'Imagining' a chocolate company: Founder combines musical nostalgia with candy
"The challenge," Mitchell Koulouris says, "is how to connect the chocolate back to the song." To date, Koulouris has formulated 200 recipes tied to songs.
I expect there are a few individuals who have not heard John Lennon’s song, Imagine. Given its global popularity, I’d expect that many of us would remember some of the lyrics, regardless whether you liked the song or not.
“You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be one”
I’d go so far as to say a fair number remember exactly when and where they heard that song or remember a specific event associated with the tune. And if it’s not Lennon’s Imagine, there’s probably another song that has a strong emotional attachment for us.
Of course, we all know candy also stirs up strong emotions. And that’s why Mitchell Koulouris, founder and ceo of Imagine Chocolate, believes consumers will relate to the pairing of chocolate truffles with songs.
Having worked in the music business as well as being in on the ground level during the sector’s shift to digital, Koulouris is no novice to the inner workings of the pop music biz.
He founded Digital Music Group, Inc, the world’s largest independent aggregator of digital music, and continues to serve on the Board of Governors for the Grammy’s San Francisco chapter. Ironically, it was his success with Digital Music Group that led him to chocolate.
Two years after he established Digital Music Group in Feb. 2004, the company went public. It was a surreal experience, he says, one that capitalized on the transition occurring within the music world — namely, the shift from people purchasing CDs to downloading songs online.
Going public, however, marked the beginning of a new experience, one that was less entrepreneurial and more structured. As he explains, “There were more expectations, more demands.” Shareholders have a way of scrutinizing the soul out of entrepreneurs.
To deal with the added stress, Koulouris began playing with chocolate. Unlike many other chocolatier stories, this music whiz didn’t have any experience with food.
“I wasn’t even a sweets guy,” he says. “Sure, I liked fudge, but it’s not like I ate chocolate every day.”
Koulouris’ attraction to chocolate proved challenging. As he himself admits, “I threw out more batches than I kept.”
Slowly, however, Koulouris “dialed in” and began producing chocolate from basic recipes. It didn’t take that long before the recipes became more complex, more refined.
“Friends would try the chocolates and kept telling me I should open up my own business,” he says. “This would go on for about five to six years, but I kept resisting the notion.”
About two years ago, the idea began to build to a crescendo: Why not integrate everyone’s affinity for songs with their love of chocolate?
Koulouris began to thoroughly research the chocolate market. Unlike the recording industry, which stood at $13.5 billion in 2003 and had shrunk to $6 billion last year, the chocolate industry continued to grown at a 3% to 5% annual rate. (U.S. chocolate sales for 2011 topped $18 billion)
Although there were plenty of products out there, covering the entire price spectrum from value to premium, Koulouris felt that there was some excitement missing.
“Consumers were dying for something cool,” he says. So he set about creating chocolate flavors named for and inspired after a song. As the tag line for Imagine Chocolate states, it’s “Gourmet Chocolate That Rocks.”
How so? Consider that classic tune, American Pie, by Don McLean, which came out in January 1972. The American Pie truffle consists of milk chocolate with peanut butter, peanuts and a peanut butter granola crunch layer that’s dipped in milk chocolate and topped with a peanut butter and strawberry jelly drizzle and, a peanut butter granola crunch.
Now that’s a piece of chocolate that will tug at your palate as well as emotions.
Of course, each song is categorized according to music genre, be it rock, punk, rap, heavy metal, love songs and the like. They are then combined into assortments such as Classic Rock Classics, MegaHits, Sir Paul and Love or according to chocolate groupings: Back in Black, The White Album and Breakups: The Ex-Box (That’s milk chocolate by the way).
In the assortment boxes (grouped by 4 or 16 pieces), customers receive “liner notes,” a four-panel brochure that provides history behind the song and typically an unknown anecdote about its creation and radio play.
The challenge, Koulouris says, is how to connect the chocolate back to the song. To date, Koulouris has formulated 200 recipes tied to songs. Now some of you are asking how he received permission from all those artists to feature their songs.
Well, only the lyrics and the actual recordings (music) are copyrighted. The actual titles are not. Hence, the legalese on his web site stating that the products don’t constitute an endorsement by the artists or songwriters. Koulouris has, however, trademarked the song titles to 200 flavors for food and chocolate products.
About a year and a half ago he incorporated the company, drawing inspiration for the name from prints he has at home of John Lennon’s Imagine song. He says that all the research, formulation, packaging, testing, etc. has been completed and he’s ready to grow the company. In addition to offering Imagine Chocolate products at several regional retail outlets, he’s targeted school fundraising as a growth avenue.
Noting that confectionery products within the fundraising sector haven’t seen much innovation, Imagine Chocolate provides both children and parents reason to buy, whatever their musical reference is.
“What’s great about our line of chocolates is that we can target demographics easily, be it Baby Boomers or youngsters,” Koulouris says. He also points out that the 4- and 16-piece assortment sizes allow for individual consumption as well as gifting.
The fundraising approach has been a hit, with nearly a dozen schools in Northern California buying into the concept. “Kids love it,” he says.
Hard not to love. Rock on, Mitch.