Willy Wonka next door
Loop North News

Photo by Marcel Van Coile. Click on images to view larger versions.

The American headquarters of Barry Callebaut, located in the former headquarters of Montgomery Ward, hosts all the departments necessary for the smooth functioning of a multinational company. And they make chocolate.

15-Jul-21 – When you think of Chicago and chocolate, you likely think of Blommer Chocolate Company, origin of the famous West Town chocolate smell, or maybe Chicago-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat with its unique ingredient pairings. You may be surprised to learn that Barry Callebaut, one of the largest, if not the largest, chocolate manufacturers, has its American headquarters in River North.

On top of that, Barry Callebaut’s various cocoa products are found in one out of four chocolate products around the world. That includes everything from Oreos and Kit Kats to Vosges chocolate, and local/regional chocolateries get their cocoa products from Barry Callebaut.

When Kristina Sciolla, manager of talent acquisition for the Americas Region, tells people that she works for a chocolate manufacturer, she says the response is always a surprised, “You work in a chocolate factory?”

While Chicago is home to one of the two manufacturing facilities in Illinois – and many more scattered across North and South America – the Barry Callebaut headquarters, located in the former headquarters of Montgomery Ward, hosts all the departments necessary for the smooth functioning of a multinational company, like finance and accounting, as well as chocolate-specific jobs like the team that sources cocoa across the world.

Photo by Marcel Van Coile

It’s also home for one of Barry Callebaut’s 23 Chocolate Academies, or test kitchens (left). It serves as a place to make the magic happen after the products have been manufactured.

Sciolla says that chefs can do demos, bring in vendors to test products, and create new and beautiful products. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, it’s not open to the public. But there are videos that can be watched online.

While the company has been bringing our favorite chocolates to us, they are working to continually innovate chocolate. They are particularly proud of unveiling Ruby chocolate in 2017, which Sciolla describes as fruity and smooth with a pinkish hue. It’s the first new chocolate since white chocolate was developed in the mid-1930s in Switzerland.

Another project they are working on is their sustainability project called Forever Chocolate.

“It’s essentially our mission to make sustainable chocolate the norm by 2025,” said Sciolla (right).

Barry Callebaut has four main goals: elevate more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty, eliminate child labor, become “carbon and forest positive,” and use 100 percent sustainable ingredients in their products.

Kristina Sciolla

There may be some new chocolate trends in the future. Representatives of Barry Callebaut say customers want good-tasting chocolate but with less sugar, and they want protein and/or fiber added to the chocolate products. There is also desire for vegan chocolate.

While COVID-19 disrupted all parts of life, professional and personal, Barry Callebaut has kept expanding.

“We have been [in] non-stop recruitment mode since I’ve been here for two-and-a-half years now, and COVID barely took a hit on the recruitment process,” said Sciolla.

While there may be lots of food trends out there, chocolate arguably is still a popular and growing segment.

Photo provided by Barry Caellebaut

So next time you bite into a chocolate bar or have chocolate-dipped ice cream, take some delight in knowing that the chocolate products might have been made in downtown Chicago.

Photos provided by Barry Callebaut USA LLC.

• Contact Elisa Shoenberger at bowlerhatfox@gmail.com


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