It's eight in the morning on an unusually hot and muggy mid-June
day but I'm not complaining as I cycle through the picturesque
St. Imier valley. Tiny villages come and go with nary a traffic
light to be seen as this two-lane road snakes its way through
this pastoral piece of Switzerland. Farms and cows seem to outnumber
the people. I can imagine it wasn't that much different back
in 1935 when Camille Bloch moved his chocolate business from
Bern to here in Courtelary.
You don't want to blink when going through Courtelary (population
200?) because you might miss it. However, it is hard to miss
Camille Bloch's three-story head office because it stands directly
across the street from the company's large factory complex located
next to the only continuous road going though the valley.
Years of experience have taught me to immediately take pictures
of a company's headquarters before going inside for a visit.
Why? Fickle weather. It maybe sunny upon my arrival but that
could change and start pouring rain in 15 minutes. So I'm in
Camille Bloch's parking lot snapping pictures when a man who
had been walking down the street approaches and introduces himself.
It's CEO Daniel Bloch and he had recognized me from the news
clippings sent with my letter of introduction. What was Bloch
doing walking down the street? It's part of his daily commute.
From his home in Bern he catches a train to Bienne, then transfer
to another train that ends up dropping him off at Courtelary's
tiny train station-a five minute walk from the office. Bloch
says the one-hour train ride gives him quiet time to get work
It's a fun visit thanks to the very hospitable Daniel Bloch.
He's the third generation Bloch to run this privately held maker
of chocolate. His grandfather (Camille Bloch) founded the company
in 1929. Next year (2004) will be the company's 75th birthday.
The three-story head office building was built in the 1960's
and definitely looks it. The small reception/lobby contains three
fake plants/shrubs along with one large tree (real). I count
over 40 magazines of varying interests piled on a coffee table
in the waiting area. Half the magazines are in German and the
rest in French.
We go into a conference room and I'm offered chocolate from a
bowl filled with an assortment of Bloch chocolates. I decline.
Why? When it comes to chocolate I have zero self-control and
can't eat just one or two plus, it's only 8:30 in the morning.
A total of 150 people work here and in the factory. Parking is
plentiful including covered parking for cyclists, smoking is
allowed (though Daniel Bloch is a non-smoker) and there's no
formal dress code. There's a company cafeteria called the Chocolate
canteen, it's 10 minutes to the nearest freeway and it's two
and a half-hours to Zurich's airport. Any employee perks? Next
door to the head office a company store sells goodies to the
public-employees get special prices.
Nothing fancy about Bloch's corner office on the second floor.
Hanging on one wall are a several old company advertisements
and on another is a bright red abstract painting which he likes.
His view? One window looks out to the factory across the street
and the other window overlooks the parking lot. Any chocolate
in his office? Nope. Why? It's too hot. We go across the hall
to the sales director's office and find boxes and boxes filled
with chocolates from Bloch's competitors. Why? It's a very competitive
business and you have to keep tabs on what the competition is
Though I tell him it's too hot a day to be carrying chocolate
on my bike Bloch doesn't let me leave without a bag of Ragusa,
the company's flagship candy. It's chocolate with a hazelnut
center. Within an hour I've stopped on the side of the road for
my first taste. Mmmm, and of course I can't quit eating until
the package is empty.