Chocolate Camille Bloch S.A.

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 done.

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 doing.

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.