For the past 40 years, master chocolatier Bernard Callebaut has been famously associated with the chocolate industry in Calgary.
It’s been his passion but it hasn’t always been a sweet journey. Now Callebaut is poised for growth again.
Callebaut lost his company, Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut, in 2010 after it hit financial trouble and went into receivership. It had 30 stores at the time. He opened a new company location, Papa Chocolat, in late 2011 but that too eventually ceased operations. And in 2015 he declared personal bankruptcy.
But today the master chocolatier is growing his business with the Master Chocolat brand.
“Forty years is a big milestone,” said Callebaut.
He opened his first store March 25, 1983 along 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary.
Callebaut is originally from Belgium and said his family were originally brewers. His great grandfather saw the chocolate craze coming up and sent two of his sons to Paris to learn the craft. And in 1911 the chocolate company was started.
Callebaut’s father had the business from 1945 to 1972. His mother continued with the business when his father died and then sold the business in 1980 to a Swiss business and today that’s the largest chocolate factory in the world.
“When my mother sold, I said I didn’t want to continue in the chocolate business,” he said. Callebaut got an electromechanical degree in engineering in Belgium and took a business management course in Switzerland.
But the passion for chocolate would not go away. He came back to the business his family was so well known for, did an internship in Europe and then emigrated to Canada and started his chocolate shop in Calgary.
Today, he has a new 7,000-square-foot factory and retail store on 69th Avenue SW. There’s a second retail store in the trendy Marda Loop southwest neighbourhood. It is also present at both Calgary Farmers’ Markets – West and South.
The new factory opened in November 2020. The store in Marda Loop opened in 2019. Callebaut launched a presence in the South farmers’ market about 10 years ago and opened in the new West farmers’ market this past year.
“Retail wise we will probably add more locations in the longer term,” he said. “Retail is a portion of our business but a big chunk of our business, the majority, is wholesale, and private label. We do a lot of custom-made products like for example one of our biggest clients is Chapters/Indigo. So we make several customized products for them that they retail in their book stores across Canada. That’s a big, big part of our business.
“And because we are 95 per cent organic these people come to us because they want to sell products that are of that calibre and so we do a lot of business. And I see more growth in that portion of the business than in the retail. But ultimately they feed off each other.”
Callebaut said more and more people today are drawn to chocolate.
“If you think about it, when I started 40 years ago, chocolate was considered candy. It’s a candy bar. You pick it up at the grocery store when you pay your bill, you pay 50 cents or 75 cents, etcetera. Chocolate has evolved a lot like coffee has evolved. Forty years ago coffee was 50 cents at the Husky gas station and now people pay six bucks for a coffee,” he said.
“Chocolate has become more sophisticated too because you cannot just stay where you are. It’s more sophisticated. People travel more. The food channel has done a lot to that in my opinion. People get more educated in different ways and I think there’s much more growth potential.
“In the whole chocolate industry in North America, the specialized portion, like what I do, is the fastest growing section in the chocolate industry.”
The key, he said, is the price point. The chocolate has to be priced at a very good quality but still making it an affordable luxury.
“I think that’s the key thing – to sell the chocolate at an affordable luxury.”