The U.S. operations of premium chocolatier Lindt & Sprüngli, more commonly known as Lindt, are expanding, with a new distribution facility in Pennsylvania and a multi-million dollar expansion of its New Hampshire headquarters.
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David Soyka samples Old World artistry packaged in more than 700 high-quality products especially designed to indulge refined tastes.
The earliest evidence of chocolate consumption dates back to 1900 B.C. The history of Lindt & Sprüngli doesn’t date back quite so long ago, but it does mark the dawn of the modern era in chocolate making. In 1845, David Sprüngli-Schwarz owned a pastry shop in Zurich where he established a small factory to make chocolate in solid form. Until then, chocolate was mostly consumed in liquid form. Then, in 1879, Rodolphe Lindt created the first melting chocolate, essentially inventing chocolate as we know it today, through the invention of the conche. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“We make only premium chocolate using the finest ingredients in the tradition of craftsmanship consumers expect from a master chocolatier,” says Thomas Linemayr, president and CEO of Lindt USA. “Lindt chocolate products are widely recognized in the United States and throughout the world for their sophisticated refinement, finest quality ingredients and innovative flavor combinations.”
While the specific recipes for the more than 700 different kinds of chocolate products are company secrets, one thing Lindt doesn’t keep a secret is that its high-quality chocolate is the result of Lindt being one of the few chocolate manufacturers in the world that has complete control over every step of its production chain. In sourcing its cocoa beans, Lindt assumes responsibility by taking measures that contribute significantly to the protection and improvement of its workers’ welfare and livelihoods.
The LINDOR truffle is the signature Lindt product most recognized – a delicate, hard chocolate shell filled with a smooth chocolate center available in a variety of exquisite flavors. The LINDOR recipe was first introduced more than 60 years ago, and today, the iconic LINDOR truffle is known for its “smooth melting chocolate experience,” as Linemayr describes it. Other product lines include the EXCELLENCE collection of premium dark chocolate bars, boxed chocolates and a wide range of seasonal and gifting items, featuring the iconic Lindt GOLD BUNNY, which is sold throughout the Easter season.
“We’re always experimenting with new recipes and flavors,” Linemayr notes. “One example is Lindt EXCELLENCE A Touch of Sea Salt. Although at first you might not think that salt and chocolate go well together, salt complements the intensity of dark chocolate. The sea salt crystals are not evenly distributed throughout the chocolate bar; while this was initially a concern, consumers love the fact that each bite provides a slightly different taste sensation, depending on how much salt content happens to be in that portion of the bar.”
He adds, “The U.S. market has historically been a bit behind Europe in terms of receptiveness to new flavors and taste experiences. In the 1990s, we experimented with a salt and chocolate combination, and consumers didn’t want anything to do with it. Today, Lindt EXCELLENCE A Touch of Sea Salt is one of our most popular products. Thanks in part to the growing foodie movement, Americans are more receptive to different kinds of foods and flavors, and the same goes for chocolate. It used to be the U.S. was four to seven years behind the trends in Europe, but now, that gap is steadily closing.”
Linemayr characterizes the Millennial generation as both more approachable to new flavor combinations, as well as a consumer more likely to shop online. “We created the Lindt HELLO collection specifically for Millennials,” he says. “The packaging has little thought balloons with cute sayings such as ‘Nice to Sweet You.’ We also launched what we believe is the first of its kind Rom-Com (romantic comedy) web series on YouTube. It features six couples who come to interact in some way through an experience with HELLO chocolate.”
While Lindt sells chocolate through numerous retail partners throughout the country, as well as in its own boutique Lindt Chocolate Shops, Linemayr emphasizes the importance of online shopping and social media promotion, particularly for Millenials who he describes as “Digital Natives.” He notes that “there are certain experiences you can’t replicate online as you can in a brick-and-mortar store. In our boutique stores, for example, you can taste samples and talk with salespeople who are highly educated about chocolate and finding the right product for any occasion. Still, you can’t overlook the convenience factor of online shopping. Particularly for seasonal occasions, if you live on the east coast and you’ve got a relative or friend in California, sending a box of chocolates using our website is the easiest and simplest way to send a gift.”
Linemayr believes that over the long term, 20 to 25 percent of total sales will be online. “A regular retail store won’t always carry everything, but on the website, you can find anything you want. Also, you can set up repeat ordering so that every two weeks you get a new selection of chocolates without having to think about it.”
Swiss parent company Lindt & Sprüngli imported chocolate to the U.S. until 1989, at which time domestic production and administrative operations were established in Stratham, N.H. Currently comprising more than 850,000 square feet, the company recently announced a multi-million dollar expansion plan. Linemayr emphasizes that Lindt does not outsource any aspect of its production so as to maintain the highest levels of quality control. “We roast the cocoa beans, we blend ingredients according to our recipes, and in many cases hand wrap the final, finished product,” he says. “Because we are creating a premium product built on a tradition of craftsmanship, there is considerable manual labor involved. Our people are dedicated to the art of making chocolate. In fact, we recently celebrated our 25th anniversary here in the U.S., and of the 50 people who started with us in 1989, 16 are still working with us today.”
Today, Lindt USA employs about 1,200 people. During seasonal peaks, it adds temporary employees bringing employment to nearly 2,000. “We’ve got a good solid group that works hard for us every day,” Linemayr notes.
While chocolate sales, along with other luxury items, suffered somewhat during the recession, demand is returning to higher levels. So much so that Lindt recently acquired a new 400,000 square-foot warehouse and distribution center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to support growing market demands for premium chocolate. The facility is being upgraded and a Lindt retail store will open at the same location; both are expected to be operational in early 2015.
“Chocolate is the ultimate indulgence,” Linemayr notes. “It’s a way to not only reward others as a thoughtful gift, it’s a way to reward yourself after a hard day of work or just to enjoy a sophisticated food product that can make you a little bit happier than you were before you tasted it. At Lindt, we’re more than happy to provide experiences that can do that for you.”