Let’s say you discover a foreign chocolate that you love. It may be in your interest to import it directly from the source instead of paying domestic store markups. Imagine getting the chocolate sent directly to your door for less money per pound than you would find at the local fine foods market. There’s only one problem…
If you’ve never been of an occasion to ship chocolate, you may not realize the monumentally difficult task that it presents. Shipping most perishable foods can be a challenging endeavor, but shipping chocolate specifically has authored horror stories all its own.
With all that in mind, a roadmap to navigate the rigors of chocolate shipping would be an invaluable asset. This article aims to serve as that roadmap.
General Food Shipping Difficulties
To understand how to address the litany of challenges associated with shipping chocolate, we must first examine what those challenges are.
First things first, shipping anything from a foreign country is a more involved process than most people realize, and even more so if you’re shipping for commercial purposes. Whether you’re the one doing the shipping or simply having the chocolate shipped to you, you’d be amazed at how much paperwork you’ll need to fill out just to get the ball rolling.
Prior Notice is an integral aspect of the import and export of food. Explaining the intricacies of federal Prior Notice could be several articles unto itself. Many importers decide the headache of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance process is more than they can handle and will pay brokers to take care of the red-tape for them. However, the most important takeaway is the need for exceptional detail and organization. This is a task that can be especially difficult and time consuming when dealing with foreign manufacturers. Because time zones and language barriers can become mitigating factors, it’s best to iron out the details well in advance.
To simplify things, for reasons of security and quality control, the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are hypervigilant about what enters the American food market. In order to expedite (and in some cases eliminate) the inspection process, the FDA wants to know as much as possible about what the item is, who created it, where it’s from, where it’s been, where it’s going, how it’s getting there, who’s handled it, and so on. Chocolate has its own standards it much meet to be considered in compliance with FDA regulations.
Once you’ve compiled the necessary information, Prior Notice must be submitted electronically via the FDA Prior Notice System Interface (FDA PNSI) or the Automated Commercial Environment/International Trade Data System (ACE/ITDS).
More recently, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has made Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes a requirement for entry submissions. This makes it easier to determine the appropriate tariffs and category of the foreign product.
For those intrepid enough to attempt the process themselves, there are products like PriorNotify from RudiCoder. PriorNotify can save weeks’ worth of work by automating the FDA compliance process. It also provides a platform for importers and exporters to more efficiently communicate the particulars necessary to satisfy Prior Notice requirements.
When importing goods into the United States, you’ll be responsible for paying duties that vary in percentage of the value of the item by country. However, so long as the value of the item remains under $2,500, it will be exempt from any duties.
Difficulties Of Shipping Chocolate
Shipping chocolate, either for personal consumption or for commercial purposes can be a logistical headache. The endorphin rush of receiving masterfully crafted, intricate and pristine chocolate is matched only by the crushing disappoint of receiving partially melted, warped and cracked chocolate. That is all to say nothing of chocolate that has entirely gone bad in transit.
Time is not on your side. Chocolate can only hold up for about 3 days’ worth of transit. Anything that could delay that process is your enemy. The time crunch is why it’s especially important to make sure all your import/export ducks are in a row before the chocolate begins its journey.
Moreover, this brief viability window requires strategic thinking when it comes to order placement. You’ll want to avoid weekends and national holidays that could leave your shipment sitting in a warehouse for unacceptable amounts of time. It’s a good policy to only ship on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. If you are shipping chocolate to customers, make sure you communicate to them the difficulties that must be overcome. You may even want to institute a required overnight or two-day shipping policy on chocolate to minimize the risks.
Time and temperature are two challenges that often go hand in hand. If chocolate gets too hot, it’s ruined. It’s not terribly difficult for chocolate to get too hot either. Chocolate’s softening point is around 85°F (29°C) with a melting point at 93°F (34°C). For more delicate chocolates, like ganache, the melting point can be as low as room temperature. This makes shipping chocolate to warmer climates or during spring and summer months exponentially more difficult than shipping to cooler climates or during the fall and winter months.
Keeping the chocolate cold is the name of the game. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but the best place to start is to make sure the chocolate is in cold place right up until it’s ready to be shipped. Take care in your method of refrigeration. Chocolate is notorious for picking up odors when refrigerated with other foods.
If you intend to provide additional cooling apparatuses, you’ll need to plan accordingly with regards to shipping materials. For instance, you’ll want to get a box twice, if not three times as large as the dimensions of the chocolate you’re shipping. The extra space can be for ice packs or shock-absorbing cushioning. The cushioning will serve the dual purpose of protecting the chocolate from indelicate handling, as well as providing insolation and buying precious time before environmental heat reaches the chocolate. There’s even specially designed, heat resistant bubble wrap on the market for just such occasions.
Homemade Chocolate Gifts offers the following convenient checklist that can be useful:
- Build your box
- Tape all the seams (to slow air ala heat exchange)
- Measure enough mylar wrap for the bottom of your package (one more level of shielding)
- Pull the chocolate box out of its cold storage
- Wrap (or Ziplock) ice pack
- Stack chocolate box with ice pack and pull enough mylar out to fully wrap, cut
- Package chocolates like you would a gift, make sure the ends are tucked and taped. Here you’ve got a nice cold core
- Add padding materials to the bottom of the box
- Add chocolate package
- Fill in gaps of packing material
- Add a mylar shield to the top of the package
- Close the package, tape/seal the edges
There’s a lot to consider when shipping chocolate. If you’re shipping to customers, it’s important to communicate to them why it may be more expensive to ship during the summer months, why shipping can only be done early in the week, or why packaging must be so much larger than the product.
There is little to no room for error when shipping such a delicate treat. That is why it is so important, especially in terms of international shipping, to either familiarize yourself with Prior Notice, import/export, and general FDA shipping regulations. If your chocolate gets denied at a port, it will in all likelihood be ruined by the time it finally gets where it’s going, if it ever does at all.