Picture this: as you wander around the small, neighborhood streets of Paris on your international adventures, you happen upon a small, family-run chocolate shop that makes your heart skip a beat. Not only is the shop charming with its shopkeeper’s gentle assistance with your broken-French, but it produces the most mouth-watering chocolate with the perfect blend of whole milk and cocoa.
One taste, and you’re in love! You want to capture this moment. You want to capture this chocolate, and send it home. But how?
Learning how to ship chocolate from another country is not as easy as simply dropping it in the local boite postale. And if you have already returned home, making these arrangements can be even more difficult. With chocolate being a perishable and temperature-sensitive food, you must take extra care when shipping it in addition to the usual measures taken for international food and beverage importing.
So, before our French chocolate starts to melt, let’s dive into the considerations you need to make when importing your dream chocolate.
The Key to Importing Chocolate: the Prior Notice
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: shipping anything from a different country can be complex This is especially true if you are shipping for commercial purposes. Whether you’re the one sending the chocolate or simply receiving it, you’d be surprised at the amount of paperwork to make this happen.
One key component in importing food or drink such as chocolate into the United States is the prior notice. Prior notices are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for the legal entry of the imported food and beverage into the United States. Prior notices provide advanced notice of imported food and beverages which allows US American government agencies to efficiently and effectively screen and inspect incoming shipments.
To put it another way, the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are extremely cautious as to what enters the US American food market for safety and quality purposes. To expedite, and in certain situations eliminate, the inspection process, the FDA wants to learn as much as possible about the product: what it is, who produced it, where it came from, where it has been, where it is heading, how it is getting there, and who has handled it. Additionally, chocolate has its own set of requirements that must be met in order to be considered compliant with FDA regulations.
Prior notice must be submitted electronically using the FDA Prior Notice System Interface (FDA PNSI) or the Automated Commercial Environment/International Trade Data System (ACE/ITDS) once you’ve compiled all of the essential information.
Many importers find the prior notice process quite complex and time-consuming. As such, some importers will hire brokers to handle this on their behalf. However, if you are not in the position to hire a broker, you will need to be very organized and detail-minded when completing your prior notices.
Furthermore, when operating internationally, importing can be an extremely demanding task with time zones and language differences as major obstacles. Often times, it can be difficult to coordinate and communicate which can lead to errors and delays in shipments.
Fortunately, there are solutions like RudiCoder’s PriorNotify built to overcome the paperwork and communications challenges. By streamlining the FDA compliance process, PriorNotify can reduce compliance errors and streamline the importing process. It also gives importers and exporters a place to share the shipment details needed to more efficiently meet prior notice requirements.
How to Ship Chocolate: Challenges of Time and Temp
Temperature and time are the kryptonite of chocolate shipments.
Chocolate can actually spoil if it gets too hot. Chocolate has a melting point of 93°F (34°C) and a softening point of 85°F (29°C). More sensitive chocolates, such as ganache, can even melt at room temperature. This makes transporting chocolate to warmer regions or during the warmer seasons much more challenging than transporting chocolate to cooler locations or during the cooler months.
In shipping, the goal is to keep the chocolate as cold as possible. A great place to start is keeping the chocolate in a cool environment until it’s time to ship. However, refrigeration should be done with caution as whenever chocolate is refrigerated with other foods, it can take on surrounding odors.
You will also need to plan ahead if you intend to provide additional cooling equipment to the shipment. For instance, you’ll want to purchase a container that is two or three times the size of the chocolate to allow for room for ice packs and/or shock-absorbing padding. The padding will shield the chocolate from rough handling while also offering insolation from external heat. For scenarios like this, there’s even specially-made, heat-resistant bubble wrap you can purchase.
As for time, chocolate can typically only survive for about 3 days in transit. Anything that can delay the shipment is your nemesis. As such, it’s critical to double-check that all of your import/export proverbial boxes are checked before the chocolate starts its journey.
Furthermore, this short viability window requires mindful advanced planning. You’ll want to avoid shipping over weekends and national holidays, as these could result in your shipment being held in a warehouse for an extended amount of time. To avoid the weekends, it’s wise to ship early in the week, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
To further mitigate the risks, seriously consider overnight or two-day delivery on chocolate. And if you’re shipping chocolate to customers, make sure they are aware of the challenges you’re facing with timing and temperature. If your customers in Rio de Janeiro wants a low-cost delivery during the summer months, they may be disappointed when their order arrives after two weeks of transport.
Checklist for Packaging Chocolate
For a realistic and easy approach to packaging chocolate, Homemade Chocolate Gifts offers the following convenient checklist:
Build your shipping box
Tape all the seams (to slow air/heat exchange), except the opening
Measure enough mylar wrap for the bottom of your package (to provide another layer of shielding)
Remove the chocolate box out of its cold storage
Wrap (or Ziplock) your ice pack
Stack the chocolate box with the ice pack, and fully wrap the two in mylar
Package the chocolates like you would a gift, making sure the ends are tucked and taped. This creates a cold core
Add padding materials to the bottom of the box
Add the chocolate package
Fill in open space in the box with packing material
Add a mylar shield to the top of the package
Close the package, and then tape/seal the edges
When it comes to shipping chocolate, there are a number of factors to consider. If you’re sending chocolate to customers, it’s critical to explain why shipping during the warmer months may be more expensive, why shipping will only be done at the beginning of the week, and why packaging will be so much larger than the product.
When transporting such a sensitive product, there is no margin of error. Hence, it is critical to become informed about prior notices, import/export processes, and general FDA shipping requirements. If your chocolate is refused at a country’s port of entry, it will almost certainly be ruined by the time it arrives at its destination…if it ever arrives at all.