125 years: the Frey secret.

AuteurScheuringer, Carina
Fonction Business: made in Switzerland

A ten-minute bus ride from Aarau station, a unicorn watches over a mystical world of childhood dreams, where the smell of cocoa lingers in bright hallways and employees wear a knowing smile. This is the magical home of the Freyans, a force of 839 people united by a passion for chocolate and by a remarkable heritage.

In good spirits

"Whenever [people] think of Switzerland, [they] think of chocolate. And I have worked in the largest chocolate factory in Switzerland. That fills me with pride to this day," remarks retired employee Peter Lienhard, who served at Chocolat Frey for 41 years.

A strong team ethos and personal identification with the brand lies at the heart of the success of a business that generated a turnover of CHF 399 million in 2011 and is the number one chocolate producer in the domestic market (with a market share of 38.2 per cent). Global sales reached almost 43,000 tonnes of produce; manufactured in the Buchs factory to the highest standard of quality, with great love and attention to detail.

"Social capital is our greatest good. Without a first-class team, everything else in the company means nothing; it is crucial for our future," says Hans-Ruedi Christen who heads the company as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). "If you want to remain competitive in today's tough economic climate, it is essential to work through challenges and difficulties together. As CEO, you have to lead by example on an everyday basis, talk to people and listen to what they have to say." The high staff retention rates (in 2011, the average number of service years at Frey was 12) and the number of jubilee celebrations, rewarding 25 to 45 years of service, speak for themselves. And even as an outsider, I can feel this elusive 'Frey spirit' as I walk through the building. In every corridor, I am met with smiles and friendly welcomes.

Steeped in history

Looking at the size and versatility of the operation today, it is hard to believe that Chocolat Frey AG started out as a modest family business. On 17 December 1887, eight years after the invention of the conching process by Rodolphe Lindt * (which marked the onset of the industrial production of chocolate), brothers Robert Frey (1861-1940) and Max Frey (1863-1933) were amongst the first chocolate pioneers in Switzerland. Their venture 'R. & M. Frey' incorporated leading techniques of the age, including the use of machines powered by electricity.

Focusing its early production on chocolate bars and chocolate...

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