Sowing the Seeds
John Scharffenberger grows his businesses from the ground up
The triumph of Scharffen Berger shows that the ingredients of success are more than just top quality and smart marketing, says Medrich. The chocolate hit the market just as companies like Starbucks were teaching consumers to appreciate better-quality coffee and medical research was revealing dark chocolate's health benefits. N either partner could have built the company alone. "It was the right time, the right place, and the right people," she says.
Steinberg is still deeply involved in Scharffen Berger, while Harris runs the company and another of Hershey's high-end acquisitions, truffle maker Joseph Schmidt. Scharffenberger does plenty of chocolate marketing and tastings. And he's enthusiastic about Hershey's plan to get mass retailers like Target to sell the company's dark chocolate, which has less sugar and more healthy antioxidants than milk chocolate. "It's good for you. It makes people happy. We don't want to make it exclusive," he says.
Organic. But Scharffenberger spends more and more of his time pursuing new ideas. Besides curing hams, he's helping to make syrah at a small Mendocino winery, Eaglepoint Ranch, that he co-owns. He's also writing a business plan for an organic cacao plantation in Guatemala that would take advantage of the soaring demand and prices for high-quality, organic beans. Planting an overstory of mahogany, teak, and rosewood that could be sustainably harvested and interspersing the forest with shade-loving cacao trees should eventually return at least 10 percent, he figures.
"This would repair a part of the Earth" that has been deforested, he says. "I want to make things better, but it has to work commercially to be sustaining." Budding entrepreneurs, take note: That sounds like something that might be on a final exam.