Bel­gian cho­co­late is un­der threat

Le cho­co­lat belge est-il en train de perdre son iden­ti­té ?

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

La Bel­gique pro­duit en­vi­ron 730 000 tonnes de cho­co­lat par an. Ce­lui-ci au­rait ac­quis sa no­to­rié­té dès le 19e siècle et est au­jourd’hui ré­pu­té dans le monde en­tier. Mais, re­vers de la mé­daille, le terme « cho­co­lat belge » est de­ve­nu un vé­ri­table ar­gu­ment mar­ke­ting pour vendre un pro­duit qui n’a par­fois plus rien de belge...

Since in­ven­ting the pra­line more than 100 years ago, Bel­gium has culti­va­ted a £3.5bn cho­co­late in­dus­try that ac­coun­ted for 9 per cent of Bel­gium’s food sales last year. Bel­gian cho­co­late, one of the coun­try’s most po­pu­lar ex­ports, has be­come the ul­ti­mate seal of qua­li­ty and taste, but for Bel­gians it runs much dee­per. It is a mat­ter of na­tio­nal pride – and the in­dus­try is going through an iden­ti­ty cri­sis.

2. Aside from the ge­ne­ral pres­sures that come with ope­ra­ting in a glo­ba­li­sed world where big fish eat the smal­ler ones, Bel­gian’s cho­co­la­tiers exist in a mar­ket where prices are ri­sing, glo­bal de­mand is soa­ring, and where some of its most es­ta­bli­shed cho­co­late ma­nu­fac­tu­rers are being ac­cu­sed of mud­dying the good Bel­gian name.

IN THE HANDS OF FOREIGN COM­PA­NIES

3. Gal­ler is the la­test in a string of wellk­nown brands in Bel­gium being bought by foreign com­pa­nies. As of [May 2018], Gal­ler is ow­ned by the Qa­ta­ri royal fa­mi­ly, with Sheikh Ta­mim bin Ha­mad al-Tha­ni, the emir of Qa­tar, ap­poin­ted as crea­tive di­rec­tor. The news promp­ted Fle­mish news­pa­per Het Nieuws­blad to ask: “How Bel­gian is Bel­gian cho­co­late, if just about all the top players are in foreign hands?”

4. And this isn’t an exag­ge­ra­tion. Six­ty-yea­rold ma­nu­fac­tu­rer Guy­lian is ow­ned by the South Ko­rean conglo­me­rate Lotte; Cho­co­lat Jacques, foun­ded in 1896, is ow­ned by the Dutch bu­si­ness Ba­ro­nie; and Côte-d’Or and Meu­risse be­long to the mul­ti­na­tio­nal

Mon­delēz. And this, ac­cor­ding to some of Bel­gium’s top cho­co­la­tiers, is in conflict with the bat­tle to pro­tect the he­ri­tage, know­ledge, ex­per­tise and pro­cesses that are all unique to Bel­gium.

WHERE CHOCOLATES ARE MADE

5. But Ste­ven Can­dries, sales di­rec­tor at Guy­lian, argues that it is pos­sible for com­pa­nies to have foreign ow­ners and re­main true to their Bel­gian he­ri­tage. He in­sists the Guy­lian ta­keo­ver 10 years ago “hasn’t chan­ged any­thing”, and that it still pro­duces eve­ry­thing in Bel­gium. In fact, this year it has pled­ged to be­come the first Bel­gian cho­co­late ma­nu­fac­tu­rer to use no palm oil in its pro­ducts, which has been lin­ked to en­vi­ron­men­tal, so­cial and health concerns.

6. But some Bel­gian ma­nu­fac­tu­rers, Can­dries points out, make their chocolates in fac­to­ries abroad, and still call it Bel­gian. For example, Go­di­va has a fac­to­ry in Penn­syl­va­nia, US. Ac­cor­ding to Guy Gal­let, the se­cre­ta­ry ge­ne­ral of Cho­pra­bis­co (the Royal Bel­gian As­so­cia­tion of the Bis­cuit, Cho­co­late, Pra­lines and Con­fec­tio­na­ry), it’s less im­por­tant who the ma­nu­fac­tu­rer’s ow­ners are. “What’s most im­por­tant for us is that the cho­co­late is made here,” he says.

ac­cor­ding to d'après / ex­per­tise sa­voir-faire. 5. to argue af­fir­mer / to re­main res­ter, de­meu­rer / true ici, fi­dèle / ta­keo­ver ra­chat, re­prise / to pledge pro­mettre, s'en­ga­ger à / to be lin­ked to être as­so­cié à / health (en ma­tière de) san­té / concern in­quié­tude, pré­oc­cu­pa­tion, pro­blème. 6. to point out faire re­mar­quer / abroad à l’étran­ger / still en­core, quand même / con­fec­tio­na­ry confi­se­rie.

