Incorporated: 1927 as Cantaloup-Catala
Sales: EUR 500 million ($580 million) (2004)
NAIC: 311320 Chocolate and Confectionery Manufacturing from Cacao Beans
Cemoi S.A. is France’s leading, privately held chocolate company and one of the top European producers of chocolates. The company produces a wide range of chocolates, including chocolate bars, chocolate and sugar-based confectionery, chocolate powders, as well as chocolate and ingredients for the industrial market. Much of the group’s operations are based on its production for the private label market; since 1989, however, the company unified its own-brand sales under the Cemoi name. The company is also one of the leading producers of organic chocolates.
Headquartered in Perpignan, in the south of France, Cemoi operates a network of ten factories throughout France, as well as a manufacturing subsidiary in Germany and two production facilities in Spain. These factories produce more than 200,000 tons of chocolate per year. In addition, Cemoi operates its own cocoa processing subsidiary in the Ivory Coast. Cemoi is a private company controlled by the Poirrier family and is led by chairman Patrick Poirrier and CEO Jean-Claude Poirrier. The company’s sales topped EUR 500 million ($580 million) in the middle of the first decade of the 2000s.
REBUILDING FRENCH CHOCOLATE-MAKING HISTORY IN 1927
While chocolate had been introduced in Europe in the 16th century, it was not until the late 18th century that the first industrial production techniques began to be applied to what had become known as the “food of the gods.” Chocolate, with support from the royal family, by then had become highly popular in France. Into the late 17th century, production of chocolate was a privilege that remained tightly controlled by the king. In 1693, this practice was ended, allowing anyone who chose to enter the chocolate-making trade. Among the new entrants in the 18th century was the Cemoi company, founded in Grenoble in 1770. The first true chocolate factory in France, however, was not created until 1814, when Louis Pares launched production in Arles-sur-Tech, in the Pyrenees Mountains.
The first half of the 19th century marked an important period for the chocolate industry. The discovery of a method to extract cacao butter by C. van Houten in Holland in the 1820s led to the development of creamier and sweeter chocolates. By the end of the century, the coarse flavors and textures of the earlier chocolates had been largely replaced by the sweeter chocolates more familiar in the modern era. This process culminated with the development of the first milk chocolates in the 1870s.
Toward the end of the century, the Pares factory was taken over by two of Louis Pares’ sons-in-law, Joseph Cantaloup and Émile Catala. The brothers-in-law founded their own chocolate company in 1887, and were quickly recognized for the quality of their chocolates. By 1890, the young company had won its first medal at the Exposition held in nearby Perpignan that year. Into the next century, Cantaloup-Catala boosted its production through the introduction of electrical-based machinery.
The next generation, in the form of Léon Cantaloup, took over operations at the factory after his father’s and uncle’s deaths in 1910 and 1913, respectively. Under Léon Cantaloup, the company grew strongly, developing into a prominent regional chocolate producer. By the 1920s, Cantaloup-Catala’s production had already topped four tons per day.
Cantaloup faced disaster toward the end of that decade, however, when the factory was destroyed by fire. Led by Léon Cantaloup, however, the company rebuilt its factory at its Tech river site. The new facility enabled the company to boost its production levels, which topped ten tons per day by the end of the 1930s. Yet the company was once again faced with disaster when the äiguat (the Catalan term for intense flooding) that struck the Tech valley in 1940 destroyed the Cantaloup factory once again.
Léon Cantaloup was once again faced with rebuilding his company. This time, Cantaloup moved the company to a new location in Perpignan, adding state-of-the-art equipment and boosting staff levels to 150. Despite the difficult condition posed by the war years, Cantaloup grew strongly into the 1950s, boosting its production to 12 tons per day. During this period, too, the company expanded its presence from a regional level to a national and then international level, supplying markets including the United Kingdom, Germany, and North Africa.
NEW OWNER IN 1962
Cantaloup-Catala appeared to have run out of steam by the early 1960s, however. The rise of a number of new chocolate groups, many of whom, such as Cemoi, supported their sales with strong advertising and marketing campaigns, had placed Cantaloup-Catala under extreme competitive pressure. Among the group’s competitors was the Cemoi brand, which had become highly popular through the launch of a series of trading cards. Reduced once again to the status of a minor regional player, Cantaloup-Catala’s production had dropped sharply, falling to just four tons per day. After nearly 150 years, Cantaloup-Catala appeared headed for bankruptcy.
