HISTORY

From cocoa to chocolate

Aztecs preparing
Aztecs preparing "Xocolatl"

The great botanist Carl von Linné (Linnaeus) was by no means the first to recognise the unique merits of the plant to which he gave the botanical name of "Theobroma Cacao L."."Theobroma" means "food of the gods". Cocoa was already recognised as such by the Toltecs, Mayas and Aztecs, from whom we got the name "cacauatl". Around 600 AD the Mayas were already cultivating cocoa in Central America. They used the cocoa beans to prepare a very nourishing drink, which they called "Xocolatl", from which we probably get the modern word "chocolate".

The Spanish Conquistadors of the 16th century were also interested in chocolate. In 1528, Cortez took the first cocoa to Spain, along with the equipment needed to prepare the exotic drink, and it soon met with great approval in the Spanish court. In 1615, the infanta Anna of Austria, who grew up in Madrid, introduced drinking chocolate to the French court when she married King Louis XIII. In Paris it became a badge of status and the fashionable drink of the aristocracy, and from there it spread throughout the whole of Europe. Whereas in the 19th century, the importance of drinking chocolate declined, solid chocolate, which had its origins in France in the years following 1830, grew in importance.

Chocolate arrives in Switzerland …

In 1819, François-Louis Cailler opened one of the first mechanised chocolate production facilities in Corsier near Vevey, establishing the oldest brand of Swiss chocolate still in existence today. Thus chocolate had finally arrived in the country where it was soon to find its greatest patrons and pioneers. Philippe Suchard set up a chocolate factory in Serrières in 1826. He was followed by Jacques Foulquier (predecessor of Jean-Samuel Favarger) 1826 in Geneva, Charles-Amédée Kohler 1830 in Lausanne, Rudolf Sprüngli 1845 in Zurich, Aquilino Maestrani 1852 in Lucerne, later moving to St. Gallen, Johann Georg Munz 1874 in Flawil, and Jean Tobler 1899 in Berne.

Daniel Peter founded a chocolate factory in Vevey in 1867. After many attempts, he succeeded in combining chocolate with milk, an obvious but difficult move, thus inventing milk chocolate in 1875. Rodolphe Lindt opened a chocolate factory in Berne in 1879. He developed "conching", a process which created the world’s first "melting chocolate". Many other Swiss entrepreneurs set up companies over the next few years, their activities helping to shape the reputation of Swiss chocolate, which soon became known throughout the world.

Swiss chocolate flourishes

The Suchard factory
The Suchard factory

The years between 1890 and 1920 saw a real blossoming of the Swiss chocolate industry, coinciding with the golden age of Swiss tourism. Members of the top echelons of society throughout the world who spent their holidays in Switzerland came to know and appreciate Swiss chocolate, and took its reputation home with them. The initiative of Swiss chocolate producers conquered the world chocolate market between 1900 and 1918. Up to three quarters of Swiss chocolate was exported. Thus "little Switzerland" became a world power in chocolate. Of course, "Swiss chocolate" owed its global reputation not just to the quantities exported, but above all to its quality, which made it stand out above the great amount of chocolate produced in other countries.

Through crises to a new golden age

Automation
Automation

The late 1920s saw the beginning of hard times for the Swiss chocolate industry. Increased protectionism, and the economic crises of the 20s and 30s, led to the loss of export markets. The Second World War brought strict import restrictions on sugar and cocoa, with rationing being introduced in 1943.

Since 1950, the Swiss chocolate industry has enjoyed constant growth. Automation and new chocolate production technologies have made great strides forward. Advances in economic integration, and the dismantling of customs controls throughout the world, have promoted the international exchange of goods. Manufacturers recognised the signs of the times and extended their market position in many parts of the world.

The oldest way of shaping chocolate
The oldest way of shaping chocolate

The development of new products and product forms in keeping with modern consumer habits, the maintaining of quality, the consistent pursuit of modernisation in factories, and the promotion of professional training for employees, are the methods being employed by the Swiss chocolate industry to assert its global market position into the 21st century.


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