Chocolate may play a special role in people’s lives today, but for Ahwatukee teen Morgan Higginbotham, it’s practically been his life for more than a year.
Yes, the Desert Vista High School junior’s days also have been booked with honors classes, cross-country and track.
But chocolate has been a near obsession as a creation and a business for Morgan, a graduate of the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Young Entrepreneurs Academy class.
Less than a month ago, that obsession blossomed into a full-fledged business when Morgan debuted his Cherry Nubbs chocolate treats as a vendor at the Ahwatukee Farmers Market. He is there every Sunday, although he will take the day off Feb. 18 and return Feb. 25.
Like any inventor with a dream, his road to that vendor booth was not easy.
It started sometime in 2016, he said. “I just happened to notice a lot of candy has pictures of red filling but never has any in it.”
So, he started tinkering with a recipe for his own cherry-filled chocolate treats – even though “cooking is one of my least favorite things.”
He spent hours working in the kitchen on a recipe, initially using his younger brother Hayden and his mom, Erin Klumb, as taste testers because “after a while you get so used to the taste it was hard to tell the difference with different batches.”
Then, he started the 30-week YEA program in September 2016 and really, so to speak, got cooking.
Directed by Ahwatukee resident Pamela Manwaring, the YEA program teaches kids as young as 11 all the ins and outs of starting and running a business.
The students gather once a week to learn everything from bookkeeping and marketing to sales and manufacturing from volunteering professionals. The students also spend hours outside class trying to apply those lessons to real life.
They each come up with their own company, becoming CEOs of their firms with the help of mentors who give of their time and expertise to help them realize their goal.
Manwaring said Morgan “is an outstanding example of what YEA can do to kick-start a young entrepreneur.”
“We are so proud of his perseverance and determination,” she added.
Morgan said it took about five months before finding the right combination of chocolate and filling.
“It was pretty tedious,” he recalled.
“Going into YEA was a huge help,” he added. “My mom helped me a lot. She provided the funds, drove me around to stores and helped me make some of the chocolate.”
Then he had to figure out a way of making his Nubbs.
“It was very complicated because I had to learn how to make molds,” he said.
Then there was packaging to consider.
“I had to innovate, so I just decided on foil,” he said, explaining he decided on two packaging approaches – a roll with seven Nubbs and a bag with 25. He also developed a sticker for the plain foil wrapping to personalize his product.
Throughout his venture, he said, “I never stayed up late.”
Instead, he reserved Friday through Sunday for his business, saving the other days of the week for homework and cross-country as he balanced his school life with his life as a CEO.
He named his company Poccette – rhymes with “pocket” – and then registered his company as an LLC, filing for trademark protection for his concoction, developing both sweet and sour cherry fillings and eventually adding a dark chocolate variety to his already established milk chocolate product line.
He priced the milk and dark chocolate Cherry Nubbs rolls at $5 apiece while a bag is $12 for milk chocolate and $14 for dark.
Though he sold only 30 during his first two appearances at the farmers market, his candy drew some raves on social media, with one poster calling it “the best cherry-filled chocolate.”
Now that he’s on his way to becoming a regular at the market, Morgan still has a lot to figure out.
He figures it cost him and his mother about $1,600 to get this far – with nearly a third spent on the cost of registering his company and trademark and related legal requirements.
“The legal stuff is really expensive,” he said.
“Right now, my goal is not making money,” he said. “Maybe in the next couple months I’ll be making a decent profit.”
For one thing, he needs to figure out a way to increase the time-consuming process of making his Nubbs and then figure out how to get them to customers.
“I’ve got to get production going,” he said, repeatedly stressing how his brother and mother have been such a big help, “I would not have got this far if it wasn’t for them.”
Though he has a website, poccette.com, he isn’t selling his product online because “shipping is so expensive. I would need an ice pack.”
Then there’s the future to consider since he plans to attend college, majoring in business with a minor in some science that he is yet to determine.
“If I go to college out of state, I don’t think I’ll be able to continue the business,” he said. “But if I go to school around here, I’ll just have to see if I have the time. I haven’t thought it through completely yet.”
But then, as he said, “I never would have expected to get this far.”
And it’s hard to imagine that somehow along the way, he’ll get farther still.
To reach the chocolatier: firstname.lastname@example.org
To help YEA: email@example.com.