balloons with the company logo. The sight of hundreds of balloons will have people asking what Bubble Chocolate is, which is exactly what you want.
John Scharffenberger, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, a high-end chocolate company that was acquired by Hershey
If Pruett wants the world to know about Bubble Chocolate, he needs to approach the tastemakers: the food media. Hire a PR agency that specializes in food and has good connections. Instead of sending samples to editors, Pruett should schedule 10-minute meetings, so he can show them how to taste it. In-person meetings will also allow Pruett's passion about the chocolate to come through, which makes the product even more appealing.
Pruett likes the idea of making in-store demos more like wine tastings. He agrees that Bubble Chocolate should do more on Facebook and Twitter. He plans to meet with a social-media strategist. Pruett won't, however, be renting a hot-air balloon just yet. "It's expensive, and our immediate goal is to increase distribution," he says. "Balloons would get attention, but we'd have limited places where people could buy the chocolate." Pruett does use a PR firm, and he says he will try to meet editors: "I haven't had time, but as we increase distribution, I can put more energy into that."