“We aim to know more about our customers’ consumers than they do”

How do you innovate in an industry that’s changed little in 80 years? We speak to Bas Smit, Global Vice President of Marketing at one of the world’s largest chocolate producers, Barry Callebaut, about breaking with tradition to develop ruby chocolate. We learn about the R&D and processes behind it, and how B2B companies can play an important role in consumer product innovation.


Can you tell us more about your role?

I’m in charge of global marketing at Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut. We manufacture nearly two million tonnes of chocolate and cocoa each year, and sell it to major brands, who turn our products into consumer propositions.

But although our direct customers are other businesses, rather than consumers, we’ve learned to stop thinking of ourselves as a B2B business. Instead, we want to be focused on building brand love among consumers.

Our business model may be to sell ingredients, but we can provide far more value if we also generate ideas and solutions to fuel our customers’ innovation efforts.

How did you make those company-wide changes?

The culture at Barry Callebaut now is that everyone serves the end consumer. When we hire marketing people, for example, their experience with big consumer brands is more important than B2B experience. This ethos runs through the business, and it’s a dramatic change. I’ve sat in meetings with our customers’ Premium Brand owners, and said: “Our ambition is to know more about your consumers than you do.”

That may sound like a stretch, but in some cases, we do know more than them. Today’s brand managers are struggling with huge portfolios and the pressure of day-to-day marketing challenges, so they hardly get a chance to think about this sort of thing.

We, on the other hand, are laser-focused on one area: chocolate experiences. We have 175 years of heritage, unparalleled specialist R&D capabilities, hands-on experience of sourcing products from growers, and relationships with top chefs and food researchers. We have world class chefs on our teams working their art every day. Our innovation efforts create immense value, in ways many of our customers simply cannot resource.

How has this translated into product innovations?

Our latest innovation is ruby chocolate, a fourth type of chocolate that stands alongside dark, milk and white. It has a distinctive colour and unique fruity flavour and smoothness, all from the ‘ruby cocoa bean’ and the unique processing we’ve developed.



"We’ve embedded the best consumer insight methodologies our customers use, and fused them with our artisan patisserie experience, and our ambitious R&D team. Heart, Gut and Brain so to say."

Bas Smit, Barry Callebaut

The invention of ruby chocolate is one of our biggest ever innovations – the result of years of work at our R&D centres, working with Jacobs University in Germany. It’s 80 years since white chocolate first appeared alongside dark and milk chocolate, so ruby is a truly game-changing innovation, and we have qualitative and quantitative research evidence it does meet needs that no other chocolate does.

How did you tailor the innovation to your customers?

The creation of the physical product was only part of the challenge. We also embarked on creating a story and compelling proposition that would make ruby a successful product for our customers: to transform something physical into something meaningful for consumers.

Although it was we who developed ruby chocolate, it was never our aim to “own” it. Instead, we want to empower brand teams to take it forward and create something amazing that their target consumers fall in love with.

We’ve done what we’re good at – now it’s for brands to do what they’re good at: applying their own brand perspectives, knowledge, expertise and creativity to creating a proposition that succeeds in the market.

In a way, our transition into becoming a world-class consumer-focused ingredients supplier has three elements. We’ve embedded the best consumer insight methodologies our customers use, and fused them with our artisan patisserie experience, and our ambitious R&D team. Heart, Gut and Brain so to say.

I used to think that the dream for a marketer would be to work on a brand that makes a global impact and defines a category. But I’ve since realised that achieving that for just one brand wasn’t ambitious enough.

At Barry Callebaut, we have a bigger dream: to empower the chocolate world to revolutionise itself. Now that would be a real success!

Want to learn more about innovating for customers? Get in touch: hello@happen.com