From ice cream to chocolate!

As we near the end of our ice cream season, it can only mean one thing…

CHOCOLATE SEASON!

Celebrate Chocolate Week with us!

Celebrate Chocolate Week with us!

And with the start of chocolate season comes Chocolate Week.

Now in its 12th year, this is the UK’s biggest celebration of all things chocolate.  It’s when the best of the best as well as the nation are brought together to celebrate one of our favourite things – chocolate!

After a trip to Belgium last month I spent 4 days visiting good, better and the best chocolatiers in the business.  With a minimum wage of around £25 per hour (yes, you read that correctly), it’s no wonder machines are used to produce so much of the chocolate that comes out of Belgium.  However, there was one exception and not just the last place on our itinerary or the biggest, but most definitely the best.

Pralineur Van Coillie started his business in 1976 when he was 40 years old after perfecting his skills in France and Switzerland and has dedicated his life to being the best in the business.  His skills are renowned throughout the industry in Belgium and he’s gaining popularity in the UK too.  He has already won the the Tasting Club of Great Britain 3 times and has a worldwide fan base of elite corporate customers.

Mr Van Coillie's showroom cabinet in Roeselare in Belgium

Mr Van Coillie’s showroom cabinet in Roeselare in Belgium

The factory still produces most of their chocolates by hand under the leadership of his lovely grandson Alexandre, with Mr Van Coillie keeping a watchful eye over production and their team of over 20 highly skilled staff.  Alexandre told us all about their partnership programme with cocoa farmers in West Africa along with Barry Callebaut to ensure the chocolate and cocoa supply chain is sustainable and everyone in these communities are taught how best to manage their farms in order to improve conditions for their families.

Alexandre talking about his partnership programme with Barry Callebaut.

Alexandre talking about his partnership programme with Barry Callebaut.

He then gave us an extensive tour of his wonderful showroom and factory where we watched his amazing chocolate shoes being created, dipped and filled with his exquisite chocolates.

Every style you can imagine, filled with exquisite Van Coillie chocolates.

Every style you can imagine, filled with exquisite Van Coillie chocolates.

After 4 days of tasting a LOT of chocolate, this visit with Alexandre and his mother did NOT disappoint. I’ve always said there is nothing like fresh ice cream just coming out of our machine and it’s the same with chocolate. When it’s just been enrobed in quality chocolate, then decorated by hand and sprinkled with the finest Piedmont roasted hazelnuts there’s nothing quite like it.

In case you didn’t know, we’ve been stocking Van Coillie chocolates in our cabinet for over 10 years but it’s not until now did WE really value their quality.  We’re expanding on the range for this season and you’ll start to see a lot more Van Coillie chocolates in our cabinet over the coming weeks.

Of course, there’s also the shoes which are already in stock and do we ladies need an excuse to buy shoes?

Happy Chocolate Week!

Toni x

Where will YOU do your Christmas shopping this year?

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Glasgow? Braehead? Silverburn or even online? Many of us will, but have you considered the impact this makes on your local community? Most of us don’t, unfortunately, which is why I’ve really got behind Small Business Saturday UK this year.

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Now in its 3rd year, independent business owners up and down the country are making some noise about this forthcoming Saturday, the first in December, which traditionally kicks off the Christmas shopping spend in the UK.

How much are YOU planning to spend on Christmas this year? As an independent retailer myself for 15 years none of us are asking you to shift your entire Christmas spend to your local high street (we can only dream) but, are you aware of the impact just 10% of your Christmas spend would have on your local community? No, well may I share some statistics with you:

53% of consumers mistakenly think shopping from an independent retailer will be more expensive.

20% of all retail will be bought online by 2020.

Average weekly UK retail spend in Dec 2013 was £8.8 billion.

£1 spent online = 5p circulates locally
£1 spent locally = 50-70p circulates back into your local community which means:

less seasonal, more permanent jobs; lower child care costs as parents don’t have to travel out of town for work; vibrant town centre; improved local amenities; availability of innovative products and services that’s not just another clone town; unique individuality; support for local causes and events and long term sustainability…the list goes on. Eat your heart out Mary Portas!

Largs is now a BID town which means its independent business owners have come together as a recognised Business Improvement District to strengthen, improve and promote what we offer as a unique place to shop, stay or visit. Councils all over the UK are encouraging this process to put control of our town centres back into the hands of the people who best know how to run them – the business owners!

As vice-chair of Largs BID (Explore Largs) I ask all of you wherever you live to consider where you will shop this Christmas AND beyond.

Support your community and yourselves by supporting your local independent businesses.

Think: #ShopLocal and #ShopInLargs

Merry Christmas to you all on behalf of all the independent business owners in Largs

Toni x

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Robert Burns World Federation Dinner

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Recently I was asked to produce a Whisky Ice Cream for 300 people attending the inaugural dinner of the Robert Burns World Federation.

