From precise performance characteristics to an Amazon storage exemption and the creation of a proprietary appliance, the SoChatti pouch is more than a novel gourmet chocolate experience.
Gourmet foods and pouches are an uncommon pairing. After years of research and development dedicated to product and packaging testing and packaging development of a unique gourmet chocolate, startup SoChatti went big by introducing the namesake product in squeezable pouches on Amazon in May 2018. The 8oz, 10-serving pouch retails for $17.95.
For the brand, it’s the only packaging that makes the product commercially possible and viable.
But development wasn’t all straightforward, in fact it may have been more complicated than anyone would have imagined — for example, there were 50 packaging variations. But thanks to the know-how and resilience of pouch supplier Glenroy and the brand, the result is a fascinating and complex success story.
Packaging Digest unpacks the company’s packaging journey with Matt Rubin, SoChatti founder and CEO, who also discloses the company’s exciting new portable format.
What distinguishes your product?
Rubin: SoChatti is an entirely new chocolate product made and packaged to preserve the rich, delicate flavors of chocolate that aren’t available in most chocolate products on the market today. SoChatti’s unique and innovative packaging is integral in enabling our company to create a new product category, which we’re calling Chocolate on Tap: Pure chocolate that contains only three pure ingredients and is made to be eaten melted.
Talk about the brand’s experience with flexible packaging.
Rubin: Our flexible packaging solution was an integral part in creating and launching our brand.
The SoChatti nozzled pouch package was our first custom-designed, flexible packaging product. It took more than two and a half years to develop from beginning to end. In the initial testing and development stages, we used existing flexible packaging options. As we developed our own flexible packaging for this product, we needed something that would preserve the delicate flavors and aromas of chocolate like nothing else on the market, yet also allowed our chocolate to melt and harden an unlimited number of times without affecting the quality and taste of the product.
The true magic of SoChatti’s flexible packaging is that it is both a pouch and dispenser that uniquely fit together while preserving and melting the chocolate. The pouch incorporates a channel into the seal area that interlocks with the SoChatti chocolate dispenser.
To melt the chocolate, the pouch is submersed in warm water or placed within the SoChatti Warmer, a countertop appliance we launched in early 2020 to keep the chocolate warm and ready for use. With minimal power and designed to take up limited countertop space, users can enjoy SoChatti chocolate whenever the craving strikes. The Warmer retails for $124.95.
With the convenient piping tip provided by the Aptar VersaSpout fitment, the melted chocolate can be dispensed directly from the pouch for use in baking, drizzled onto a favorite snack, or eaten on its own. The valve enables the chocolate to flow at the optimum pressure level to conveniently dispense the chocolate into a shot glass or onto a spoon to get their “fix”.
How unique is the pouch?
Rubin: SoChatti is the first real chocolate to use a flexible package. We aren’t a chocolate syrup, powder, or sauce. We’re pure chocolate made with only three ingredients: Cacao beans, cacao butter, and cane sugar. Within our packaging, our product is able to transform from a solid to melted chocolate, which initially posed a big challenge, However, we were successful and able to creat a new category we call “Tap Chocolate.”
What were your R&D challenges?
Rubin: We faced many challenges throughout the process of creating SoChatti. In fact, throughout its development, we tested more than 50 different packaging iterations! Since our product is made to be eaten melted, we had to identify the ideal pressure and temperature for chocolate to be dispensed through a nozzle. It turns out there is only about a 10-degree window, so we had to be precise. We also had to identify the proper level of vapor barrier to truly preserve the freshness of our chocolate. The structure of the packaging film we use provides a superior oxygen barrier and prevents oxygen from destroying the flavors characteristic of cacao beans originating from origins like Trinidad, Peru, Honduras, and other locations.
Prior to filling the pouch, SoChatti chocolate is outgassed using a proprietary process to remove any microscopic dissolved air bubbles and to adjust the aromatic profile of the product. The chocolate is then directly filled through the AptarGroup nozzle under high pressure, automatically sealing in the complex flavors behind Aptar’s self-sealing valve. Unlike conventional chocolate bars, the SoChatti pouch is filled with untempered chocolate, thereby removing many of the typical processing steps.
What’s the shelf life?
Rubin: SoChatti is completely shelf-stable for up to two years without using any preservatives or emulsifiers. It can be stored and transported at temperatures up to 120°F and can be subjected to repeated thermal cycling without degradation. This allows us to use conventional warehouse and fulfilment services, and eliminates the cold-chain distribution requirements of conventional chocolate products.
Chocolate products are typically considered hazardous to fulfilment centers during summer months. However, our packaging received a special exemption from Amazon to enable year-round fulfillment without temperature regulation or waste.
Is this a single-product line or is there more than one SKU?
Rubin: SoChatti has developed two unique packages to preserve the flavor of dark chocolate. Our 8oz dispenser pouch is made of a 5-layer, solid vapor barrier to enable it to be squeezed and piped for repeated use without any degradation of the chocolate. The pouch is waterproof with a silicon cross-cut valve in the nozzle to prevent oxygen from entering the pouch.
SoChatti to Go (shown above) is a brand-new SKU that we soft launched in early 2020 as a test with a few trusted retail partners. This on-the-go, 23-gram net weight packet conveniently fits in a pocket and is an especially great treat during the summer months: Whereas conventional chocolate can cause a mess when it melts, SoChatti is formulated to be eaten melted. It is now available for pre-order via the SoChatti website and retails for $17.95 for a box of 10 or for $1.79 apiece.
SoChatti to Go packaging uses a similar vapor barrier as the pouch, but it’s a non-reinforced package that allows you to tear into it in order to eat the chocolate as a solid chocolate bar, or, melt it by placing it in warm water or just letting it melt in warm conditions.
The packet is designed with horizontal tear notch on the top end for full dispensing and has a vertical tear notch on the bottom for controlled dispensing.
Please comment on production and the impact of COVID-19.
Rubin: SoChatti chocolate is packaged entirely in-house. In May we moved into a nearly 13,000 square foot facility in Indianapolis, IN, to expand production and double down on R&D. We've moved five locations worth of materials, chocolate production equipment, etc., into one integrated facility. It’s now operational and houses our SoChatti Warmer production line.
We're operationally committed to employee safety first and so, like many companies, we took the necessary COVID-19 precautions to ensure our team's safety before they returned for onsite operations. We've even managed to expand our team with new hires during this time.
What’s been sales results and feedback?
Rubin: One of the unique features about the SoChatti packaging is that it transcends foodservice and consumer retail. It’s a product that appeals to restaurants and coffee shops, as well as consumers serving it to friends and family or on their own. It’s a product that’s been sold at Williams Sonoma as part of its Artisan’s Market program. It’s also on the menu at a number of partner restaurants in the form of a chocolate-tasting dessert options, and it’s also sold direct-to-consumer both online and through a few local grocery partners. Though still in the early stages, our SoChatti to Go product has exceeded expectations in re-orders from initial grocery and cafe partners.
What are overall expectations?
Rubin: Through the pandemic 2020 sales have been consistent with 2019. However, we launched a new ecommerce website earlier this month, SoChatti Collections, which is a huge milestone for the brand.
As we continue to grow, our additional portable packaging, SoChatti to Go, will allow us to reach and serve even more consumers in our effort to introduce the world to the real flavor of chocolate.