The small Long Island-based brand has five flavors of its 'Fire Bites'—chocolate covered candied jalapenos—as well as a jalapeno-infused simple syrup aptly named Fire Syrup in its portfolio.
In 2013, a buyer for an ice cream store spotted the couple selling their chocolates at a Farmer’s Market, and that’s when they got their first wholesale order and started focusing more on B2B sales over direct to consumer sales.
Today, the brand’s 1.5 oz resealable pouches of chocolates can be found in around 50 boutique stores around the nation as well as a handful of online retailers, selling for around $6.99 a bag.
How Little Bird started
“We had some jalapenos we needed for a recipe, and Sara said ‘well they’re going to go bad if I don’t do anything with them,’” Corey recalled. “And Sara never let anything go to waste, so she decided to candy them.”
It so happens that at the time Sara was on a candying roll, she had been developing recipes for her blog, and came up with a chocolate covered candied orange peel recipe her husband loved. But neither of them expected the chocolate-covered candied jalapenos idea would actually work.
“We brought them in to work—and people definitely had opinions, because if you like spicy, you’ll love them, and people who don’t like spicy wouldn’t go anywhere near them,” Corey said. “But we got two separate people who came up to her and said ‘where can I pay you to make these or can I buy them somewhere?’” That’s how the couple knew they were on to something and had the beginnings of a business.
They came up with the name Little Bird, based on Corey’s grandmother’s name Fay, which means little bird in Yiddish.
Producing and distributing Fire Bites
Up until four months ago, the couple made their chocolates in a commercial kitchen with three part-time employees three days a week. Today, they work in their own manufacturing space with four full-time employees and one part-time.
“We used to buy jalapenos by the pound, and now we’re buying them by the pallet,” Corey said. The peppers, which are sourced from local farmers in New York State, are cut, then candied with what Sara called “sugar, water, and magic,” before they are cooked and dried, and finally hand-dipped in different types of chocolate: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and white chocolate. They also have a 'Fire Bark' variety, thin chocolate pieces with crushed candied jalapenos inside.
The company produces around 100 cases a month, with 32 bags per case (so 3200 products a month). According to Corey, the chocolates sell well in the Southwest and the West Coast. “The product is spicy, and in the East Coast, spice is a niche kind of product. In the Southwest and the West Coast, they eat jalapeno peppers with every meal, so it makes sense,” he added.
2016 is the first year Little Bird has participated in food trade shows such as The Winter Fancy Food Show and The Sweets & Snacks Expo. The brand also participated in spicy food shows in Texas (Zest Fest) and New Mexico (National Fiery Foods and Barbecue Show).
On being a premium product
“Our focus has changed from the beginning to now,” Corey said. “If you ask Sara where she wants to be, she wants to be everywhere.”
But with the quality the brand strives for, Corey said that the product’s pricepoint “at the moment is not right for the Walmarts and the Targets, but we’re trying to get in as they are starting to carry more high-end and specialty items because they see the trends.
“The Sprouts and the Whole Foods shoppers are used to spending more money on natural, organic kind of things, and we fit in with that,” he added. “We have no preservatives in our chocolates, and our Fire Syrup is Non-GMO Project verified, it’s gluten-free, it’s kosher, so we hit all of the trends that they’re pushing.”
But it’s not just about being on trend—the couple is also environmentally aware. “We’re trying to be as closed-loop as possible,” Sara said. “We use all aspects of the pepper when it comes in. We use the seeds, we use the membrane, we use the jalapeno juice. Now we’re figuring out how to compost the stems.
“And we repurpose everything. We try really hard to not have any waste. We try to buy from local suppliers who are also local entrepreneurs”, she added. “And we try to use other small businesses to help them as much as they help us, and we specifically give to local charities.”