Toblerone maintains peak performance
As one of the most instantly recognisable chocolate brands in the world, Toblerone is maintaining its market presence after more than a century. Neill Barston explores its Swiss production facilities
After gaining the chance to take in the striking scenery of the Swiss alps, it’s easy to understand exactly why they have become such a major symbol for Toblerone.
Though the precise story remains unknown, it is thought the celebrated Matterhorn mountain proved the inspiration for the distinctive triangular bars.
Whatever the case, Theodor Tobler, a Swiss sweet shop owner in Bern, struck confectionery gold 111 years ago with his chocolate creation.
Together with his cousin Emil Baumann who was assisting him expand the company, they immediately recognised their discovery’s importance. So much so, they rushed to gain a patent at the local office for their series of confectionery – which by chance happened to have a young Albert Einstein working there before becoming one of the world’s greatest scientists.
Before they could file their patent, they needed convincing branding, which ended up being a mixture of its creator Tobler, and the Italian for nougat, Torrone, which proved a winning formula. More than a century later and the brand remains among the strongest performing assets for its US owners, Mondelēz International, who export Toblerone from Switzerland around the globe.
Its place amid a confectionery and snacks group with annual total sales valued at $26 billion last year offers the brand unparalleled access to international markets that is continuing to boost its fortunes.
However, the long journey to its present position is a complex tale, having passed through several owners. This includes a merger with the Meltis that saw products for its British market shift to Bedford in the UK.
Then in the 1970s, a move by Interfood resulted in the business becoming part of Suchard, before Mondelēz (which was Kraft Foods at that time) finally taking over the company in 1990.
Consequently, Toblerone made a full return to its roots in Bern, with the development of major new facility that produces all its global supplies.
Underlining the brand’s heritage, there’s also a smart piece of marketing hidden within its distinctive packaging. The bars’ distinctive logo features the image of a climbing bear, which is believed to have been inspired by the 13th coat of arms for Bern. With a strong sense of passion behind the brand, the rare chance we have to explore the production site feels particularly special.
As with any production environment, there are plenty of protocols surrounding any visits to the site, which underline the fact that commercial sensitivities that prevail within the chocolate industry are still very much evident.
But our hosts enthuse about the pedigree of their famous product, with major demand resulting in continuous production cycles that ensure its teams totalling 180 remain especially busy around the year. Beyond its original milk chocolate edition, the brand continues to expand with a number of variations that continue to drive engagement with its global customer base.
It wasn’t until the late 60s that a dark version of Toblerone was introduced, with a white chocolate option subsequently finding its way on to our shelves in 1973.
From there, its expanded range has included options such as a snowtop variety with white chocolate peaks, individually wrapped varieties, and even pralines which were produced in the 1990s.
Other options included a fruit and nut edition, honeycomb crisp and even a crispy coconut one for good measure, demonstrating an ongoing demand for ever-more inventive flavour choices. It is presently available in a total of seven variations, though the classic milk variety remains a bestseller for the Swiss business.
Understandably, its exact production process remains a closely guarded secret, yet it has remained true to its original core ingredients consisting of chocolate mixed with milk powder (sourced exclusively from 14,000 Swiss cows), and nougat developed from a combination of egg whites, sugar, almonds and honey. Such is the level of its global production, the company makes claim to being the world’s second largest producer of nougat in the world.
As we walk through the imposing production halls of the site, there’s a sense that this is very much an efficient operation capable of responding to seasonal spikes in demand for certain production lines.
From the giant industrial scale refiners and pre-refiners that handle the initial chocolate mass, through to the later tempering and mixing stages, the process is strictly monitored to ensure that flavour profiles are maintained as closely as possible to produce the tastes that customers have come to expect over the decades.
Perhaps the highlight of the experience is in watching thousands of the freshly moulded chocolate peaks dance along conveying lines at speed, awaiting packaging in the distinctive cream boxes that have become recognised throughout the world.
Indeed, such is its popularity that rivals emerged – including a Twin Peaks, which was created for discount retailer Poundland, following Toblerone’s decision to widen the gap between the bar’s peaks for British consumers amid mounting ingredients costs.
However, the resulting criticism from customers led to the move being revoked, as well as the copycat British bars being forced to alter their design.
Such scenarios are of course not uncommon within the confectionery world, and it doesn’t seem to be having any tangible impact on one of the world’s most recognised sweets brands.
According to the company, on an average day, it produces a half a million tablets over 100g, half a million bars of 35g and 50g and more than 2.5 million 8g pralines across its portfolio.
As plant director Lars Hölkemann explains during Confectionery Production’s visit, it’s been a memorable experience joining the business over four years ago that has led to taking up his present post this year.
He says: “All my life I’ve been in manufacturing – I really like that I can see what I’m doing and creating products that people really enjoy. I talk to my children about it and every time they see the chocolate, they say ‘daddy that’s you making that,” which is why I really love what I do.
“We are very proud of being the only Toblerone plant in the world, which has a huge heritage. But that also carries with it a responsibility in terms of our supply chains, as there’s no back-up, so we need well established processes to make sure customers receive everything at the right time and to the right quality, which are some of our key challenges.”
While he says that while on a technical level it may well be possible to expand its ranges even further, maintaining consistency with its existing series remains a major priority for the business.
With regard to the brand’s global reputation, he notes there is no room for complacency in striving to enhance the plant’s practices. “When you see the reaction of people when you mention what we are doing here at Toblerone, it puts a smile on people’s faces. It’s also its long heritage that makes it special, along with its taste and quality, which has been the same for a century. Everyone seems to know and like it, so I think that’s the magic behind it all,” adds Hölkemann of the company, which is presently considering expanding its present site to meet the continuing global demand for its ranges.
– Toblerone’s recipe was devised by Swiss chocolatier Theodor Tobler in 1908. With assistance from his cousin Emil Baumann, the pair created its defining triangular shape.
– Toblerone’s name stems from a combination of the creator’s name and the Italian name for nougat (Torone).
– A total of 14,000 Swiss cows are employed solely for production of Toblerone’s milk powder, and its subsequent distribution around the world.
– Today, the group is part of Mondelez International, which recently recorded annual revenues of $26 billion.
– The product has encountered rivals during its 111 year history, including a similar Kolumbo bar in Croatia, and Swiss company Chocolate Frey’s triangular Mahony bars.