From Consultant to Chocolatier, Salman Ahmad uses consulting thinking to go from idea to premium brand in under 12 months.
Salman Ahmad, former Satov consultant, launched his new brand of premium sugar free chocolate within 12 months of leaving the firm. His new brand, Sully’s, is doing well – but keeping bars in stock is challenging! A lifelong chocolate lover, Salman (Sal) learned all about the confectionary industry on one of his last cases – becoming fascinated with the better for you trend and the opportunities it had for chocolate. In this interview, Sal shares the process he has taken to go from consultant to chocolatier and his plans of growing from a DTC (direct to consumer) brand to being stocked in the best retail shops.
SATOV: You were a great consultant and wonderful with the team. How did you go from consultant to chocolatier?
AHMAD: The idea came to me while at Satov. Different industries inspired me throughout my time there. But there was a case in the confectionery industry, learning all about how the industry works… What are some of the up-and-coming trends? What are the different players doing in the market today? And one thing that caught my attention was just the fact that there’s a big push towards better for you snacking. And this inspiration connected with my love of chocolate (which I had never considered having without sugar in it). So, the seed was planted.
SATOV: How did you get started?
AHMAD: While I thought I would spend 2-3 months to move from idea to product launch, it took about one year. The first problem I thought needed solving was how to get chocolate to taste good without adding sugar. How hard could that be? Well, it’s tough. But I approached the journey with a consulting mindset. I broke everything down into components and tried to solve one problem at a time. So, back to step one: Can I even make a good tasting chocolate bar with sugar? That alone took 25 trials. Once I had that base recipe down, I was like, OK, cool. Now let’s try to substitute the sugar.
SATOV: What steps did you take?
When you don’t know anything when you’re starting out in the industry and you just start by learning the basics, right? How do I make chocolate? What equipment do I need? Where do I buy the ingredients and just going step by step and figuring all the basics out and it took me some time
- Desk Research
- Speaking to experts in the industry
- Testing recipes. Iterating. One variable change at a time. 45 trials!
- Blind taste test: Sully’s Version 1, Sully’s Version 2, Leading Market Brand.
Result: Sully’s V1 Better than Leading Market Brand
SATOV: So, you created a better mouse trap. How are you commercializing?
AHMAD: The positive feedback is a great motivator. So, next few months were just spent figuring out the marketing, figuring out the branding packaging. You know all those real executional decisions that you need to make to get a product off the ground. The branding, the website, the packaging, … and then hitting the launch button! The last few months of it last year were very, very hectic in terms of making all the chocolate, selling the chocolate, delivering the chocolate. And now we are in 2022!
SATOV: What’s next?
AHMAD: Today Sully’s is a DTC brand. Most of our sales are from our website. We’ve also attended farmers and craft markets. Here we met new customers and received direct feedback on what they think. In the field market research. That has been valuable. However, the bulk of the chocolate market is in-store. So, I will be working hard to get us on shelf down the road.
We are building an ultra premium product so, we’ll want to carefully select with which retailers to partner. The nice thing about being premium in chocolate, is that your price point is still affordable to many people at $10 instead of $2 for one of life’s little luxuries.
SATOV: Biggest learning?
AHMAD: One of the biggest things I’ve realized is that I sort of treat every step of this journey as a new experiment. You know, I’m going. I’m working on something that I have no background in no experience, and I’ve never started a business before. And there’s just there’s so many things that are just new to me. I think the way to approach it is just hey, accept the fact that I don’t know it. Figure it out and just keep testing and iterating until the solution arises.
And that’s sort of the approach I’ve taken throughout all the different steps of that is, I think about it. You know, starting out from learning how to make chocolate, figuring out how to make a website, figuring out how to sell online, you know, figuring out how to manufacture and distribute. So each step of this has its own challenges, and you know, people often say as an entrepreneur you have to wear all these different hats. It’s true.