Billion-dollar chocolate company Godiva has launched in Australia and is planning to open 20 stores


Godiva chief executive for Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Jerome Chouchan. Source: Supplied.

While some local retailers were scrambling to keep up with challenging conditions in December, a billion-dollar global brand was setting itself up in the Australian market with big plans to capitalise on the nation’s sweet tooth.

Belgian chocolate maker Godiva, a brand international travellers would likely be familiar with, opened its first local store in the Emporium shopping complex in Melbourne’s CBD just in time for Christmas.

The brand turns over around $US1 billion [$1.24 billion] annually, according to Bloomberg, and has focused on expanding into Asia, where the appetite for European chocolate is strong.

The company’s chief executive for Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, Jerome Chouchan, says that after crunching the numbers on customers in Australia, the expansion here was a no-brainer.

“When you look [at] the consumption per capita of chocolate in Australia compared with worldwide, Australia is in the top 10. Per capita, you consume more chocolate than the Japanese,” he tells SmartCompany

Japan is a star of Godiva’s global network, with around 288 of its more than 800 stores located in the region.

Management have seen a similarly big opportunity in the Australian market, where customers readily enjoy both snack foods and a “self-gifting” culture where customers aren’t afraid to treat themselves to finer things.

“Gifts, whether for someone else or as a reward for yourself, when you work on a gift, you want a brand you trust,” Chouchan says.

He claims the trustworthy name of Godiva, which was founded in 1926 and that customers associate with quality, will quickly gain traction in the Australian market.

Beyond this, however, the brand is planning to bring a design and product offering that will make it stand out against the nation’s confectionery incumbents.

“We focus on consumer experience in the store, so in Emporium, we want to be vibrant and cheerful. Sometimes French chocolate, or even brands in Australia like Koko Black, have more chic or classic colours. Here it’s more vibrant, a happy feeling — ‘let’s enjoy’.”

Having overseen Godiva’s operations in Japan since 2010, Chouchan has watched consumer trends in confectionery for eight years. He says this tilt at the Australian market is far from a dress rehearsal.

“This is not ‘test it and see how it goes’. This is a very good chocolate market [for customers wanting] European taste,” he says. 

The plan is to open as many as three Australian stores throughout this year, with a longer term goal of 20 stores in five years, Chouchan says. The location of the second Melbourne site is currently being discussed.

Focus on “self treats” and presents

Having worked across a range of consumer brands across his career, including sportswear giant Lacoste, Chouchan says the consumer interest in buying gifts remains strong across all categories of retail.

“Gifting is something that’s beyond category — it’s a basic human need,” he says. 

In Australia, Chouchan believes Godiva will appeal to a base of international travellers who are familiar with the brand. However, the company is also eyeing opportunities in Australians’ affection for “casual, self-treats”.

“What is excited about Australia is we are trying to bring all around the world some of our iconic products,” he says.

“We have things like pearls, these small pearls of chocolate that you can buy to put in your handbag.”

Beyond the quick everyday purchase, Chouchan says Godiva’s strength is in delivering a range of gift options that are matched to the seasons, which the brand’s research suggests will be easy wins with local consumers.

“We put a lot of focused on hot chocolate when we launched Emporium, and when the climate goes into autumn and winter, I think hot chocolate will go very well,” he says. 

“These types of products are complementary, between gifting and enjoying on the spot.”

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