Sweet Spot: Local philanthropists plan $15M chocolate facility on Indianapolis’ north side

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Local philanthropists plan $15M chocolate facility on Indianapolis’ north side

Two local philanthropists have bought 51 percent of Endangered Species Chocolate Co., based in Talent, Ore., and plan to move production of the company’s gour
met dark chocolate to Indianapolis.

Randy Deer and Wayne Zink, founders of the Back Home Again Foundation, paid $3 million in January for majority control of Endangered Species and plan to invest another $15 million in a manufacturing facility and new marketing strategy.

“We wanted a consumable product that people sought regularly and a for-profit company that has a clear, branded, philanthropic focus,” said Zink, who learned about Endangered Species while doing a

Web search.

The chocolate company fit all the criteria. Jon Stocking started the company in 1993 with a bit of capital and credit cards. The company manufactures its own bars using Belgian chocolate and all-natural ingre-

dients. Each candy wrapper includes an environmentally educational message.

“They make a wonderful product with a good purpose. The company gives customers a very high-quality chocolate and serves people with high social consciousness,” said Denise Shoukas, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

Manufacturing will move in June to the former Deluxe Check Printing plant at 73rd Street and Zionsville Road. Zink expects to create 50 production jobs and 22 administrative jobs at the facility, which will offer a giant leap in production capacity. The Indianapolis plant will have 43,000 square feet, expandable to 77,000 square feet, compared with the 5,000-square-foot facility in Oregon Endangered Species is leaving behind.

An administrative office and development kitchen will remain in Oregon. Stocking, the company’s founder and still partial owner, will stay there and concentrate on developing new products, including boxed chocolates, panned candies and syrup. Stocking was trained as a chef and chocolatier in Europe.

Being in the Midwest will help save the company about $150,000 in shipping costs, Stocking said. The move also puts Endangered Species closer to its distributor, Unit
ed Natural Foods Inc. in Greenwood.

Zink’s goal is to go from producing 5 million candy bars a year to 15 million in 2010.

“We want to grow the company in an aggressive way. In five years, we want gross sales of $26 million and [profit] of $3.6 million,” said Zink, who is now CEO of Endangered Species.

Zink plans to accomplish the aggressive growth through a combination of new products, increased Web sales, catalog sales, in-store marketing, increased advertising, and an effort to gain news coverage for products and the company’s mission to conserve species.

The multi-faceted strategy is already under way.

“We’ve increased the scope of what we can do tremendously,” said Jennifer Stander, Endangered Species public and community relations director.

Sales were up 38 percent in February, making it the largest-grossing month, at $491,000, said Stander, who noted that Web traffic is up 35 percent.

In Indianapolis, consumers can buy the candy bars at the Indianapolis Zoo, Wild Oats Community Market, The Monon Coffee Co., Georgetown Market and the Meijer in Avon. This fulfills Zink’s business objective of selling the candy to mass marketers instead of just to smaller organic and gourmet food stores.

Last year, the company donated 10 percent of sales to conservation organizations like Defenders of Wildlife, American
Forests, Wildlife Conservation Society and the Jane Goodall Institute.

The company’s philanthropic bent is a match for Zink and Deer, whose Back Home Again Foundation has deep roots in Indianapolis and has given millions of dollars to arts and charity organizations like the Damien Center, Christel House, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis Zoo, Jameson Camp, Step Up, Indianapolis Opera and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

“I have long admired Wayne’s positive spirit and strong sense of social responsibility. His work with the Back Home Again Foundation and his willingness to share ideas and foster collaboration among local non-profit organizations has truly enhanced the quality of life for many people right here in Indiana and around the world,” said Cheryl J. Wendling, senior vice president of Christel House.

Gina Brooks is executive director of Second Helpings, a food rescue, job training and hunger relief program that has been working with Zink and Deer about six years. Since 1999, the Back Home Foundation has donated more than $130,000 to Second Helpings. Brooks said Endangered Species seems like a perfect fit for the pair.

“I looked up a little about the company online,” Brooks said. “I laughed when I read the philosophy of it. It’s so Wayne and Randy. It fits their personalities. It’s a great match for them and a great new business for Indianapolis.”

Deer and Zink will move the Back Home Again Foundation headquarters from 9292 N. Meridian St. to Endangered Species’ new production facility.

“The Back Home Foundation and Endangered Species Chocolate will work hand and hand in the Indianapolis community with philanthropy front and center,” Zink said.

Zink and Deer plan to use the chocolate manufacturing facility as a job training center for volunteers at Second Helpings and other charitable foundations, Zink said.

When possible, they’ll also donate food, too.

“All those broken chocolate bars have to go somewhere,” Brooks said. “Our cooks can melt them down and use the chocolate for all kinds of things.”

Endangered Species’ plant is being retrofitted to be LEED-certified, a designation for environmental and energy efficiency.

“There is some lead contamination on the site that we’re paying to have cleaned up,” Zink said.

Among other things, for the designation, the building must be energy-efficient, contain recycling services, and have an efficient heating and cooling system.

“We’re very interested in people understanding that folks who have companies in Indianapolis care about conservation of species and the environment,” Zink said. “Some people may not have a clear understanding that those who live in the Midwest have those cares.”

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