Founded 35 years ago, family-run Bel Chocolates has a history of affectionately perfecting confectionary in the tropical climate of Brazil. Today the company is one of the country’s fasting growing brands of chocolate and candy and exports treats around the world. Reuben Ford unwraps the secrets of Bel’s success.
Better known for its sunny beaches and colorful carnival, candy is not the first thing that springs to mind about Brazil. With a stable and thriving economy and the nation’s sweet tooth craving more than the abundant fruits, the chocolate industry is enjoying a chunk of the success. One of the leading chocolatiers, Bel Chocolates, was listed among the top 20 companies that grew the most in 2010, according to industry magazine ‘Exame’, and as a national brand holds on to a healthy 5 percent share of the Brazilian candy bar market.
IN THE MIX
In the face of stiff competition from multinational giants Bel’s strong position is particularly impressive. Despite being founded in 1976, the company only launched its candy bar career in 1991, as a move to diversify its business, with production of the strawberry flavor chocolate coated bar: Moranguete. Following enormous success, Bel increased its product mix and launched more chocolate bars and sweets. Today, confectionary varieties Golden, Top Bel’s, CoberTop, Mega Show, King and By Coco are all well known Bel products and have been responsible for the growth of the brand.
When Bel first opened for business in Marília, São Paulo, it produced salted peanuts, popcorn and peanut brittle in homemade styles. From the very start the company showed its dedication to excellence in the sweet industry, providing high quality goods at reasonable and affordable prices.
“These are important factors in our mix,” says Export Manager Fabrício Beduschi Beloti. Bel’s chocolates compete with major brands on taste and some market surveys show that consumers prefer Bel. The Mega Show bar, which is comparable to the Snickers bar, is one of the company’s top sellers, and is a great tasting alternative around 30 percent cheaper. “Our philosophy is to match other brands on quality, but achieve better value for money through competitive pricing,” Beloti confirms.
Exceptional quality is achieved through heavy investment in state-of-the-art technology, which is imported primarily from Germany. “Undoubtedly our constant attention to updating production machinery is an important part of our ongoing success. For the last ten years we have attended international trade fairs such as ISM and Interpack in Germany and our techniques and processes are among the best employed in the global industry,” says Beloti. Bel not only visits the exhibitions with the intention of keeping up-to-date, but also participates by showing products.
The development of the product line and the range of manufacturing technology have earned Bel Chocolates international recognition. The company exports to 25 countries, including the US, and has strong markets in South and Central America with overseas sales representing 20 percent of annual revenue. As more and more clients develop a taste for Bel, Beloti is confident that growth will continue into the future: “We are convinced of our potential and project annual growth of 29 percent for 2011.”
INGREDIENTS: INVESTMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE
In addition to obvious financial investment in its success, Bel invests time, trust and training in its 500 staff. The interaction of the employees at the company is an important ingredient in product development. The Research and Development department together with Marketing analyze customer satisfaction surveys and market trends as well as information gathered from the international trade fairs. “The creation of new products does not follow an obvious protocol. Each region has a bestseller, and different markets show different tendencies and trends,” Beloti explains.
Despite the differences, Beloti says that the overall leader in the product range is the assorted chocolate bonbons, followed by the Mega Show and King, which are varieties of chocolate, nut and caramel bars.
Production takes place at Bel’s 11,000-square-meter facility in Marília, São Paulo. The plant was inaugurated in 1984, following the expansion of the company and houses the technology and Bel’s Dairy division; Hercules. Together Bel and Hercules employ a total of 800 staff. The factory also purchases the very best in raw materials for the confectionary. “Quality is a priority. Some of our raw materials are bought on the domestic market and some are imported, because we buy the best,” explains Beloti. The process for closing supplier deals is extremely rigorous, with sample products being tested before contracts are signed.
Distribution inside Brazil covers all of the country’s vast territory. “Due to the tradition and profile of Bel, the wholesale market accounts for 96 percent of sales. In 2011, however, with the planned launch of new products, the proportion should shift to 89 percent wholesale and 11 percent self-service (retail), which will open new opportunities for partnerships with distributers,” Beloti says.
MELTING IN THE MOUTH
One of the most important differentials for Bel is the fact that the chocolate does not require refrigerated transport. With cool-containers costing around double the price of regular trucks, this property of the chocolate allows faster and more cost-effective logistics. “Our chocolate contains less than the usual cocoa butter content, replacing it with fractionated fats, which mean the products do not melt so readily,” Beloti explains. In fact, Bel produces chocolate compound, which has the texture taste and quality of chocolate, but with beneficial characteristics for hotter climates.
The proof that the chocolate compound matches chocolate in taste is in the constant growth of the internal and export markets. “Exports have been growing steadily over the last two years and constant quality control is paying off,” continues Beloti. Bel applies control standards to all stages of production. From the receipt of raw material to the packaging; every product is under constant analysis. “As well as our careful observation, the machinery is all equipped with automatic quality testing that detects impurities and guarantees the final confectionary,” he says.
With exports an ever important ingredient for success and international sales responsible for a considerable portion of revenue, Bel had to tighten its belt during the 2009 crisis, taking the lighter option with regards to production and consolidating the brand in the stronger markets. “Brazil was relatively unaffected by the economic difficulties, but nevertheless companies of inferior quality went into bankruptcy,” Beloti says. The ability to curb its appetite for success and growth, albeit momentarily was just the right recipe and Bel was already back on track in the second semester of 2009.
The twists and turns of the confectionary industry are well known to Bel, whose chocolates inevitably sell more in the run-up to special occasions, like Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day. “Many of our chocolates are given as presents, US sales rise at Thanksgiving and Halloween and special gift sets are made up by distributers,” Beloti explains. Bel also supplies private labels with confectionary, which is marketed under their own brands.
“We are always looking for new opportunities and ways to improve our products,” continues Beloti. New ‘healthier’ options such as vitamin-enriched, high-fiber or 0 percent trans fat chocolate have been introduced to the lines, in response to a growing number of more health conscious consumers.
Feeding the market in Brazil and abroad with high quality chocolate products, Bel maintains its handmade brand image and the personal touch emulated by its name, which is a tribute to the founder’s wife Isabel. In hot climates such as those in Latin America and the Caribbean, delicious chocolate delivered quickly and easily at an affordable price is a dream come true and one that is embellished by Bel every day.