Chocolate maker keeps itself under wraps

A box of Gysi Swiss chocolates as sold by Harrods under its own label. Harrods

Swiss chocolate makers are not usually in the habit of leaving their names off the wrapping or packaging.

This content was published on January 21, 2004 - 10:30

But one Bern company, Gysi, has been doing just that for decades, creating and developing a niche in the market by selling to some prestigious customers.

The clients then feature their own name prominently on Gysi products.

“In England, for example, we sell to Harrods of Knightsbridge where we have a counter in the food hall. We also sell to Marks and Spencer, which has quite a few lines of our Swiss chocolate, and to supermarkets like Tesco or Sainsbury’s,” the company’s export director Louise Gysi told swissinfo.

“We do very well in Japan, and in the United States our products are sold to the five-star hotels by our importer,” she added.

Her husband Peter, who is the chief executive of the company and responsible for sales in Switzerland, is not particularly upset that the name Gysi is not featured on the packaging.

Private label

“I think everybody has to find his niche in the market. I think it’s better to be successful as a private label without showing your name than to be unsuccessful showing it,” he commented.

“We are unknown among the general public but well known by the trade,” he added.

Louise Gysi might not be so convinced about the understatement but is also down to earth when it comes to business.

“I would love to have my name all over the packs... but that’s the way our company was built up. That’s the only way we can manage, so I have to accept that,” she said.

Confectionery shop

The company, which employs up to 120 people when production is in full swing, dates back to 1935 when Walter Gysi, Peter’s father, opened a confectionery shop and tea room with his wife Erika in the centre of Bern.

Their shop soon built up a reputation for its truffles, chocolate covered nuts, liqueur filled sticks and assorted chocolates.

Using only first class ingredients and inventing his own recipes, Gysi’s business flourished.

In 1948, he built a small factory in an industrial area outside town to manufacture specialities for confectioneries and gourmet shops only.

The shop was given up in 1955 to make way for Bern’s new railway station.

Developing family tradition

The second generation took over in 1968 upon the founder’s retirement, developing the family tradition and adapting the recipes to the latest technology.

The company is now run by Peter, his Dutch wife Louise and Peter’s brother Walter.

Louise, whose father ran a chocolate factory in the Netherlands, recalls that she made several attempts to open the doors at Harrods before success came about five years ago.

She is no stranger to having to make presentations, with a two-hour scheduled session for Harrods lasting four hours. And she is certainly not nervous about taking the floor.

“No, I love it. I really enjoy every minute of it because I’m always very well prepared when I go. I know that we are good and I sell the best chocolate in the world,” she said.

Peter stops short of saying that the company’s chocolate is better than all the Swiss competition because he says he wants to be fair.

Fresh ingredients

But one advantage is freshness when it comes to truffles because the company can use liquid cream in products that have a shelf life of eight weeks.

“A big company, which sells to supermarkets, can’t do that because of the demand for a shelf life of four to eight months. That’s a huge difference,” he explained.

“We can also use our creativity to be special and make things that others don’t and very often we can do small quantities that the big producers would not be able or interested in doing,” he added.

Peter and Louise Gysi not surprisingly admit that they enjoy eating chocolate but only in moderation.

“It’s just a fascinating product. It tastes good. People love to talk about it. It’s a profession to be in that’s very positive,” Peter told swissinfo.

“To tell you the truth, when we are on vacation, we sometimes go to the supermarket and buy some chocolate because we just can’t live without a piece every day,” he added.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

Gysi is a member of the Union of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers.
The company has won two awards for innovation from the Italian Chocolate and Confectionery Association.
One of its latest products is a chocolate Swiss army knife.

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In brief

Gysi is a private label chocolate company which supplies its products to some big names worldwide.

Unknown by the general public, it is well known in the trade.

The company’s reputation has been built on the quality of its ingredients

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