The arrival of Georges Poirrier as leader of the company brought a new renaissance for Cantaloup-Catala. Poirrier, then aged 43, purchased the company in 1962 and set out to rebuild it under a new name: Cantalou. Poirrier’s foresight was to play an important role not only in the company’s survival, but in its subsequent growth into one of France’s major chocolate makers.
The 1960s marked a period of intense change in the French retail sector, as the modern supermarket format began its development in the country. Over the next decade, the new supermarkets (and then hypermarkets) not only replaced the traditional small groceries, they also gave rise to increasingly powerful distribution groups. As these companies grew rapidly to a national, and even international level, Poirrier correctly recognized an entirely new market for the chocolate industry as well. This market, the private label market, grew as a result of the distribution groups seeking to offer a wider range of products on their shelves. The addition of a supermarket’s own brand, usually less expensive than similar major branded goods, allowed companies not only to provide an expanded price range but also allowed the company to control more directly its profits. By 1967, Poirrier had begun to reorient Cantalou to focus on the production of chocolate bars, and especially for the private label market. Private label manufacturing not only provided a ready market for the company’s production, it also enabled it to develop its sales without the need for costly advertising campaigns.
The Cemoi group, chocolate specialists since 1814, integrates the chocolate-making from bean processing to the finished product and produces 200,000 tons of chocolate per year.
By 1970, Poirrier had instituted a new range of tight cost controls throughout the company. At the same time, Poirrier launched the construction of a new production facility in Perpignan, modernizing the company’s production line and increasing production volume by some fivefold into the new decade. The boost in production enabled Cantalou to become an important partner for France’s distribution groups. These, including Carrefour, Auchan, Le Clerc, Intermarché, and Casino, had increasingly come to operate on a national level.
In order to further its support of its private label sales, Cantalou made an important acquisition, buying the chocolate company Stéphane, based in the north of France. In this way, Cantalou not only boosted its production capacity, it also gained a location closer to its major clients—many, if not most of which were also located in the north. The northern location also gave the company new access to the international market, and particularly the German market where sales of chocolate bars outpaced all other European markets. Cantalou soon entered that market directly, buying Frankonia GmbH, a company founded in 1869 near Würzburg, in 1977.
Two years later, Cantalou turned south, adding its first production facility in Spain with the purchase of the Olle chocolate factory near Barcelona. By then, Cantalou had also expanded its product range, adding Phoscao, based in Châteaunneuf-sur-Loire, the leading producer of chocolate powders for the breakfast market in France, in 1979. Cantalou returned to the Loire region again just two years later, acquiring the Pupier chocolate factory. Based in Saint-Étienne, the Pupier purchase provided the company with an expanded range of chocolate products, and a number of prominent brand names, including Aiguebelle, Prado, Union, and Cemoi. Following the purchase, Cantalou invested in new production facilities, building a factory in Aigue-belle to replace the Saint Étienne site.
Cantalou continued to build up its national production base through the 1980s. The company added a factory in the Orne region in 1983 through the acquisition Chocolaterie l’Abbaye de Tinchebray. That company gave Cantalou a new range of high-end chocolates, as well as a stronger presence in the export market. The company continued to seek out new acquisition targets, particularly among smaller chocolate and confectionery makers hard hit by the intensely competitive market. In this way, Cantalou added Paris-based Suisse Normande in 1983, and Real-Coppelia, based in Chambery, in 1988. The latter company gave Cantalou a leading position in the market for liqueur-filled chocolates. This purchase was soon followed by the acquisition of the Dolis chocolate company, which operated two factories in Saint-Florentin and Bourbourg. Completed in 1988, the acquisition also boosted the company’s chocolate-based confectionery business.
By then, too, Cantalou had continued to expand its international holdings. The company built a new factory for its Frankonia subsidiary in 1982, boosting its presence in the German market. In 1984, the company added a second Spanish group, Elgorriaga. That purchase not only gave the company a factory producing chocolates at Irun, but also a cookie-production plant in Ávila. Into the early 1990s, Cantalou sought to extend its international holdings again, and in 1991 the company completed the purchase of OP Chocolate. The addition of that Cardiff-based company gave Cantalou a leading position in the U.K. chocolate bar segment.
