Business

Blaine chocolate manufacturer sold to Canadian firm

Jeff Robinson, president of Totally Chocolate, stands in the company’s Blaine manufacturing plant on Oct. 11, 2007.
Jeff Robinson, president of Totally Chocolate, stands in the company’s Blaine manufacturing plant on Oct. 11, 2007. The Bellingham Herald

A longtime chocolate manufacturer has been sold to a family-operated private equity firm.

Totally Chocolate was sold to Tricor Pacific Founders Capital, Inc. of Vancouver, B.C. Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed in the Wednesday, Feb. 3, announcement. The Blaine manufacturer will remain at 2025 Sweet Road with its management team in place, and no immediate changes are planned, said Derek Senft, managing director of Tricor.

Jeff Robinson, who founded Totally Chocolate 27 years ago in California and moved it to Blaine in 1993, is retiring. Ken Strong, who as president of Totally Chocolate handles the day-to-day operations, will remain in his current position.

Totally Chocolate is known for its personalized corporate and individual chocolate gifts, such as candy bars emblazoned with a company logo. Customers can go online to make their own designs. Robinson, 75, said he was happy to find a buyer that plans to keep the company in Blaine and provide job continuity for the current employees.

“They try to buy successful companies and help them expand,” Robinson said, noting the company has a long-term lease at the facility. “I think they are delighted to have a company near Vancouver.”

Senft agreed with that assessment, adding that they will take some time to learn about Totally Chocolate before finding ways to refine its business strategy. Eventually Tricor wants to expand Totally Chocolate’s marketing reach and product range, he said.

We want to let them (Totally Chocolate employees) do what they do best. We’re very excited about being a part of the Blaine business community

Derek Senft, managing director of Tricor

“We want to let them (Totally Chocolate employees) do what they do best,” Senft said. “We’re very excited about being a part of the Blaine business community.”

Robinson has enjoyed the creative process that goes with operating a company like Totally Chocolate. With the rise of online shopping the company is “remarkably different” than when he started it in 1987.

For the past seven years, it has been able to increase profitability based on steady growth. Robinson believes the key to the company’s success is the high rate of repeat customers: 70 percent of first-time customers return to place a second order.

Totally Chocolate currently has 35 employees, but the Christmas season is its busy time of year. During the fourth quarter, the workforce typically rises to 100. With holiday parties, custom chocolate designs are popular gifts for companies to give to employees and clients. Robinson said that both the corporate and individual sales have grown in recent years, but business sales are the bigger segment for Totally Chocolate.

Tricor has a history of investing in food companies, including Golden Boy Foods, which has a facility in Blaine. Tricor sold its stake in that company in 2014. The firm has operating experience with more than 75 companies.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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