By ELLEN READ

Gourmet chocolates handmade in an Auckland suburb are setting sail for the global market. Well, the Australian and United States markets for a start.

Devonport Chocolates is well known locally for its rich, sumptuous truffle logs but the company is now on its way to becoming an exporter.

Stephanie Everitt (who owns the business with husband Terry) and daughter Caroline are at present in Melbourne exploring the scene at the Fine Food Fair and looking for possible outlets.

Terry, holding the fort at home, says there are 600 exhibitors and the pair are looking at where to position the Devonport chocolates.

So far, the business, which was established in 1991 and bought by the Everitts in 1999, has concentrated on gift stores, pharmacies and florists nationwide.

The development of a new truffle recipe has helped it to expand into the hospitality and food industry, trebling the regular customer list to 300.

Devonport Chocolates has also made small exports to Australia and America already, largely as a result of word of mouth spread by visitors to its shop.

Which in itself is new. When the Everitts bought the business, it was solely a manufacturing operation based in Glenfield. The company's steady growth - turnover is up 400 per cent since they took over - meant larger premises became a must.

An industrial property in Devonport came on the market and the Everitts - who live in that area - jumped at the chance to move.

The Glenfield premises had been leased and the decision to buy the new building was made because they were reluctant to spend money fitting out a rented space.

With room to spare after the production area was put in, they decided to add a retail outlet. Daughter Caroline runs the shop, which operates as a separate business.

"It's important for us to know where our costs and profits are," Mr Everitt says.

The success of the shop and the factory has increased staff numbers - there are now five permanent workers and up to 30 part-timers in the peak seasons.

With production constantly on the go, the staff are kept busy as every chocolate product is handmade.

The chocolate is imported in 5kg blocks from Singapore and the range of truffles and filled chocolates is created in the factory. "We import the actual chocolate and focus on the other end here," Mr Everitt says.

"We use our own recipes and local product and hand manufacturing. It's labour intensive but that's us - hand-crafted is our market."

His biggest learning curve has been managing costs - especially labour costs.

With his wife and daughter both having sales and marketing backgrounds, the promotional side of the business is in good hands.

The shop is small in size but big on attitude, fitted out in bright colours and with a regularly changing window display. Similarly, Mr Everitt says it's important to keep updating the look of the finished product. "We redo the packaging because it gets stale."

New food labelling laws have also affected the firm, and a food technologist has been contracted to bring the labels up to the soon-to-be-imposed new standard.

And here is a tip for the chocoholic: don't keep your chocolate in the fridge. It should be stored in a cool, dry place - if it lasts that long.