INDEPENDENT CHOCOLATE LEADER IN THE NEW CENTURY
Georges Poirrier retired in 1983, turning over the business to son Jean-Claude, who was later joined by his own son, Patrick. The new generation continued building the company through the adoption of a single, unified brand name, Cemoi, in 1989. The brand name also became the company’s name.
- Louis Pares founds a chocolate factory at Arles sur Tech, in the south of France.
- Pares’ sons-in-law take over operation and form Cantaloup-Catala to produce and distribute chocolates.
- Factory is destroyed by fire but is rebuilt by Léon Cantaloup.
- Factory is destroyed in a flood, but is once again rebuilt in Perpignan.
- Georges Poirrier acquires Cantaloup, rescuing company from bankruptcy.
- Company makes its first international acquisition, of Frankonia in Germany.
- Company changes name to Cemoi, one of the brand names it had acquired in 1981.
- Company builds cocoa processing facility in Ivory Coast as part of vertical integration effort.
- Production of new factory in Dunkirk is part of effort to boost industrial production.
Cemoi launched a new strategy of complementing its private label business with its own branded lines of chocolates. In support of this, Cemoi boosted its research and development operations, and by the middle of the first decade of the 2000s the company was able to add as many as 25 new products each year. As added support to Cemoi’s expansion during the period, the company had completed another acquisition in 1993, of Cheval Blanc Distribution. That purchase added three new production facilities to the company’s network. By the middle of the next decade, the company’s production capacity had expanded again, with the takeover of Bouquet d’Or, a company based in Villeneuve d’Ascq specializing in the production of holiday and seasonal chocolates. The expansion played a role in boosting the company’s total production to more than 200,000 tons by mid-decade.
In the meantime, Cemoi had taken steps to achieve greater control of its raw material supply. In 1997, the company set up its own cocoa processing facility in the Ivory Coast. The facility, which featured a production space of 30,000 square meters, cost the company EUR 30 million to construct. The addition of the processing operation gave the company tighter control over the quality of its raw product, and a capacity of more than 60,000 tons per year.
The Ivory Coast facility also played a role in Cemoi’s next product extension, as the company launched its own line of organic chocolates in 1999. In support of this, the company carried out an expansion of the Abidjan plant. Cemoi quickly built up a strong position in the European market for organic chocolates. The company’s strong growth encouraged it to boost its processing capacity in France as well. In 2002, the company carried out a EUR 4 million expansion of its Bordeaux facility, boosting processing capacity there from 6,000 tons per year to 35,000 tons per year.
Into the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, Cemoi had also been developing another important market, that of the production of chocolate and chocolate-based ingredients for the industrial market. In support of its effort to build its position in this market, which accounted for some 15 percent of the group’s total production, Cemoi invested in the construction of a new factory in Dunkirk. Completed in 2006 at a cost of EUR 8 million, the new factory added a production capacity of 30,000 tons of liquid chocolate and 8,000 tons of powdered chocolate. By then, Cemoi’s sales were said to have topped EUR 500 million ($580 million), placing the company among the top chocolate producers in France and in Europe. Cemoi looked forward to its bittersweet future as a chocolate leader.
M. L. Cohen
Cantalou S.A. (Spain); CEMOI.CI (Ivory Coast); Frankonia GmbH (Germany); La Chocolaterie Bouquet d’Or; La Chocolaterie D’aquitaine; La Chocolaterie De L’abbaye De Tinchebray; La Chocolaterie Moulin d’Or; Société Chocolaterie Aiguebelle; Société PHOSCAO.
Nestlé S.A.; Jacobs Holding AG; Cadbury Schweppes plc; ADM Cocoa B.V.; Orkla ASA; Cargill B.V.; Barry Callebaut AG; Ferrero SpA.
“Cemoi, Indisputable Player in Chocolate Sector,” Les Echos, April 19, 2002.
“Cemoi: Le Groupe Chocolatier Familial Implanté à Perpignan,” Les Echos, December 22, 2006.
“Cemoi Reports Strong Growth in Chocolate Production,” just-food.com April 28, 2006.
“Gold Star Highlights Upscale French Chocolate,” Professional Candy Buyer, May 2001, p. 72.
“Ivorian Factory Ready to Go Online,” Candy Industry, November 1997, p. 6.
Pacyniak, Bernard, “Evolving with Elan,” Candy Industry, January 2005, p. 20.