WEST JORDAN — Entrepreneur Nick Frappier envisions a day when people can finish a perfect dinner out by having a perfect chocolate dessert.
"I believe it will happen in my lifetime, but I expect I'll be ordering the fruit tart for a long time," Frappier said last week as he planned a presentation to a group of 25 Harmons food store department heads who are about to allocate shelf space for at least three lines of his imported, ultra-premium chocolate bars.
They gave him an hour Monday morning — Frappier could easily do 10 — to describe the pedigree and iterations of chocolate. Despite a history dating back 38 generations, the makers who do chocolate as good as chocolate gets, instead of doing it good enough to get by, make up 1/10,000 of the market, he said.
Marketing and money and a seven-digit bottom line aren't of primary concern to Frappier and his group of listeners. He has a master of fine arts degree from the University of Utah and is a painter by training who just got to thinking two years ago how he might find a way to import the kind of gourmet chocolate, Italian sausage and other products he loves but could rarely find here.
A job at Caputo's Deli while in school gave him a working relationship with 200 different cheeses and about 100 olive oils. More importantly, it gave legs to a dream that he has managed to execute with A Priori (www.aprioridistribution.com) and the guidance of The Foundry, a program offered through the U.'s Eccles School of Business designed as a peer-reviewed small-business workshop for young entrepreneurs with a bright idea.
Frappier doesn't know how bright his idea is, but he is a full-on geek about chocolate. His line can't be called cheap — one bar the size of a Hershey bar goes for $9. He describes chocolate using words like "floral," "finish" and "varietal" that if you're not listening closely make him sound like a bit of a snob.
"Oh, I'm a total snob," he said, "but I'm not trying to keep it a secret. I'm trying to let everybody in on it."
He's selling in four states, including Utah, and everything is in limited supply. That's not intentional to jack the price up; quality always takes time to get right, in chocolate or anything else, he said.
The business side of his brain tells him there is a trend in food gaining momentum.
"It's not somehow changing the pedestrian tastes, for lack of a better word," he said. "I think Americans are in the first phase of a paradigm shift in their relationship to food.
"We've focused on getting it cheap and lots of it. Now I think we're getting more into quality over quantity, and chocolate is one of those little luxuries making the transition."
When Harmons products broker Steven Lindsey was told Frappier's idea of quality over quantity, he literally got goose bumps on his arms.
"Nick is passionate about food, and that's exactly why we're in this business," Lindsey said. "I knew our folks would feel that energy today. And I couldn't agree more. Maybe it's the economy, but people are looking a lot more for that something a little unique or special from food. That just seems to matter a lot more nowadays."
He said he believes chocolate is at the same place coffee was 25 years ago. No one believed people would pay $2 to $4 for a coffee drink, especially when it was going for 25 cents a cup at local diners.
"Now premium coffee is everywhere," Lindsey said. "And that whole coffee renaissance wasn't based on trying to charge a lot more money for a cup of coffee. Their real bottom line was passion for it and wanting to share."