VINELAND - When it comes to the chocolate business, the sweet life can also be salty. Or jalapeno-hot. Or served with bacon.

Amy Barbera has incorporated all these flavors into Barbera's Chocolate on Occasion, a Vineland-based, handmade-chocolate shop she started in June 2004.

The business, which uses Barbera's secret chocolate recipe, also does other creative things with candy - such as coating wine bottles with chocolate.

"We keep up with the trends of chocolate. I never would have thought of putting bacon on chocolate," said Barbera, 40, of Vineland. "And that's helped because people watch the food channel and all that other stuff. Even our regular customers, when they come in, we always have something different, and I think that's helped."

Research firm IBISWorld estimates chocolate production is a $15 billion industry in the U.S., with the biggest chunk coming from major producers.

For specialty shops that sell chocolate, revenue is ultimately driven by consumer spending and individual preferences, although the recession only slightly affected the industry, the firm said.

As IBISWorld noted, "Consumers regard chocolate as small, yet affordable, luxuries."

Barbera opened her chocolate-making business two years after she had her first daughter.

"I was an art teacher before I opened up the shop. Before that I was a graphic designer, which is what I have my degree in," she said.

"(After my daughter was born) I wanted something that would be flexible. I did chocolate as a hobby, just for friends. Then I had people who wanted to order it for other people, which I couldn't do from home. I decided to open the shop and I taught myself while I was home with my daughter. … I was always creative. (But with) graphic design, I didn't like sitting in an office and not talking to anybody all day."

Barbera taught herself the business and the art of making chocolate, although her early experiences underestimated how much chocolate she would be making.

"I had a tempering machine that only held 3 pounds of chocolate at a time…Then we had a 50-pound, then a 100-pound machine. We make a lot of chocolate now," said Barbera, who estimates the shop produces around 250 pounds of it a month.

During holidays such as Valentine's Day, Christmas and Easter, the shop makes much more.

The chocolate store makes most of the products it carries and has more than 120 varieties of chocolate, she said. One of its more popular treats is a bar made of potato chips and pretzels in caramel and covered in chocolate and sea salt.

In addition to the Vineland shop, Barbera opened another location in Sea Isle City four years ago but closed it after two years.

"We did really well, but unfortunately the season is short. … We still made out a little on top, but being home with my kids was worth it more," she said.

Barbera said she still has plans to open a second location in the future.

Contact Brian Ianieri: