Belgium chocolatiers are intent on stamping out impostors.
Chocolate makers in Belgium are engaged in a bitter crusade against chocolatiers in foreign countries that are threatening that country’s celebrated chocolates by selling inferior products that claim to be Belgium-made.
In a recent interview with reporters, Guy Gallet secretary general of Choprabisco, the Belgian confectionery association, pointed out examples of such fake products. A carton marked “dark Belgian chocolates” from Malaysia was one such sample. He said these chocolates emit a strong smell because they are flavored with durian, a locally grown yellow fruit.
According to Mr. Gallet, this fruit, because of its strong smell, is forbidden from hotels and public transport across Asia. According to Mr. Gallet, this is not a product that chocolatiers in Belgium would be proud to be associated with.
According to reports, besides Malaysia, there are chocolate makers in other countries in the world that pass their products of as “Belgian chocolates.” Hungary, Israel, Canada, and China are prime examples.
These local chocolate makers label their products with the name “Belgium “even though their merchandises are not made in Belgium and most of them do not even contain ingredients found in Belgium chocolates. However, in appearance they may look authentic.
Those products are of lower quality, are cheaper, but look like the Belgian chocolate products that are also in those shops,” Mr. Gallet said. “If we didn’t have this problem we would be able to export even more; the export potential would be bigger.”
Industry experts say these practices are not only misleading consumers but hindering efforts by Belgian chocolatiers to cash into revenue growth of the fast expanding Asian Market.
Sales in Asia have doubled in three years and continue to rise. According to Belgian economic affairs office, nearly 45,000 tons of chocolate products were exported to Asia last year. This is more than 15,000 tons 10 years ago.
This is the incentive that drives Belgium chocolatiers to take steps to safeguard their brand, especially since sales in Europe have shrunk by 5 percent in the past few years.
“You have there a growing middle class and upper-class population that is discovering luxury products and very high-quality chocolate is perceived as a luxury product,” Mr Gallet said of this trend in the Asian chocolate consumer market.
While protecting intellectual property rights is a vexing issue confronted by many industries, Belgium chocolate makers may have a way to face this problem. They are considering applying for European Union protected designation of origin status to prevent copycats.
Mr. Gallet said it was hard to imagine Belgian chocolate being accorded such status, until now because unlike earlier protected products, the chocolate itself does not come from Belgium. A vast majority of cocoa beans come from Ivory Coast and Ghana.
The Belgium federation of the chocolate industry is to meet regional governments starting in July in order decide whether to apply to the EU to protect Belgian chocolates or to seek a trademark to safeguard their coveted products.
“What makes us sad is that very often the copies are not up to the standard of the originals,” Jos Linkens, chief executive of Neuhaus, manufacturer of luxury Belgian chocolates told reporters.
“If top chocolatiers around the world copied us, perhaps we would be happy. We don’t want the image of quality to suffer,” he said.