Expatica news

Workers wonder who’s chasing Godiva

20 August 2007

BRUSSELS (AFP) – At the Brussels factory of Godiva chocolates, beloved of sweet tooths around the world, talk is of whether the quintessential Belgian brand is about to be sold for the first time in 40 years, by US firm Campbell soup.

Swiss firms Nestle and Lindt, both giants in the chocolate business, are among the companies rumoured to be interested in bringing the company’s HQ back across the Atlantic.

However stateside the likes of Hershey, Mars and Wrigley may also find themselves waving a billion dollars at the naked lady brand, along with London-based Cadbury Schweppes.

Campbell Soup acquired Godiva in 1966 but this month announced it may be ready to sell up and concentrate on its core products, soup and snacks.

While the golden Godiva boxes may not have quite the iconic stature of the Campbell’s soup can, immortalised by US pop-art guru Andy Warhol, there is likely to be plenty of interest in the Dark Caramel Embraces, Raspberry Stars and Chocolate-dipped Pirouettes.

At the moment, despite its American ownership, some workers at the Brussels factory still regard the international confectioner as basically a family affair.

“Here we love chocolate and very often, going back a long way, families have worked together here,” said Stefaan Verbreke who has spent 38 of his 56 years working for the chocolate maker, for many of those years along with his wife.

Currently in charge of a team coating fondant chocolates, he has done just about every job in the company created in 1926 by Belgian chocolatier Joseph Draps.

“At the end of the ’60s this was a small family firm. The whole Draps family worked for the company. There were about sixty of us and a lot of the work was by hand. Then we moved to the factory in 1972. We bought the machines and went international, the United States, Japan…,” he told AFP.

The company was named after the English legend of Lady Godiva who rode naked through the streets of Coventry to persuade her powerful husband to lift a heavy tax burden on the citizens.

Draps, according to the company website, “sought a name that embodied the timeless qualities of passion, style, sensuality and modern boldness”.

Today the main factory of the company, which still uses a Lady Godiva logo, can be found in the US eastern state of Pennsylvania and sales from Godiva’s 3,000 North American outlets are fairly galloping.

But it is the historic Brussels factory which produces the golden boxes bound for Belgium, the rest of Europe and Asia and their many to airport duty-free shops.

The factory churns out around 250 million praline chocolates each year.

Though they are not all individually hand-crafted these days the recipes are still concocted by master chocolate makers testing out caramel, butter, chocolate, nut and creme fraiche concoctions in laboratory conditions.

“We create around ten new chocolates each year,” said chocolatier Olivier Lots.
“The successful recipes then go forward to the factory,” he added.

There jets of chocolate are aimed at the moving lines of sweets, the recipes of which are closely guarded.

Some 220 people work at the Brussels factory in any given week, but another 100 are taken on each year before the Christmas rush when the factory operates day and night.

With news that a sale may be imminent, some production-line workers privately voice concern that life is about to get a lot less sweet.

Nicolas Bouve, Godiva’s Europe chief, acknowledges the troubling uncertainty.
“We’re just waiting right now to see whose going to be the eventual buyer,” he said .

According to the Wall Street Journal investors from the Persian Gulf could also be interested in the business along with the major food and confectionery companies.

The group can boast turnover of USD 500 million a year, with a lot of that business done in the United States.

Plus there aren’t many business deals that can assure you some Dark Ganache bliss.

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news