Our mission and values are deeply rooted in creating a generational brand that stands for exquisite quality based on continuous improvement and innovation. Perfection is never reached, and your product can always be improved. We strive to create a workplace that is a community where people feel safe, valued, and respected. We pride ourselves on a happy environment that creates chocolates with passion and love.
We create high-quality filled chocolates, bars, treats, etc. – all under our brand Master Chocolat. We have stand-alone locations in Calgary and wholesale to grocers. We are 90 per cent organic in all of the ingredients we use, and our chocolate itself is organic, fair-trade, and does not contain soy. We are also gluten-free and have a wide array of vegan options. We believe everyone should be able to enjoy quality chocolate.
Tell us about yourself?
I am Belgium, born right outside of our family chocolate factory that was founded in 1911 by my great-grandfather. The generation prior, my great-great-grandfather started a brewery in 1850, and it was his son, Charles Louis Callebaut, who saw the chocolate craze gaining popularity in Europe and diversified. Chocolate was a part of our daily life. It was our playground as kids and where I would work when not studying and as I grew up. My father ran the chocolate factory from 1945 until 1972, when he passed away. My mother continued to operate the business until the family decided to sell it to a Swiss Company in 1980. Our former family business is now a publicly traded company and operates under the name Barry Callebaut. They are the largest chocolate producer in the world. I am an electro-mechanical engineer and completed one year of business management in Switzerland. When I finished my mandatory military service, I decided I would continue the chocolate tradition and took an unpaid apprenticeship with renowned Artisanal Chocolatier Renee Goossens in Antwerp. After completing the apprenticeship, I wanted to leave Belgium and ultimately decided on Canada and set roots in Calgary, Alberta. I felt Alberta was a very entrepreneur-oriented province with a great future and was close to the mountains (which I love!). On March 25, 1983, I opened the doors of my first retail location and started Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I would advise myself to run the business in a more conservative way and approach it with more of a “lean and mean” mentality. Save money where possible to build a reserve fund to allow us to reinvest in marketing, people, education, and automatization. Low debt is key.
What problem does your business solve?
We are a manufacturing and retail facility that is run mainly by women. We strive to create high-end chocolate products in the most efficient way so we can offer them at a reasonable price. Customer service is number one – delivering quality service and product is extremely important to us. Clients or potential clients will always speak with a real human in our business, and that personal touch is important. When something goes wrong, or we have any negative feedback, we ensure to follow up with the customer within 24 hours by phone or email. I try to personally respond to each customer and want to continue to do so. People appreciate being heard, and the pressure is on me to avoid any complaints in the first place. We will never question a complaint but appreciate someone taking the time to let us know of any negative experience, and we compensate the customer however appropriate. We also clearly communicate how we can prevent or avoid future problems of the same nature and follow through with implementing what we say.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
Growing up around the world of chocolate, it has always been very close to my heart. Completing my apprenticeship allowed me the knowledge to really start getting passionate about what I was going to create. It is both a gift and a privilege to craft and sell a product that the public will love, and that makes people genuinely happy. Chocolate is shared during special occasions and moments in our lives, and I am so grateful our chocolate is a fond memory for so many over the years. Continuing to improve through new suppliers, testing ingredients, and our firm belief we can “always make it better” is incredibly satisfying. Clients come to us with ideas, and we must create a final product that our client loves and is proud to share. We also take satisfaction from being very quick to respond to those clients with ideas, samples, etc., for those who come to us with their chocolate dreams.
What is your magic sauce?
One portion of the magic of Master Chocolat is that I am behind a brand and 112 years of family chocolate history. I founded my original company, Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, in Canada over 40 years ago and have built a very strong reputation for quality and service. I lost my company through a receivership in August 2010 when an ex-employee and trained lawyer bought it from the receiver. My name was a registered trademark after running the business for 27 years, so it was then an asset and sold with the business. My name to this day is on the outside buildings of my old company, even though I am not involved at all and have not been since 2010. This has created an abundance of confusion in the marketplace that continues to this day. The biggest challenge then became to communicate to my long-time fans that Bernard is not with his old company and is now behind Master Chocolat. Things continued to be difficult over the next few years, and unfortunately, in 2015, I had to declare personal bankruptcy. Marketing and advertising dollars for the new company were non-existent, and our team has continued to work hard to build our brand awareness once again. Through attending Farmers Markets, pop-up events, fundraisers, and community events, we have gradually been able to clear up some confusion and let people know where I am.
I always jokingly say to customers about my old company, “They have my name, but not my brain!” Once people re-discovered my offerings with Master Chocolat, they blindly trusted the product produced was of very high quality because of the years of work and trust built already. I also had a goal when re-starting, to create an even better product than I did with the old company. The final and most important portion of our magic sauce is the team at Master Chocolat. As I mentioned before, it’s mainly female-run, and the spirit is very positive and inclusive. Everyone is on board when we must meet a deadline or solve a problem together. We always encourage creativity and don’t place blame or point fingers when something goes wrong. We are a team and work according to that mentality. The president of the company, Karin Benson, has helped me to achieve this.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
Our goal over the next five years is to solidify our brand awareness and build up the business so there is no longer a question of “Where is Bernard Callebaut?” Through that, we hope to increase sales across all divisions through advertising, marketing, and B2B corporate sales. Adding automation to our factory will allow the company to be more scalable and profitable. Our vision has always been to sell a top-quality product at an affordable price. Customers have always said to me, “Your chocolates are an affordable luxury,” and that is something to be proud of.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
As I mentioned previously, my biggest challenge came from losing the business I had built for 27 years and starting over with no resources at all. Initially, in 2010, I started all on my own, but I quickly realized that was not feasible without investors. To find investors during the financial crisis of 2009-2010 was not an easy task. The very positive side of this extremely difficult time is that when you have a great reputation, it is truly an asset that can never be taken away from you. The public has also been extremely supportive of me over the years and in starting over. I feel it’s the trust they had in me to deliver the same or better that has allowed me to continue to do what I love the most. For all of that, I am eternally grateful and humbled.
How can people get involved?
If you have an idea to do with quality chocolate, we can help you to make it a reality! From personalized corporate gifting that is sure to impress your valued clients to fundraising for your organization or school to fully custom mould projects and in-person chocolate-making experiences. All things in the realm of chocolate are our expertise, so please reach out if you’d like to work with us! We would love to hear from you.
Call us at 403-252-5750 anytime to email Karin or Emma at [email protected] and [email protected]. For our full line of product offerings and more information, visit our website at www.masterchocolat.com.