It’s not uncommon for people to change jobs several times over the course of their careers. Changing one’s career path altogether is also not an uncommon thing. However, choosing to do a 180-degree shift of careers and do it in another country is not a choice for the faint of heart.
Tracy Claros grew up in the UK and dreamed of being a baker from a young age. However, rather than pursue that dream and attend baking school, she went to school to become a speech and language pathologist. After years of helping people recover from traumatic brain injuries and overcome speech impediments, she realized that while the profession was very rewarding, there was still an unfulfilled passion which she had yet to explore.
She had made a trip to the U.S. years prior and still had a valid green card. In 2003 she decided to risk it all and return with the goal of introducing authentic British desserts to the U.S. market. In 2004 she launched Sticky Toffee Pudding Company. Austin, Texas was as good of a location as any to launch the new venture and to overcome the first small obstacle – explaining sticky toffee pudding to an American.
In the U.S., pudding generally refers to a custard or a mousse, which are both sweet and creamy chilled desserts. In the UK, pudding is the generic term for dessert. Puddings are traditionally baked or steamed, served hot, and covered in a sweet sauce. Claros could have taken a shortcut and simply called it cake, but she chose to maintain the authenticity of her recipes.
Claros began selling lemon pudding, hot chocolate fudge cake, and sticky toffee pudding at the local farmers’ market. She explained the delicacy to every passerby and quickly grew a loyal customer base with every sample she handed out. She caught the attention of the local Whole Foods and received a small business loan through a program they offered. With this boost, she was able to begin to grow the business. Her product was soon available in local Whole Foods stores, followed by several national ones.
Securing distribution at other retail stores initially posed a challenge because all of Claros’ desserts are baked fresh and never frozen. This meant that they required shelf space in the refrigerator section, as opposed to the freezer section where these products normally reside in American stores.
In 2007 Claros attended the Fancy Food Show in San Fransisco, and that’s when she was introduced to her current packaging provider, Professional Image, who supplies her with the exterior paperboard packaging which showcases beautiful photos of the dessert embellished with graphics reminiscent of an English countryside. The packaging unified the growing product lineup and helped to establish a presence on store shelves.
However, it was the 2008 mention in Oprah’s O magazine that really put Sticky Toffee Pudding Company in the spotlight.
Sticky Toffee Pudding Company next caught the attention of Costco and Walmart. The business first took off metaphorically, and then literally when deals were struck with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. It’s now a $4 million per year business.
Choosing to keep the business small, Claros only directly employees her son, while other tasks are handled by trusted partners. Baking of her desserts is handled by a 20-person team in Chicago which now produces over a million units per year to keep up with demand.
What Claros has appreciated in over a decade of working with Professional Image, is that as her business continues to grow, they are still able to keep up with the large-scale quantities her business now requires. Professional Image has effortlessly been able to scale up packaging production runs, without losing the friendliness and agility that drew her to them in the first place.
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