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.