It’s a become a part of many people’s lives, a moment of sweet joy in one’s mouth: chocolate. Those living in Belgium have learned that the country holds a rich history and savoir-faire in the art of chocolate-making. Nestled in the heart of Europe, Belgium has more than 320 chocolateries and produces over 725,000 tons of chocolate each year. But how did it al come about?
In the 17th century, the land that would eventually become Belgium, was under Spanish rule. Spaniards brought cocoa beans to Europe from Mexico, and from other colonies in America. According to Visit Flanders, the first recorded purchase of chocolates in Belgium was made by the abbot of Baudeloo Abbey in Ghent in the year 1635. Back then, chocolates were sold as medicine. The abbey monks purportedly used them as gifts.
In 1840, Belgian chocolate maker Berwaerts sold the first pressed chocolate tablets, pastilles and figurines. Several chocolate makers were founded around that time, and they grew into large companies such as Neuhaus (1857), Côte d’Or (1883), Jacques (1896) and Callebaut (1911).
In 1912, a Swiss migrant, Jean Neuhaus II, invented the famous pralines. He was the first to engineer a way of making chocolate with soft filling. Years later, Neuhaus’ wife designed the ballotin, the traditional box for packaging Neuhaus chocolates.
In 1925 Charles Callebaut made one of the most important inventions: the transport of liquid chocolate. Ten years later, Basile Kestekidès, the nephew of the founder of Leonidas, invented the ‘Manon’, a large praline coated in white chocolate. In 1936 Jacques launched the first filled chocolate bar with praliné.
Chocolate spread is also a Belgian invention: first launched by Côte d’Or in 1952. Côte d’Or also boosted the reputation of Belgian chocolate internationally through a major campaign at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.
- Consumption of chocolate per person in Belgium: 6 kg
- Total turnover of the Belgian chocolate industry: 4,179 billion euros (confectionery included)
- Total production: 661,673 tonnes
- Total exports: 578,043 tonnes
- Total retail sales value of the Belgian chocolate market: 700 million euros
- Proportion of the workforce employed in the chocolate industry: 8,5%
- Proportion of exports of the chocolate and confectionary industry: 11,2%
- Number of chocolate and pastry plants: 320
- Number of employees involved in the production of chocolate and confectionery: 7,619 employees (confectionery included)
- Raw cacao arriving at the port of Antwerp: 190,000 tonnes