Internet buzz is a boon for niche businesses. A perfect example? Vermont Nut Free Chocolates of Grande Isle makes 99 percent of its sales online at http://www.vermontnutfree.com.
Gail and Mark Elvidge began the business 10 years ago "out of frustration," according to Gail. Their son Tanner is highly allergic to peanuts, and there were no chocolates on the market that were safe for him to eat - almost all chocolates are processed on machines that occasionally touch peanuts or peanut oil. "I started to make him his own treats," Gail says.
In 1998, Nut Free started selling on the web. Things were a bit slow at first, but around 2000, business began to pick up, and Gail can now afford to work on the business full time. These days, Vermont Nut Free ships about 150,000 pounds of chocolate each year, mostly within the U.S. and Canada between Halloween and Easter - the traditional busy season for chocolate companies. Nut Free also has customers in Taiwan, Australia and Portugal.
Along with their long-distance success, the Elvidges have also gotten lots of support closer to home. Tanner's school, Grand Isle Elementary, now uses Nut Free Chocolate in its Valentine's Day gift exchange. "They've already placed an order for heart-shaped pops," Gail mentions. For a buck, youngsters can send a chocolate heart and note to a friend, without putting those with allergies in danger. That's one cool school.