International Confectionery sits down with Benedict Daniels, Managing Director UK & Ireland of Ritter Sport, and talks about breaking the mould in the chocolate industry.
Can you give us a brief history of Ritter Sport and tell us the core values of the company?
Ritter Sport was founded in 1912 by Alfred and Clara Ritter in Stuttgart Germany. Today Ritter Sport is sold in over 100 countries across the world, group turnover is c.€500 million and we remain a wholly owned family business. From Clara Ritter transforming our boring oblong bar into our iconic square in 1932 – (to fit in a Sports jacket pocket!), to ditching dull traditional packaging and launching in full colour in 1974, to the purchase and development in 2012 of our own highly sustainable 2500 hectare cocoa plantation in Nicaragua El Cacao, throughout our history we love to break moulds, constantly innovating, always pioneering. We simply make really good chocolate and we always do the right things to create it, not the easy things, not the cheap things, the right things, with the highest quality ingredients and respect for nature and people as the beating heart of our business.
What does your typical day as Managing Director look like?
I try to support our frankly amazing teams across all functions by; driving us collectively towards simple shared strategic objectives, solving problems, brushing off the failures, celebrating the successes, whilst consistently living the core values of the business and constantly striving to improve our culture and performance. We have a fantastic team and I am very lucky to work with them, I love every single day!
What benefits do you think you gain being an independent family business?
The benefits of being owned by the Ritter family are huge. Their ownership allows us to make investments in long term strategies that would be highly unlikely to be agreed under PLC or VC ownership. There is an unwavering commitment to do the right thing to create our really good chocolate and it permeates the hearts and minds of every member of the family. The most effective example of this being our own highly sustainable 2500 hectare cocoa plantation in Nicaragua El Cacao. To date we have grown and planted one million+ cocoa trees utilising the sustainable agro-forestry methodology, built around 100KM of roads, and employed around 500 colleagues all paid well above average pay levels. With half of the entire 2500 hectare area being permanently preserved for nature, never to be cultivated, we are massively proud of El Cacao. I firmly believe this amazing example to the rest of the chocolate industry is only possible due to our owners, they truly live their stated values and this in turn inspires us all to bring sustainable, natural Ritter Sport to chocoholics across the world.
What developments have there been in the business recently?
The biggest recent development for Ritter Sport has been the acquisition of a second production facility in Breitenbrunn Austria from Mars. Our continued growth, here in the UK & Ireland and across the globe required us to secure additional capacity and this deal was completed in August with Ritter Sport taking ownership from December 1 2020. The new facility will form a key part of our highly sustainable vertically integrated value chain strategy into 2021 and beyond, we have some very exciting news coming soon!
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
Covid has had a huge impact on our business, our value chain, people, consumers and customers were all impacted. Whilst 2020 proved to be our record year in the UK and Ireland, with our highest ever volume and value sales, highest ever penetration and distribution levels, key elements of our business were impacted, notably PFS and Impulse channels were severely down, with digital and major retail driving top line growth. As a team we have been working from home since early March which makes our record year taste even sweeter.
What trends are you noticing in chocolate? Flavours/ethical sourcing/ingredients etc?
Trends we see are concentrated in four main areas; quality, sustainability, naturalness and vegan. Consumers care more and more about the food they eat, how it is made, what it contains and the impact it has on the planet and those in the value chain, this is why we are winning. Ritter Sport is made using 100% sustainable cocoa, 100% natural ingredients, 100% cocoa butter (never substituted for palm oil in our chocolate masses) and 100% sustainably certified and traceable palm oil in a very limited number of our fillings. Many of our products are accidentally vegan, actually we believe our Marzipan bar to be the UK #1 vegan bar by unit sales, we have some exciting further vegan specific focus coming in 2021.
Tell us about your ChocoWorld sites and what they bring to customers?
First and foremost they bring sheer joy, visitors always leave with huge smiles on their faces! The ChocoWorld sites facilitate a complete immersion into our brand, the brightest, most vibrant & colourful chocolate on earth! Visitors learn about our absolute obsession with quality ingredients, our global leading sustainability initiatives, our core values and brand DNA, and ultimately that at Ritter Sport we always do the right things to make the really good chocolate they love to eat! With Berlin and Waldenbuch now firmly established, our recent 9 day pop up in Covent Garden exceeded all our expectations, watch this space for some exciting news in 2021!
How important is sustainability to the business? What lengths do you go to to ensure the quality of your chocolate?
Quality and sustainability are absolutely core to Ritter Sport, frankly we are obsessed with both! We were the first and we believe still the only major manufacturer to use 100% sustainably certified cocoa, having done so since 1st January 2018, this is a fact we are incredibly proud of. Our own plantation El Cacao is another industry leading example of sustainability and quality. We have equally ambitious targets around migrating to paper packaging in the near future, and in the interim our current packaging is widely recyclable.
What is the most popular Ritter Sport flavour? Do you have any new ranges to launch soon?
Ritter Sport is known and loved for our seemingly endless varieties, consumers get seriously passionate about their personal Ritter Sport favourites! Our Whole Hazelnut or Honey Salted Almond wrapped in delicious Ritter Sport milk chocolate, our rather iconic boozy Rum Raisin with genuine rum and seasonal limited editions, Caramelised Almond, Coconut Macaroon and Cinnamon Spiced Biscuit have all been really popular in the run up to Christmas. My personal favourite is our 61% Nicaraguan Cocoa Selection bar, made with cocoa from our own cooperative, Cacao Nica in Nicaragua.
What trends do you see in chocolate for 2021?
Big trends gaining momentum now and in 2021 from my perspective would be, sustainability, naturalness, the vegan boom driven by flexitarians, value chain transparency, quality ‘store cupboard’ ingredients, digital & D2C, and the societal post Covid realities around work, travel, and the economy. At Ritter Sport we are democratising sustainable, natural, delicious chocolate, getting consumers to choose Ritter Sport is a choice for good and I am confident we can continue our mission in 2021 with great success!
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Editor, International Confectionery
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