Swiss-based Läderach premium chocolate continues global expansion programme

After experiencing a challenging business environment amid the peak of the covid pandemic, Swiss-based premium chocolate business Läderach has reported an upturn in its fortunes, including a key programme of expansion, reports Neill Barston.

Confectionery Production recently reported on the company’s recent purchase of Godiva stores in the US is already having a key positive impact on the business, with the company continuing its programme of opening facilities around the world, including most recently in Shanghai, China.

In an exclusive video interview, CEO Johannes Läderach reveals the business is in a notably promising position as the core Christmas confectionery seasons kicks-in, with the company demonstrating resilience amid the pandemic.

As apprenticeships go for gaining entry into the confectionery world, the CEO couldn’t have hoped for much more of an ideal entry into the industry. “I literally grew up on top of the chocolate factory, a little bit like Charlie, and I lived there until the age of 12 – I was with my grandfather in the kitchen, so I had some very nice memories of that time,” he enthuses of his formative years in Switzerland, at Ennenda, a Canton of Glarus, paving the way for his rise within the business.

Moreover, as he notes, the forward-thinking company retains a strong reputation for its premium grade, sustainably sourced chocolate creations that have a distinctive hand-crafted edge marking them out in an exceptionally crowded field.

Johannes, 35, is quick to hail his grandfather Rudolf’s achievements, explaining his decisive breakthrough in 1970, creating thin-walled hollow balls for truffles, which rapidly accelerated the early business. Facilitating this was the purchase of the established Merkur chocolate stores in Switzerland, which proved a gateway for the Läderach family, including Johannes’s father, to take the company to the next level. Reflecting on the pandemic, he does not shy away from the fact sales were down by around 40 per cent in 2020 in Switzerland, due to the lack of traditional sales in its boutique stores, and lack of travel retail as airports remained liked ghost towns.

However, despite these issues, he says there’s been a strong spirit of resilience within the company. He explains: “We tried to see the crisis as an opportunity, so we could really strengthen our ecommerce, as well as finding even more attractive locations for our boutiques. Delivering Swiss confectionery bliss “So, we have invested heavily in many new sites in Austria, UK, in the US, and just opened a store in Shanghai.

“We also had the opportunity to take over the 34 stores of Godiva, I think we’ll eventually look back and see the pandemic as a big challenge, but also a blessing in disguise,” notes the CEO, who admits taking the helm at the business after completing his business degree was like ‘standing on the shoulders of giants,’ but says it’s very much a case of complementing the work that his father and grandfather have done, with his dad still active within the company as its president.

He is also praises the efforts of his brother Elias within the business, who has himself played a strong part in steering the company forward, having also gained particularly esteemed honours including gaining the coveted title of World Chocolate Master in 2018, organised by Cacao Barry as one of the ultimate tests of artisan craftsmanship within the confectionery industry.

According to Johannes, the fact its products are all made in Switzerland is of major significance to the business, believing the tag of ‘Swiss made’ offers a key point of distinction. Its expansion model continues apace, with the purchase of Godiva’s stores, arrival in London at Harrods and Regent Street, and in China through starting with ecommerce and building to physical shops, there’s a demonstrable desire for creativity within the brand.

“The Covid crisis has probably accelerated digitisation and the push towards ecommerce, however, I still believe in a hybrid customer and consumer that wants to buy sometimes online and sometimes offline. For offline sales, it is all about the experience that we offer.

“That’s one of the advantages of our stores, you can already see the product through the window, you can smell it and you then can listen to the staff how the explain and consult on the types of chocolate, which you can even taste there, so there’s some pros to this offline world, but we want to combine that with the online world, so these are exciting times ahead,” adds Johannes, who asserts these two very different channels can in fact be complementary to each other. As he says, the pandemic is continuing to teach the business a very valuable lesson in the need for streamlining of manufacturing, yet he says it is vital the company retains a strong element of artisanal production, which stands as its hallmark.

This is no more in evidence than with its signature FrischSchoggi ‘fresh chocolate’ nut enhanced artisan chocolate tablets, that are a core delight within its stores and a fan favourite.

He enthuses: “There’s lots of talk in the management teaching about customer journey and omni channel, but we really must not forget the product, especially in the chocolate industry. It’s the most important factor for success, my brother and I are committed towards innovations, we try and have two such innovations each year. “The last two have been a chocolate popcorn and chocolate tablets with special Grand crus high percentage chocolate, that we’re happy with those and are now looking forward to the next ones taking place soon.”

According to the CEO, the company has looked to respond to wider market trends including the rapid growth of the vegan confectionery market, which he said had become ‘particularly important,’ which he revealed was an area that the company was continuing to expand its product offering. He notes that there is a particular desire from consumers for clean label, ‘all natural’ ingredients, which has become a huge topic for the industry as a whole.

As regards other areas such as sugar reduction, he notes that ‘this is something that will happen over time,’ but conceded that this was not its present market positioning, with its customer base being on of those seeking an indulgent chocolate experience without compromise in terms of its taste and flavour.

“We focus on the best possible indulgence, and we believe that premium chocolatiers will even profit from more health conscious living, as people used to just eat larger quantities of mid-market products. They now eat more consciously, so they aim for the best, and that’s where we want to position ourselves.”

Sustainability focus

As Johannes notes, while the overall quality of its products is of core importance, so too is the manner in which the company sources its ingredients in a sustainable way. He explains the business is seeking a model of 100% transparency of sourcing, which includes working with farming groups in Costa Rica (one of a handful of its locations), to digitise payments to ensure they are fairly treated in the process.

“On average, we pay farmers a premium of 33 per cent premium for the market price, as we want to reward them for their quality, and for the long term relationships we have with them, as they also have to go through a certificate process with most of these countries through Rainforest Alliance, so we can make sure there’s no child labour issues, and that there’s also sustainability standards that everyone adheres to,” enthuses the CEO on its approach to the future viability of the company. He’s clearly an optimist at heart, and while the past year has been gruelling, he is very much ‘glass half full’ in his thinking. “We’re growing again, and Switzerland is recovering slowly but surely. I’m really proud of our employees, and this gives us a lot of optimism for the years to come.”

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