PRODUCT LINES

7. In some cases, ho­we­ver, these foreign ta­keo­vers can af­fect product lines. Brus­sels­ba­sed cho­co­late ma­nu­fac­tu­rer Go­di­va, for example, is al­most 100 years old and was bought by Ame­ri­can firm Camp­bell Soup Com­pa­ny in 1966 and sub­se­quent­ly pur­cha­sed by the Tur­kish Yıldız Hol­ding in 2007. Last year the com­pa­ny found it­self in a PR night­mare when it an­noun­ced it would no lon­ger be ma­king pra­lines contai­ning li­queur, which was, up un­til then, one of its si­gna­ture chocolates, in or­der to appeal to more people. Des­pite ac­cu­sa­tions Go­di­va isn’t as tho­rough­ly Bel­gian as some of its com­pe­ti­tors, two years la­ter it was ho­nou­red with the Bel­gian royal war­rant, and be­came the of­fi­cial cho­co­la­tier of the royal court – a role it still holds to­day.

THE BEL­GIAN CHO­CO­LATE LA­BEL

8. In­ter­na­tio­nal ta­keo­vers aren’t the on­ly threat to the co­ve­ted Bel­gian cho­co­late la­bel; ma­nu­fac­tu­rers around the world with no connec­tion to Bel­gium are using the good name to shift stock, for­cing cho­co­la­tiers to stand up for what they be­lieve consti­tutes true Bel­gian cho­co­late.

9. The la­bel cer­tain­ly hasn’t hap­pe­ned over­night. Since Jean Neu­haus Jr, grand­son of the foun­der of cho­co­late-ma­ker Neu­haus, in­ven­ted the pra­line in Bel­gium in 1912, the coun­try has grown and at­trac­ted some of the world’s most ta­len­ted cho­co­la­tiers. It in­ven­ted the bal­lo­tin, a boxed pa­cka­ging that keeps cho­co­late fresh, de­ve­lo­ped me­thods to trans­port li­quid cho­co­late, and in­tro­du­ced cho­co­late mo­del­ling paste. “Over 150 years ago, Bel­gium was an eco­sys­tem of cho­co­la­tiers – it was the Si­li­con Val­ley of cho­co­late,” Ignace Van Door­se­laere says.

10. European Union le­gis­la­tion says that in or­der to call a product cho­co­late, it must contain no more than 5 per cent sub­sti­tute fat, which is chea­per than using co­coa but­ter. But Bel­gium does one bet­ter. Bel­gian cho­co­late bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the su­ga­ry confec­tio­ne­ry that goes un­der the name of cho­co­late in other parts of the world. The key is the in­gre­dients and the pu­ri­ty of the co­coa, which must conform to strict re­gu­la­tions. Mas­ter cho­co­late-ma­kers ne­ver use sub­sti­tute fats.

11. But ma­nu­fac­tu­rers argue that the qua­li­ty of Bel­gian cho­co­late, and all the hard work be­hind it, is being un­der­mi­ned by sub­par cho­co­late clai­ming to be Bel­gian – and not enough is being done to get the si­tua­tion un­der con­trol. Guy Gal­let says EU le­gis­la­tion on mis­lea­ding la­bels goes some way to pro­tect Bel­gian cho­co­late, but it’s not enough. Cho­pra­bis­co is loo­king at “more proac­tive” ways of pro­tec­ting the Bel­gian cho­co­late la­bel – one that’s more spe­ci­fic, as the cur­rent EU pro­tec­tion ap­plies for all foods. Un­til the name is gi­ven pro­tec­tion, the Bel­gian cho­co­late la­bel will conti­nue to mean dif­ferent things to dif­ferent people.

The key is the in­gre­dients and the pu­ri­ty of the co­coa.

(Istock)

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