Food & Drink

WORLD OF CHOCOLATE

MANATEE — Thin shavings of chocolate can be found in nearly every room of a 6,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Manatee County.

The traces of Healthy Chocolate’s product are subtle but present nonetheless, sprinkled on the receptionists’ desk, in the research laboratory, the production room, and, of course, the breakroom.

“I do like chocolate,” says Aharon Friedman, founder of Healthy Chocolate.

Good thing.

Healthy Chocolate’s new manufacturing facility is capable of mixing at least 150 pounds of chocolate at once, molding enough chocolate to fill 1,200 bags an hour, and wrapping up 400 pieces of chocolate a minute.

And that’s just the production expected in the company’s start up phase at its new facility in Manatee County. On Tuesday, Friedman was getting the Sarasota-based company’s production equipment and materials settled in its new facility at 28th Street Circle East.

Healthy Chocolate produces a high-quality, organic, sugar-free chocolate that the company classifies as “functional food.”

All organic materials are used, including Xylitol harvested from organic trees, Friedman said. The company is talking to two South American countries about increasing production.

Functional because the chocolate includes natural ingredients that help consumers control blood sugar levels and control their appetite.

“We don’t like to be viewed as just another chocolate because it goes beyond so much more than that,” Friedman said. “Making chocolate is as complicated and as subtle as making wine.”

Healthy Chocolate’s manufacturing facility is expected to begin production next month, and Friedman estimates the company will generate about $500,000 a month by the end of this year.

By the first quarter of 2010, Friedman projects Healthy Chocolate will increase that figure to about $1 million a month.

“Right now it is very easy to sell chocolate,” Friedman said. “There’s two things that sell well in a recession — candy and entertainment.”

Sales Director Nguyen Lopez said the company is targeting whole food stores, wellness centers, nutritionists and the hospitality industry to sell its products.

“We also want to sell chocolate by the pound so we’ll be talking with restaurants and pastry shops,” Lopez said.

Friedman founded Healthy Chocolate about three years ago and its manufacturing was done on a contract basis in New York. “We were doing pretty good revenue wise,” Friedman said.

But Friedman saw potential for Healthy Chocolate to have its own facility. So in March 2008, the company’s product was temporarily pulled off the market so the right facility could be found.

The Manatee County Economic Development Council assisted the company in its relocation and provided it with the county’s rapid response permitting so the company could get up and running quickly.

“We are able to help companies like Healthy Chocolate make capital investments quickly, move in and begin hiring,” said Nancy Engel, executive director of the EDC.

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