French chocolate abroad – a glorious adventure

10-07-2015
Logo France Bon appétit

Easter and chocolate go hand in hand. Every year in France, almost 14,000 tonnes of chocolate are consumed over the extended Easter weekend.

Indulging in a sweet affair with chocolate. Close-up of a beautiful women holding finger on her red lips while standing against grey backgroundThis mass consumption does not take place by chance since France boasts a rich and longstanding chocolate tradition. For a number of years now, French chocolatiers have grown in popularity abroad and continue to export more of their produce and their savoir-faire. But how significant is quality French chocolate abroad? We hope to provide a few essential pointers to answer this question and even inspire other French companies to launch their own ventures.

French chocolate proves a popular export

By way of introduction, here are a few key figures relating to France’s chocolate industry. France is the world’s third leading exporter of chocolate. According to the French chocolate syndicate, Alliance7, the sector comprises 80 companies (9 out of 10 of which are small and medium sized enterprises) and employs 30,000 people nationwide.

After a slight dip in 2013, annual exports of French chocolate rose in 2014 to 318,244 tonnes. In 2014, France exported on average 62% of its production, of which 87% within the European Union. According to official French trade statistics from the Direction Nationale des Statistiques du Commerce Exterieur (DNSCE), exports focus predominantly on Germany (52,950 tonnes), the UK (54,643 tonnes) and Spain (51,935 tonnes).

Germany is Europe’s largest consumer of chocolate, accounting for 12.22kg per capita, followed by the UK with 8.86 kg, and Austria with 8.8kg, France consumes a “mere” 6.69kg per capita.

Jean-Paul Hevin, acclaimed artisan chocolatier in Asia

“Maison Hevin” Chocolate company is nothing short of an institution throughout the world, notably in Asia. Japan, the first country to succumb to the delights of the chocolatier, is currently its major export market, with 9 boutiques dotted across the country. Having discovered Japan back in 1984, when Peltier, the famous French patisserie, opened its first shop there, it would take another 18 years for the artisan chocolatier to launch his first chocolate enclave in Isetan, the Japanese equivalent of Galeries Lafayette. The boutique met with immediate success. “It was an astonishing phenomenon. Dozens of people were queuing.” explained Jean-Paul Hevin, with a certain nostalgia. And since then, its popularity in the land of the rising sun has continued to go from strength to strength. “Even today there are always queues outside the shop. And that’s not for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day, when queues can last up to 6 hours.”

The fierce loyalty of Japanese palates shows no sign of relenting with the forthcoming opening of its tenth store, heralding the reigning success of French savoir-faire. Jean-Paul Hevin’s successful track record in Japan is down to a well-oiled methodical approach to business. “Another important factor to consider was signing a contract with a Japanese partner, who works completely separately to Isetan. I also worked with an importer, so there were 3 of us in discussion. Ensuing negotiations were much easier as a result, as the Japanese tend to be quite methodical in their approach, and follow a very specific procedure. It really helped to have three of us taking part in negotiations.”

The idea of a local partnership is an important element for anyone wanting to set up business abroad. But that’s not all. “After that, my major concern was to make it clear that I didn’t want to fabricate the chocolate in Japan. All my chocolates are made in Paris and subsequently exported. This was a new idea as all French chocolate makers at the time were producing locally”, explained the Master chocolatier.

So good contacts and France-based production were determining factors to Jean-Paul Hevin’s success, an artisan who had only a single employee in 1987 when he launched his first shop in la Motte-Piquet Grenelle in Paris, and now boasts 80, spread over more than a cumulative 5,000m2 of boutiques around the world. After opening boutiques in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, JP Hevin could say that he owes his success in part to export sales accounting for 50% of total company turnover (13 million euros); an impressive performance only set to continue with a series of new boutiques opening in other parts of the globe.

Cemoi, the flagship of French industrial chocolate abroad

At the other end of the spectrum, the Cemoi Group epitomises successful French manufacturing in international markets. The Perpignan-based, family-run enterprise is France’s leading chocolate company and ranks third in Europe. With a global turnover of 800M €, Cemoi currently boasts 3,200 employees, and a network of 21 factories and offices throughout Europe, Africa, USA and more recently, Asia.

Cemoi serves the food industry, chocolate retailers and trade professionals, right through to the end consumer, creating tailor-made recipes allowing innovation to generate new tastes. A global player on the cocoa market, the company is committed to the cocoa industry at every level, from farmers through to consumers. It could also be seen as global. With a processing plant established on the Ivory Coast since 1996, the company works closely with local cocoa cooperatives and farmers.

The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, generating a turnover of 360 million Euros outside of France and employing 1,100 workers abroad. Europe dominates exports, which focus essentially on Germany, the UK and Spain. Undoubtedly critical to Cemoi’s success over the years is its buying power. In 2007, it took over the Jacquot company, acquiring a significant international client portfolio in the process and maintaining its head office in Lisbon. Having purchased various factories in Europe, Cemoi opened commercial offices and new factory facilities in Poland and on the Ivory Coast, not to mention commercial offices such as those recently opened in New York in 2012, and in Saint Petersburg and Hong Kong in 2015.

Cemoi’s success has arguably flourished as a result of its commitment to global traceability. “Sourcing cocoa direct from the Ivory Coast, Ecuador, Sao Tome and the Dominican Republic, has allowed the Group to develop different aromatic profiles for our chocolate and offer a large palette of flavours” explains Patrick Poirrier, CEO of the Group. “In addition, our company spans the entire chocolate manufacturing sector, and can therefore offer consumers total traceability for all its products, right back to the farmer”, concludes Poirrier, who has stood at the head of the company since 2005. And if he were to offer advice to any French industrialists wishing embark in export sales…” It is vital to have the right logistics in the country to cope with distribution, be able to rely on solid partners, and in the mid-term, setting up in the country accelerates market growth, bringing greater market understanding and greater reactivity.” These essential pointers will hopefully help other French manufacturers and artisans to export the very best of French quality and savoir-faire to other countries around the globe.