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Liège chocolate maestro Jean Galler on 40 years of worldwide growth
With parents and grandparents in the business, did you ever consider another career?
I spent two years at catering college in Liège and I thought about becoming a chef, but it didn’t inspire me with the same passion as chocolate. I think you need passion in whatever job you do, but it’s probably easier to say that when you work with chocolate. I’m tasting every single day and am never tired of it.
How do you explain your precocious start?
I was lucky: I realised that my future was in chocolate, and everything followed on from that. When you commit yourself and work hard, opportunities arise. When I took over the workshop, I found this artisan mini chocolate bar that had been created by the owner’s grandfather. It was a great idea. My objective was simply to wake up happy and go to bed happy.
How important is a distinctive brand in the world of Belgian chocolate?
Obviously, this is important, otherwise you’re a dwarf in a land of giants. If you don’t stand out you have no reason to be there. Mini bars make up 50% of our turnover and we are the second-biggest producer in Belgium. Overall, we are the fourth-biggest chocolate company in Belgium and we wouldn’t have achieved this if we’d just produced the same as the others. It’s always been our strategy to offer affordable products. We have stores across the country and two boutique restaurants, in Brussels and Namur. There is also some diversification; my daughter and I have an organic vineyard called Septem Triones. That’s another product it’s easy to get passionate about!
After mini bars, what are your other leading products?
We are the second-biggest supplier of chocolate eggs in the country. Since 1995 we have produced Chocolats du Chat with cartoonist Philippe Geluck, combining two excellent Belgian products. In mini bars, we are number three. For the tablets, we are continually finding new flavours, such as white chocolate and raspberry. A recent success is dark chocolate with mint and lime. We use mint leaves that don’t dominate the other elements.
How have you raised investment?
We needed investment and were unable to raise money in Belgium. Qatari princes invested heavily in the company but all operations remain in the Liège area. Last year we opened boutiques in Antwerp and Ghent and also joined the street food wave, selling praline-filled waffles, hot chocolate and ice cream at the Dockx shopping complex in Brussels, as well as in Liège, and we are planning others. Foreign sales are important. We started in Harrods in London in 1981 and now have outlets in Japan, France, the Middle East, Spain… and our intention is to further expand.
Can you explain Belgium’s love affair with chocolate?
It’s a question of history, which has evolved since the beginning of the 20th century. Callebaut has been supplying quality couverture chocolate which has enabled brands such as Leonidas, Neuhaus and Godiva to develop. We have quality chocolate at a very good price and Belgians don’t always realise how lucky they are.
This article first appared in WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine