The winner of the 2019 European Candy Kettle Award is Josef Zotter. The Austrian chocolatier and his family are running a unique chocolate and fine pralines factory in Riegersburg in the Austrian Styria.
It is obviously a fault to call the Zotter factory a factory. It is more like a big piece of art. With about 200 co-workers Josef Zotter has built up a chocolate and confectionery business of its own. Every chocolate bar is handmade. Zotter invented the layer-method to let all his ideas for flavour sensations collide in your mouth. In his portfolio of fine flavour hand-scooped chocolates you will find strange and mind blowing varieties such as seaweed/caramel/pineapple, Arabic dates with mint, his famous beer chocolate or fake chocolate/peanuts and nettles.
Around and within the production in Riegersburg you will find what Josef Zotter calls his Chocolate Theatre. It is like a walk of indulgence. You can watch your chocolate being produced live while tasting 250 of over 500 different chocolate sensations which the maître de chocolatier himself created in his head. A head that produces new ideas every day. Meanwhile he hosts over 270 000 guests, customers and chocoholics per year in his Chocolate Theatre. That´s why almost 50 % of the Zotter turnover of 24 million Euros per year are made in Riegersburg.
To live your chocolate dream, that by the way is 100% fairtrade and organic, you need a team that takesover all the work you are not able to do while creating and implementing ideas for new chocolates. There is Josef´s wife Ulrike. She manages the business and keeps all the necessary data together or as Josef would say – without her his biography would end here. His daughter Julia built the Chocolate Theatre in Shanghai and ran it for three years (May 2014–August 2017). Now Julia develops new products together with her father in Riegersburg. Julia spent a year in China (Xi-an and Beijing) during secondary school and went on to study food science and biotechnology at Vienna’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. For her final thesis, she travelled to Brazil to establish a cocoa research project. In 2013, she graduated from the Cordon Bleu Academy in Paris with a Grand-Diplome in Pâtisserie and Cuisine as one of the best in her year. Michael Zotter also studied food science and biotechnology at Vienna’s University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences and is currently reading business information systems in Vienna. Michael is responsible for Zotter’s website, online shop and everything else IT. Valerie Zotter, the youngest daughter currently heads animal care at the in-house petting zoo and oversees the egg collection. But without the team around the family the whole business wouldn´t work either. Head of marketing is Susanne Luef. She was also responsible for the planning of the European Candy Kettle Club event in Riegersburg and gave the members of the club a wonderful time in the Styria.
Another unique point about the Zotter chocolates: it wouldn´t be half as great without the artwork of Andreas Q. Gratze. He is the artist behind all the fantastic pictures and the packaging design. Last but not least I would like to mention Gerald Prasch, who is the head of patisserie and Thomas Linshalm, who is head of the bean-to-bar production, They do all the difficult plannings for the over 500 products within the Zotter business.
In 1987, founding of the Zotter family business: together with his wife Ulrike Zotter, the 26-year-old Josef Zotter opens up the Zotter confectionary shop in Glacisstraße in Graz. The unusual creations such as “hemp slice”, “the funny pie” and “scarlet runner bean roll with coriander” earn regional fame. Josef Zotter expands and opens up three more branches. In 1992, Josef Zotter begins to produce chocolates in the back office of the confectionary shop in Graz and invents the hand-scooped chocolate, a mixture of inventiveness and handwork, filled in layers and plies. Also new are the 70 g format and the chocolate coating instead of the cubed breaking pattern. The varieties of the first hour: poppyseed-cinnamon, pumpkin brittle with marzipan, hemp, crudités, champagne and grilled walnuts with marzipan. In 1999, the Zotters decide to bank entirely on chocolate. In the former stable of the parental farm, the zotter chocolate manufacture is opened.
In 2004, Zotter begins to travel to the countries of cocoa cultivation and supports the farmers with development aid projects like “Quality instead of poverty“ and “Cocoa instead of cocaine“ and many more. In 2007, expansion of the manufacture to bean-to-bar production and to the Chocolate Theatre. Bean-to-bar: Zotter invests 18 million Euros to process chocolate directly from the cocoa bean onwards. The fairly traded organic cocoa is purchased directly, roasted, ground, milled and conched. With this, Zotter lays the foundation for the development of the manufacture into a centre of competence for chocolate. Many new chocolates are created. Insourcing instead of outsourcing: Josef Zotter is now one of the few independent bean-to-bar producers in Europe and was long the only one who produced solely in organic and fair-trade quality. (In general, only three global players produce a large part (about 80 %) of the overall world-wide chocolate demand.) In 2011, Zotter opens up the Edible Zoo as open-air part of the Chocolate Theatre. 27 hectares of adventure farming (a total of 85 hectares of organically cultivated farming, 27 hectares of which are accessible to visitors), where Zotter serves the visitors organic meals, directly from his own pastures and gardens. In 2014, Zotter opens the Chocolate Theatre in Shanghai, which daughter Julia Zotter subsequently runs until 2017. It’s a chocolate adventure world with tasting tour included, spread out over a 2 400 square metre space. Within a very short time, the Chocolate Theatre has established itself as THE place to be in the thriving megacity of Shanghai. The “Shanghai Wall Street Journal“ and “Smart Shanghai“ name it as one of its top sightseeing destinations. Julia Zotter’s “No Pants“ events proves particularly popular. In the autumn of 2017, Julia returns to the manufactory in Austria in order to work on product development. Shanghai’s Chocolate Theatre and Shop are now run by general manager Amy Fang. In 2015, Zotter launched a shop in the US. The subsidiary is increasingly focused on online sales – there is only one retail shop at the Cape Coral/Florida branch location. In 2016, Riegersburg chocolate shop extension. Featuring a wall of manure reminiscent of the stable it once was, a big bonbon counter where customers can put together their own bonbon boxes, a Labooko library, a green, leafy storefront and a low waste station where you can buy Zotter chocolates in bulk, without any of the wrapping. In 2017, the world’s first Choco Robots start working at Zotter. Industry 4.0 means blending skilled handicraft with innovation. Zotter wants to demonstrate that robots do not eliminate jobs but instead substitute other machines, thereby safeguarding the future of existing employees. The robots add more precision to the process and enable individual manufacturing. At the moment they are putting fillings into the wafer-thin Nashido bars. In the future, Josef Zotter wants to deploy the robots to manufacture individual bonbons, tailored to specific customers. The demand for individual and one-ofa-kind products will continue to rise. The choco robots are also one-of-a-kind – they were developed by a group of students in the face of initial resistance by older engineers. The robots are the first of their kind and are a perfect fit for Zotter and their desire to increasingly invest in innovative ideas. In 2017, Josef Zotter travels to Peru and Madagascar for film shoots. In Peru, it’s a film about growing organic cocoa in place of producing cocaine, which is playing at the Chocolate Theatre, and in Madagascar, he makes a Virtual Reality Film. Visitors to the Chocolate Theatre can put VR goggles on and dive into the cocoa jungle. In 2017, Zotter celebrates the company’s 30-year anniversary: in 1987, Josef Zotter opens his first confectionery shop in Graz/Austria, marries Ulrike and the couple welcome their daughter Julia. This heralds the eventful start of the family business and the beginning of a slice of chocolate history. In 2018, Zotter opens a 360° VR Theatre as the new highlight at the Edible Zoo: Visitors can beam themselves to the colourful cocoa world of Madagascar, thanks to modern Virtual Reality technology and VR-glasses. 2018/19 Zotter is starting off the new season with 21 new, hand-scooped chocolates with a bit of a subdued, classic character as opposed to the usual madness. Read more about Zotter´s great story at www.zotter.at.
The history of the European Candy Kettle Award shows some great names such as Michele Ferrero, Rudolf Sprüngli, Sir Adrian Cadbury, Peter Fazer, Klaus Jacobs, Nina Stepanova and Jean-Luc Grisot. Now Josef Zotter joined this hall of entrepreneurs.