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Do-it-yourself chocolate hits cyberspace

The founders wanted to find a unique concept to carve out a profitable niche myswisschocolate.ch

A start-up firm has hit upon a novel way of selling custom made chocolate with the aid of a virtual community that literally gives away the Swiss favourite treat.

This content was published on September 27, 2010 - 08:52
swissinfo.ch

Myswisscholate.ch has tapped into the growing demand for bespoke products, the power of online networking and the allure of money saving incentives to combine a number of tried and tested business concepts.

While the company is not the first to offer custom made chocolate bars, it added a new twist this month with the creation of an online community - or club – that encourages members to bring in new customers with the incentive of free chocolate.

New club members are given free vouchers and more credits, that can be converted into chocolate, for introducing friends. Furthermore, customers receive credits worth ten per cent of any purchases made by friends.

“If you have enough friends, you eat chocolate for free for the rest of your life,” company co-founder Sven Beichler told swissinfo.ch, with a hint of tongue-in-cheek humour.

Unsurprisingly, the online community has had no shortage of takers in the few weeks it has been running. Some 400 sweet-toothed consumers from 15 countries have so far opened up virtual chocolate accounts with the firm able to produce up to 4,500 bars per day.

Customers can compose their own personalised chocolate bars online starting with a choice of chocolate, adding a base flavor and then choosing from a variety of additives, such as spices, dried fruit and nuts – or even real gold flakes - to blend a unique composition.

Decorations even include the option of downloading a picture of yourself and having it attached to the final creation on sugar paper.

Gold and photos

The company’s website boasts that budding chocolatiers can mix up to 200 million combinations of ingredients for their creations.

Switzerland is no stranger to chocolate producers so Beichler and co-founder Christian Philippi needed to find a unique concept to carve out a profitable niche. In reality, the concept of mass producing personalised goods came before they hit upon chocolate.

“We thought about cheese, Swiss knives or watches, but these were not easy to produce. We then quickly arrived at chocolate because we both have a food industry background,” said Beichler.

Beichler claims that myswisschocolate is the only company in Switzerland to mass produce personalised bars and that their products offer more variety than similar custom made chocolate companies around the world.

The mass production of custom made products is hardly a new phenomenon, according to the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute that monitors consumer trends.

Custom made trend

Manufacturers cottoned onto the concept about ten years ago and now any number of personalised goods is available on the market, from jeans and shoes to cars, furniture, cosmetics, perfumes and iphones.

Food products have also received personal attention with consumers able to create their own soft drinks, yoghurts, burgers – and, of course, chocolates.

“This is a successful line of business because people don’t want to be part of the crowd anymore,” Karin Frick of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute told swissinfo.ch. “Consumers want to be special and to have something that makes them different.”

In addition, advances in computerised robotic manufacturing means that the luxury of being different does not cost a great deal more than buying standardised products, Frick added.

Myswisschocolate’s online presence and virtual community adds convenience to the process of creating and ordering chocolate, according to Beichler.

“If the idea for a unique chocolate bar springs into someone’s head in the office or on the train, they could make their order by computer or iphone,” he told swissinfo.ch. “The trend towards individuality is getting stronger.”

The virtual chocolate club concept also serves a more practical business purpose. “As a start-up we don’t have a great deal of money for marketing,” Beichler said. “Customers invite their friends and promote the product through the platform.”

Swiss chocolate

Sales of Swiss chocolate dropped 5.9% last year, the first drop in volumes for six years.

Sales sank to 174,109 tonnes in 2009 while turnover was down 6.4% to SFr1.7 billion, according to figures from the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers (Chocosuisse).

Of total production, 60.7% was sold abroad, just up on the 60.3% in 2008.

The downturn was blamed on the general poor global economic conditions, a fall in tourist numbers and the strengthening of the Swiss franc.

Small chocolate bars were the most popular products while consumers tucked into slightly more chocolate during Easter and Christmas than in 2008.

Each Swiss eats an average 11.7 kilos of chocolate a year, making Switzerland the biggest per capita consumer of chocolate in the world.

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