Chocolat Alprose SA

Lugano, population 50,000, is situated near the Swiss/Italian border. Cycling 10 miles from downtown brings me to Caslano, a tidy village of 3,500 inhabitants on the shores of picturesque Lake Lugano. I'm looking for Chocolat Alprose and it's not very difficult to find thanks to the colorful life-size statues of cows scattered on the grounds and atop the roof of the two-story headquarters/factory. Also atop the roof on the front and backside of the building are signs spelling out Chocolat Alprose SA in red and white lettering. So, why the colorful signs and the highly visible cows? It might be to lure people driving by to stop and visit the onsite Alprose chocolate museum.

About 20 feet separates the entrance from the chocolate museum to the entrance of Alprose. I first walk over to the chocolate museum and find out one has to pay an entrance fee so I decide to wait and see if my visit to the company yields a tour. The front door to Alprose's offices is locked and inside I can see a receptionist a few feet away from the door. I knock on the glass door and the receptionist just looks at me. I yell through the door that I'm here to visit the company and he just keeps pointing over to the chocolate museum. Evidently the door is locked because people mistakenly think it's the entrance to the chocolate museum. Just when I'm about to lose my cool, the receptionist opens the door-not to let me in but to let another man in. Jeez, I have to practically put my foot in the door to stop him from closing it in my face.

Now inside, I explain who I am and my mailing a letter of introduction a month earlier to Roger Buerli, Head of Sales. The receptionist says Buerli is definitely here because that's the man he just opened the door for when I was trying to get in. While the receptionist makes a call I glance around the very tiny lobby. It's no-frills with the furnishings consisting of five chocolate-colored chairs squished together. No coffee table, nor chocolate samples for visitors, magazines, plants, flowers or paintings.

Though Buerli says he hadn't received the letter of introduction he agrees to answer my questions. Built in 1983, about 120 people work here in the head office/factory. Employee parking is free and plentiful, smoking isn't allowed in the workplace and there's no company cafeteria but, employees can bring their own food and eat in break room. Though there's no onsite recreational facilities it's only a few blocks walk to the picturesque shores of beautiful Lake Lugano. Those who cycle to work enjoy covered parking for their bicycles. There's no formal dress code, it's a 15 minute drive to the nearest freeway and 15 minutes to the airport.

Buerli occupies a second floor corner office. What's the view out his window? An unexciting vista of the parking lot.

I've visited most of the companies listed as members of Chocosuisse, the Union of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers. So, I'm surprised to learn from Buerli that Alprose is part of Barry Callebaut, the world's biggest producer of industrial chocolate. Barry Callebaut, with over $3 billion in revenues, owns several well-known names in chocolate including Stollwerk in Germany (who I visited in 1999) and Brach's in the United States. In 2002 I visited Barry Callebaut's head office in Zurich and received an excellent reception. There's no mention on Alprose's website mention of its connection with Callebaut and it enjoys a separate listing on the Chocosuisee membership list.

I don't receive an invitation to visit the chocolate museum but do receive one bar of chocolate from Buerli. So, after leaving Buerli I head over to check out the museum. Part of the museum complex includes a company store (open to the public) selling Alprose's full line of chocolate goodies The admission price includes a self-guided tour of the factory.

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