Dignitaries from around Ayrshire and beyond attended the event at Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn on Saturday, 13th Sept 2014 after holding their AGM and conference in the Menzies Hotel in Irvine.  North Ayrshire’s Facilities Manager, Ken Campbell, asked me to prepare a Whisky Ice Cream of my own choosing for the occasion so it had to be something special.  I’m slowly getting to grips with the complexities of the many fantastic whiskies out there but this was the first time I’d tried mixing it with ice cream.

After discussing some options with one of the ice cream industry’s advisors, I personally decided on the Bowmore 12YO Malt from Islay.  The late, great whisky writer, Michael Jackson, proclaimed it as “remarkably long and complex.”  For me, that was exactly what I wanted to achieve with my ice cream; a taste sensation that really lingered.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Even the distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland, say their Bowmore 12 YO is like vanilla ice cream at a beach bonfire.

I couldn’t have got a better combination.  My ice cream is almost 10% full cream and I needed something to cut through that without being too overpowering.  Bowmore’s trademark peaty smokiness balanced with a subtle taste of honey and lemon was ideal. The end result was a very intensely whisky flavoured ice cream (4% alcohol) with a light ripple of caramelised whisky sauce.

After posting some pics and and tweets of the resultant flavour, I have to say that customers have responded with requests for more, more, more!  It’s been on sale in my cabinet (at no extra cost) for the last few days and has been a huge success.  This one’s adults only of course (sorry kids) but has inspired me to try some more combinations as we start to go into the autumn/winter.  Any suggestions?

Sláinte!

Celebrate Chocolate Week 14th to 20th Oct 2013

What better way to kick start the chocolate season than a week long celebration of all things chocolate.

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Events are being held all over the country incorporating chocolate tastings, chocolate making workshops with celebrity chefs and artisan chocolatiers concocting fabulous food with chocolate, culminating in the UK’s biggest chocolate show in London, Salon du Chocolat.

We’re celebrating with the best in the business and offering free chocolate tastings every day till Sunday including our Parisian Creams and our full range from the Arran Chocolate Factory with 10% off our boxed chocolates till the end of the week. What better way to taste and try before you buy?

Go on….treat yourself and celebrate!!

Summer’s over! Autumn/Winter has arrived…

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And what a summer it’s been – great weather, lots of smiling, happy visitors and many great memories made. September is my favourite month of the year because business slows down a little and there’s lots to enjoy in Largs & Millport. From the Viking Festival at the start of the month to the Millport Illuminations during this last, September holiday weekend, coupled with some glorious days in between, it’s been wonderful.

As tonight has suddenly turned mighty chilly and I think I’ve seen the last of this summer’s sunsets, it seems appropriate to be writing this on the last day of September which, to me, has always signalled the end of the summer, (tourist season, that is!) Having owned and operated my own businesses in Largs for 13+ years now I’m like every other business owner in a seaside town where a good summer season makes it just that wee bit easier (I said wee!) to enter the winter months without the pressure to juggle finances and “make it through to Spring!” The next quarter, as they say in the financial world, is all about Christmas and what we as retailers can do to capitalise on the busiest spending time of the year. There is soooo much to do!!

But first, Halloween is just around the corner and our party stock and ghoulish treats for kids is all in stock now along with liqueur chocolates and chocolate covered nutty nibbles for the bigger party monsters. You can buy some of the range from our website but we have lots of other scary little treats that are packaged in-house and only available from the shop.

Christmas stock is now starting to arrive and many of the products I’ve selected this year also make great occasion gifts such as birthday, thank you, dinner party etc., so don’t wait till Christmas because once it’s gone, it’s gone!!

At this time of year the chocolate season is at its busiest. Don’t forget that ‘Chocolate Week’ runs from the 14th of October to the 20th and is a week-long celebration of all things chocolate throughout the UK, with tastings, demonstrations, promotions and new products being showcased just in time for Christmas. I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, my loooooong opening hours at Sugar & Spice have changed slightly. A huge thank you to everyone who comes in at night after the trip back from work in Glasgow or a longer day at the office and is really appreciative of my late night opening hours but now you’re all in too much of a hurry to get home, get warm and put your feet up. I don’t blame you! However, I’ll still be opening until 9pm from Thurs to Sat every week right up to Christmas so if you’re in the mood to nip out in your PJ’s for a bottle of wine, ice cream or chocolate so that you can cosy up in front of the TV then don’t forget that “I’m OPEN!”.

I’ll be the one un-packing boxes and re-organising stock trying to fit everything in for Christmas and if the TV is really rubbish, you can always pop in and give me a hand. Full payment of course in chocolate or ice cream; take your pick!