"We planned to open an online store at this time last year," said Tove Eide, manager and co-owner of Fruene. "The idea then was that we would have it ready for Christmas. The lesson is that things take time."
The online store debuted Oct. 7. As far as Eide knows, it is the first in Longyearbyen.
The cafe started making and selling chocolate in March of 2013 when it hired Elin Blindheim as its chocolatier.
"It's been awesome and exceptional," Eide said. "Last year we tripled our sales of chocolate."
Currently there are 18 permanent types of chocolates. In addition, special pieces are created for Christmas, Easter and other local events such as Oktoberfest, Dark Season Blues, Polarjazz and the Svalbard Skimaraton.
"The blues festival gets chocolate with notes – every single thing that happens in town we make chocolate pieces for," Eide said. "It's Elin who is responsible for the development of the pieces with input from me."
The online store that debuted last Friday is still in the testing stages. The hope is to have it fully functional by Father's Day (Nov. 13 in Norway this year).
"Then we get to test out if everything works 100 percent before the Christmas sales start. We are not quite there with everything yet. The website needs some finishing touches and some extra pictures before everything is 'shipshape,' but it works," Eide said with a broad smile.
The website URL is currently fruene.mystore4.no, but Eide said they are working on getting a simpler URL.
Last year they sent 70 packages daily to the mainland before Christmas. The orders were made on Facebook and it took too much time to respond to all of them.
"That was why the idea for the online store came up," Eide said. "It will make it much easier to manage the sales. I also expect an increase in chocolate sales. The goal is to evolve to the online store to create a position for developing other products eventually. This is exciting."
Fruene has long sought to amend regulations so gift packages can be sold free of VAT and customs fees since they are locally produced in Svalbard. The efforts have been unsuccessful so far. Svalbard is therefore considered a shipment from aboard, and only items costing 350 kroner or less can be sent free of VAT and customs fees. Eide said she just turned down an order of 600 boxes because they failed to be competitive on price when VAT, customs fees and shipping were applied.
"It also means that we can not send our biggest boxes or our Advent calendars without charges," said Eide, adding she still hopes there will be legislative changes in the regulations. "Then it becomes too expensive. That was the one line in the bill for us since we first got the signal that this was going to go to the bank." (IS THIS TRANSLATION CORRECT? "BOKS" ALSO TRANSLATES AS "BOXES." EITHER WAY, I'M NOT SURE I UNDERSTAND WHAT SHE'S SAYING. IT WOULD MAKE SENSE IF SHE MEANS "BREAK THE BANK," TO USE AN ENGLISH IDIOM.)
The online store shop also features a special offer for customers. Instead of sending a flowergram – as many do in connection with birthdays or just as a nice greeting – one can send a chocolategram.
"It was one of our customers who came up with the idea," Eide said. "That is a special service on the website. For that we send a personal greeting on a card along with a gift pack of chocolates. That can be sent to both grandmothers on the mainland or to a loved one in Longyearbyen."
She said there are many people in town who are truly engaged in the chocolates being made, which is heartwarming. Fruene also receives pictures from customers worldwide from Alaska to New York showing them with the special homemade chocolates.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini