When the pandemic shut things down in March 2020, Jacek Chocolate Couture was forced to shift its business online like so many others. Owner Jacqueline Jacek recalls wondering whether people would still be seeking out the company's products during that time.
"When the pandemic started, we thought, 'Who is going to be buying luxury high end chocolate?'", she told Taproot. "But our core purpose of spreading joy is what made the difference."
Early on, the company launched a campaign allowing customers to send sweet hugs to loved ones, offering chocolates with messages such as 'thinking of you' and 'virtual hugs'. "More than ever, we see people sending love and joy through chocolate," said Jacek. "In seasons where they couldn't catch up with people, people are choosing Jacek to spread joy."
Jacek Chocolate is among the few chocolate suppliers in the province to have achieved certification by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, enabling the company to ship its products across the country. This was especially important in the pandemic, as demand for Jacek's chocolate has grown Canada-wide.
Jacek Chocolate also had to shift its popular chocolate tastings to a virtual model, where chocolates are now shipped to attendees prior to the session. While Jacek won't rule out a return to in-person events in the future, there are certain advantages to the online model. "It breaks down geography," said Jacek. "Now we can present to guests across Canada."
The company did have to make some significant changes as a result of these shifts, including closing its 104 Street boutique in May 2020. In hindsight, Jacek acknowledges that it was the right call.
"When the pandemic hit, we didn't know it would last two years," said Jacek. "But it wasn't like we had to pull our brand completely, as we are still downtown through retail partnerships like Credo."
Last week, the business announced that its beloved advent calendars sold out online in less than two days. Even Jacek couldn't pinpoint the reason behind the frenzy. "It was our eighth year [of offering advent calendars], and they usually sell out in two weeks," said Jacek.
The business is not publicly sharing the numbers of calendars being produced, but Jacek did say the quantity exceeds previous years. "Our real struggle is that we don't freeze the chocolates; we make them à la minute, and they are hand packaged," said Jacek. "That is our true limitation and we'd have to compromise."
For those disappointed that they weren't able to reserve a calendar, Jacek Chocolate is in the process of readying other special holiday products, including egg nog meltaways and limited edition hand-painted chocolate ornaments. Customers are encouraged to join the mailing list as subscribers are notified about new items first.
Jacek said she has learned a lot about her business over the last two years.
"One of the biggest lessons was simplification," said Jacek. "And really understanding what your core business is and focusing on that."