There are many ways in which fears about COVID-19 are beginning to and, already have, affected the dining world. And that includes the perhaps more niche realm of the specialty foods industry.
Cindy Pedraza of CocoAndre can speak to the potentially devastating effects of coronavirus anxiety on small businesses just like the artisanal chocolate shop she runs with her mother.
As fears rise about travel and social contact, she has been feeling how the shifts leave her business, a tiny house in Bishop Arts, vulnerable. This is despite regulars walking through the door. “People aren’t going to conferences. People are afraid to travel and be with people. Oh my god, that’s gonna affect us,” Pedraza realized as soon as she saw fears turn into tangible cancellations. “We have corporate events. We also sell at hotels. So if people aren’t staying and traveling at hotels,” the fallout is great.
Fifty percent of the business is walk-ins to the shop, many of whom are regulars who make a point to shop locally. The other half comes from corporate clients, conferences, hotels, and mail-order. When conferences are called off and corporate clients cancel events over concern about social distancing, business declines.
When major airlines suffer, CocoAndre suffers, too. One of their primary clients is American Airlines, where their chocolates are on first-class flights. As flights are cancelled, their business is affected. “We’re already seen a drop since January,” says Pedraza. One of the major flights they’re on is to Hong Kong.
Revenue avenues also include the Hyatt and the Gaylord Texan hotel gift stores, where their line of handmade molded chocolates bearing a Texas state map are sold as souvenirs. Their products are in Eatzi’s and Royal Blue Grocery, places with prepared foods, often frequented by those traveling and staying in hotels. What happens, Pedraza wonders, when people temporarily stop traveling?
Even the boxes they use, manufactured in China, may be difficult to come by, as production is halted, Pedraza says.
“Our major orders not ordering, conferences canceled. It’s really scary,” Pedraza says. She doesn’t want the staff to worry. “We don’t want to scare our team. So we keep making chocolate. But who are we making chocolate for?”
Pedraza has been pivoting toward shipping, letting customers know it’s a viable option. She is contemplating offering free delivery locally: orders driven personally by members of the team. In a small business that employs five in addition to the mother-daughter duo, “five families and ours depends on [this].”
“We’re trying to stay positive until we have to worry,” Pedraza says.
The effects are personal, too, for this small business-owning, female entrepreneur who has used her backyard as a pop-up spot for Latina-owned businesses. “I was supposed to be on a panel about women entrepreneurs at Four Corners Brewery,” she says of a panel that was recently called off. “So it was a great time to speak about our business.” One visiting attendee in particular was a female entrepreneur who has managed to get her brand into national stores like Target. “So I missed that opportunity to connect [or] get feedback,” Pedraza says.
Both present and future certainties are stymied. Meanwhile, the best medicine around the shop is laughter, Pedraza says. Mexican spiced drinking chocolate and laughter.