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Direct selling

‘The Cocoa Exchange’: Mars sets up e-commerce party program for chocolate

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By Oliver Nieburg+

15-May-2017
Last updated on 16-May-2017 at 15:09 GMT2017-05-16T15:09:12Z

Members of the public host parties to sell & promote The Cocoa Exchange range of chocolates and cocoa sauces. Photo: Mars
Members of the public host parties to sell & promote The Cocoa Exchange range of chocolates and cocoa sauces. Photo: Mars

Mars Chocolate North America is recruiting ‘curators’ to host parties promoting a specially created range from Mars, which can be sold on an online store.

The Cocoa Exchange allows ‘curators’ to host an in-house experience, such as a party, featuring tastings of a range of products specially created by chefs.

Party attendees can buy the products sampled online.

The curators can obtain a 25-40% commission on any goods sold on their unique online store on The Cocoa Exchange platform. They can also obtain product discounts up to 50%, depending on sales performance.

Participants are encouraged to recruit a team of curators.

Pure Dark Chocolate Nibs are among the products sold on The Cocoa Exchange. Photo: Mars

Rise of the gig economy

Rebecca Hruska, head of marketing at The Cocoa Exchange, told ConfectioneryNews: “Direct selling as a channel has been successful over the past 50-60 years and we believe that this space (although some businesses within it need to evolve a bit) has staying power.

“The rise of the gig economy with businesses like AirBnB, Uber and Etsy makes an offer like ours more relevant than ever -  there is obvious demand, especially among millennials, for supplemental income…”

She added: “There aren’t many corporations of our size who have started direct selling businesses…”

The products

Mars has created a range for The Cocoa Exchange in collaboration with chefs:

  • Dove Signature – a range of premium confections and gifts.
  • Pure Dark – ‘natural’ premium chocolate range.
  • Pod & Bean – culinary experiences with sauces using cocoa.
     

    Photo: Mars

Products range from $12 to $36 for an individual item.

Popular themes for a curator event include wine & chocolate pairings, fondue dipping experience, brunch or a cooked experience using cocoa sauces, said Mars.

Hruska said: “Typically, all experiences start with the Curator sharing what whole cocoa beans look like and then explaining cocoa’s origins and how cocoa becomes chocolate.

“We aim to offer a bit of edu-tainment and want customers to both learn something new and have fun.”

The range also includes cooking sauces based on cocoa, such as Pod & Bean White Chocolate Raspberry Honey Mustard. Photo: Mars

Start-up costs

The curators can buy a starter kit that includes three top sellers from each range, order forms, catalogs and branded apparel such aprons for $129. The sell-on retail value is $142.

“The products contained in that kit will last for 4-6 average parties,” said Hruska.

Curators can earn free supplies when they achieve sales milestones of $500, $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000.

“Our average party size is $400 and curators earn 25-40%, so typically, curators make back their kit cost within 1-2 parties and do not yet need to replenish stock,” said Hruska.

Mars delivers any sales direct to the consumer, so the curator does not have to store inventory.

How much can you earn?

Mars projects that one in-house experience will generate $100 of income for the curator. It estimates six to eight experiences will generate $840-$1,280. An average experience will cost the curator $5-10 and takes 2-3 hours of work in total (prep, the event itself, and entering the orders). The curators will also have access to training and support from Mars. The Cocoa Exchange curators are typically female and host the parties to earn additional income, hosting an average of two experiences a month, says Mars.

“Curators do typically carry a small amount of samples with them - usually sampling 4-6 products per party, but just a bite or two of each product, so one product can last over several parties,” said Hruska.

Multi-level marketing ‘stigma’

Hruska claimed The Cocoa Exchange could avoid alleged pitfalls in Multi-level Marketing (MLM) programs, that have been accused of exploiting sellers.

“While there are great businesses within the Multi-level Marketing (MLM) space, there are some that do give the broader direct selling space a stigma.

“…There are businesses whose primary profit center is kits - they don’t care if people make money or sell product because they’ve already generated profit from the initial sign-up of a new consultant,” she said.

But she said Mars does not make money on The Cocoa Exchange starter kits, which it subsidizes and ships for free.

“We want consumers to buy our products, that’s how we win,” said Hruska.

“One of the big differences between us and a typical MLM company is that we’re not promising that you will necessarily become a millionaire with this business."

Hruska said curators working two to three hours a week; doing one experience a week will earn $400+ per month on average.

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