Before you take a bite – smell the chocolate. Breathe in its aroma. Take a good look at it. Is it shiny or dull? What is its color and texture? Much like a wine connoisseur, true chocolate lovers consider appearance, smell and taste. Chocolate afficionados let the chocolate melt on their tongue and enjoy the various degrees of intensity and sensual feelings while it liquefies.
Lindt & Sprüngli is on a mission to cultivate chocolate connoisseurs among the American public and bring the kind of chocolate experiences Europeans have enjoyed for years to the U.S.
“The U.S. consumer has had to live with the same chocolate product choices forever. They deserve new varieties. They deserve better,” says Thomas Linemayr, president and chief executive officer of Lindt & Sprüngli (USA) Inc.
Where premium chocolates make up 25 to 35 percent of the market in Europe, when Lindt decided to make the U.S. market a priority, the premium market was barely 2 percent. “About seven years ago when we made the U.S. our main focus, we felt it was grossly underdeveloped,” says Linemayr. “We wanted to bring finer chocolate to the U.S. consumer. Much like wine has become popular and people have developed a taste for not only whites but now the rich, full-bodied reds, we believe U.S. consumers can and will develop a similar taste for premium chocolates.”
Using Their Bean
In its effort to start the chocolate bar rolling, Lindt opened over 100 specialty stores to push its premium brands, and launched its first-ever television ad campaign. The TV spots, featuring Lindt’s Lindor Truffles, went beyond competitors’ campaigns by showing delectable shots of pouring chocolate to entice viewers. It worked. The campaign was so successful, Lindt expanded it to include its popular new “Excellence” line. “Over the past two years we’ve refined the campaign and made it more contemporary and compelling,” says Linemayr. “We’ve also shifted our media focus a bit away from daytime and toward a more primetime audience to reach the upscale consumer and create more brand awareness.”
The company’s efforts are showing significant returns and U.S market share of the premium chocolate market is now up to just under 6 percent in five years. “That’s more than doubled,” says Linemayr, who is not only passionate about chocolate, but also patient. Linemayr understands developing palates takes time.
Preparing the Palate
To support Lindt & Sprüngli’s 30 percent growth in U.S. sales since 2002 and its quest to bring premium chocolate to the U.S., it had to take a serious look at its current production operation. To successfully prepare itself for the next few years, the company decided to expand the New Hampshire operations (home to Lindt USA since 1989) to become the largest manufacturing plant in the world. From its New Hampshire base, Lindt chocolates are distributed to Lindt’s own 150 retail stores across the country and numerous other retail and wholesale locations.
The plan is to add 300,000 square feet to its current facility, which will include quadrupling the number of loading docks from six to 24, for distributing chocolate across the U.S. and Canada. Once completed, the additional factory space will allow for a production line to include the company’s full line of bars, including “Excellence,” Lindor Milk and Swiss bars. The expansion will make Lindt the top employer on the New Hampshire seacoast and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2007. Currently, Lindt employs more than 800 people at the facility and Linemayer says the number will balloon to 1,000 in the near future. The company also has six plants throughout Europe, employing about 6,000 worldwide.
The primary trend in the premium chocolate market continues to be dark chocolate. Filled with antioxidants and flavinoids (both touted for their anti-aging properties), not to mention the lower sugar content, some health and “foodie” magazines have been promoting dark chocolate as the “better choice” for consumers hungry for something sweet.
“Everybody is doing a dark chocolate right now,” says Linemayr. “But few are paying attention to the sub-flavors. We now carry 40 different, very distinct dark chocolate offerings under the Lindt line.”
Actually, an impressive one-third of Lindt’s sales are dark chocolate thanks to the launch of Lindt’s “Excellence” line. The passion and expertise of Lindt’s master chocolatiers culminated in this gourmet bar which is full-bodied dark chocolate, masterfully balanced and neither bitter nor overpowering. It ranges in cocoa percentages of 70 to 99, depending on your palate development, with each concentration revealing a little more of the strength and richness of the cocoa bean. The “Excellence” line has grown to include 10 products from an Excellence Toffee Crunch to a delicate Intense Mint to Excellence Intense Orange. “The line was enormous when we introduced it and its popularity shows no signs of waning,” says Linemayr. “Growth last year alone was over 80 percent and we have a ton of new products in the pipeline.” Gaining similar acceptance is Lindt’s Petits Desserts line, chocolates that mimic popular desserts such as Lemon Tart, Truffle Cake and Linemayr’s favorite, Crème Brulee.
Lindt also decided to use its “Excellence” line as the basis for another new and worldly exploration. Again, the master Swiss chocolatiers of Lindt created a dark chocolate, this time with an exotic twist. The finest cocoa beans are carefully selected from the world’s leading regions resulting in the pure recipes of The “Excellence Origins” collection. Excellence Madagascar 65 percent Cocoa, for instance, boasts the exotic taste of the Sambirano cocoa, grown in the northwestern part of the island of Madagascar, and imbues this prestigious chocolate with a soft and harmonious character, enriched with a hint of vanilla. Lindt also has a Cuba and Ecuador bar with plans to soon introduce a Peru bar.
How Sweet It Is
For over 150 years, Lindt & Sprüngli has decidedly adhered to the principle of premium quality. The company works with processes and plants that reflect state-of-the-art technology in the chocolate industry. “Lindt & Sprüngli does everything in its power to consistently renew the trust of its loyal chocolate lovers,” says Linemayr. “The trademark ‘LINDT’ is the guarantee for chocolate manufactured with the greatest care from the highest quality ingredients and famous for distinct smoothness, characteristic taste and innovative flair. This is the kind of quality and innovation we want to bring to our customers in the U.S. and everywhere – we want to be responsible for giving them the highest, premium chocolate experience.”