Villars Maitre Chocolatier S.A.



Arrangements had been made to meet with Villars' Managing Director Alexander Sacerdoti, but something came up a few days beforehand and he had to cancel. His assistant was to let me know about rescheduling for the following week. That wasn't going to work for me since I'm currently less than 20 miles away in Bern. So, I decided to take my chances and hope someone else at Villars might have time to meet with me. After leaving chocolatier Gysi in Bern (Switzerland's capital) I cycle the 20 miles to Fribourg, a university town with 40,000 inhabitants, to visit Villars, another chocolatier.

I'm about two miles from Fribourg's city center in a mixed-use area. In front of me stands an impressive five-story, red brick building taking up a whole city block. This turn-of-the-century structure with a large smokestack houses Villars' offices and factory. However, all is not what it seems. Though in the accompanying picture you see the name "chocolat" on the front of the building, Villars' factory and offices now only occupy only a portion of the rear section of the complex thanks to a recent sale and partial leaseback of the building.

Etienne Dumme, Director of Research and Development, and Michael Lees, who's responsible for client services, are corralled into answering questions as we sit in the cafeteria. Part of the cafeteria doubles as the company store. Open to the public, the company's full lines of goodies are available for purchase. I've seen Villars' bars of chocolate in stores but didn't realize the extent of the selections-milk chocolate, milk chocolate with nuts, dark chocolate with nougat filling and so on. On a tray are free samples of their chocolate-covered marshmallows but I take a pass as I've never been fond of marshmallows except when they're used to make Kellogg's Rice Krispie Marshmallow Treats. Amidst all the chocolate goodies are packages of coffee. Coffee? The company also markets it's own line of premium coffee.

About 100 people work here. Villars was founded in 1901 but my two contacts aren't sure when this building was built. Smoking isn't allowed in the workplace, there's no formal dress code, it's two hours to Zurich's airport, one and a half hours to Geneva's airport and there's covered parking for commuting cyclists. Any employee perks? A measly 10% off goodies at the company store. Was or is there a Mr. Villars? No, the company is named after the neighboring village of Villars.

I ask to see Managing Director Sacerdoti's second floor middle office but since he isn't in I'm told "it isn't possible". That means I don't get to check if he keeps a stash of chocolate in there. Researching the company I was very surprised to find the company lacked a presence on the Internet. Dume and Lees aren't sure but suggest it might have to do with having to then offer their products for sale online-something the company wasn't sure it wanted to do. Heck, they should at least have a site displaying their extensive product lines, where they can be purchased AND, some history on the company. Here's this more than 100-year old company and they have zilch printed background material to give me.

Departing it occurs to me that I've yet to experience any of Villars' products---Dume and Lees let me leave empty-handed. Don't ever recall a candy, cookie or chocolate maker letting that happen-especially when there's an onsite factory.