Meurisse, the oldest chocolate brand in Belgium, is back. Decades after the takeover by Kraft and 12 years after the product disappeared from the shelves, two young brothers continue to build the course that their distant ancestor Adolphe Meurisse drew up in 1845.
“Wait, this is very important.” In the middle of his explanation, Henry Van Vyve interrupts himself. ‘This is not plastic. This is completely biodegradable. You can throw it straight into the compost bin. ‘ He takes a bar of chocolate from a bright yellow package. At the top, in blue letters, is ‘Meurisse’, the name of the oldest chocolate brand in Belgium, which disappeared from the shelves over a decade ago.
Today the brand is back, relaunched by Henry (35) and his brother Clement (33) Van Vyve – founder Adolphe Meurisse’s great-great-grandsons – but not just for the nostalgic. As the plastic worries suggest, the brothers want to tackle it in a contemporary way. A tradition and an established name, but with new flavors and an ethical and sustainable touch. So it happened that Tuesday, 175 years after the opening of the first Belgian chocolate factory on the Damplein in Antwerp, Meurisse chocolate rolls off the production line again: 20,000 tablets.
Before the launch of the family chocolate brand Meurisse, Henry and Clement Van Vyve conducted a market survey in 2018 to gauge the popularity and memories that surround the brand. “65 percent of the over-25s still knew Meurisse, and about 70 percent of that group said they would like to taste it again.”
“Founded in 1845, the company has remained in the family for four generations,” says Henry Van Vyve. But in the 1970s Meurisse ran into financial difficulties. ‘Investments had to be made in new machines, but that was financially difficult. My father’s uncle, the last family director of Meurisse, decided to sell the chocolate shop to General Biscuits, better known as LU. Production moved to Herentals and my family left the company completely. ‘
Until three years ago, when Van Vyve was eating with his brother Clement – who in the meantime also became a father and was therefore unable to attend the conversation – and parents. ‘We talked about how unfortunate it was that this family legacy, an icon in Belgian chocolate, was no longer in our hands. Then the idea arose to pick up and continue the work of our ancestors. ‘
But in the meantime, Meurisse was owned by Mondelez, the split-off biscuit division of the American food group Kraft. ‘Kraft had bought General Biscuits – and therefore also Meurisse – in the 90s, because it needed a strong brand, next to Côte d’Or and Milka,’ says Van Vyve. Meurisse then grew strongly in the Belgian supermarkets and became the second largest chocolate brand after Côte d’Or. The product disappeared in 2008, but the name remained the property of Mondelez. ‘
At random, the Van Vyves contacted the food giant. ‘After some searching, we got hold of the right person. He said: make an offer. ‘ They did so – ‘I cannot give up the amount’ – and it was accepted.
‘Meurisse was ours again. But we didn’t actually realize what we were holding. After we signed the contract with Mondelez, we received another box full of old documents about Meurisse. Folders, newspaper articles, old packaging, promotional coupons from supermarkets … All things from the last century that we had never seen, but have been beautifully preserved. Just like the photo book of the first ‘centenaire’ of Meurisse, the centenary in 1945, just after the war. Then we saw our great-grandfather address his staff. Only then did the realization come: we are not just adopting a name. ‘
The easy option would be to return the nineties version of Meurisse to the supermarkets. Everyone still knows the name and logo.
That is why the Van Vyve brothers want to present more than a pure comeback of the well-known brand. The easy option would be to return the nineties version of Meurisse to the supermarkets. Everyone knows the name, the logo, done. ‘
The market investigation also suggests that this would be a hit (see inset). But Van Vyve doesn’t just want to cash in on that nostalgia. ‘Even without that name recognition, the project must be there. In addition, it would be naive to rely on it blindly. The chocolate market is already saturated, the supermarkets are full of new flavors. ‘
‘That success episode from the 90s was just one page in a whole history. 175 years! ‘, Says Van Vyve. ‘We don’t want to just copy that passage, but write a new chapter. For the recipes we had a starting point from the past, but if you want to make organic chocolate, you have to use fewer ingredients. We work without palm oil, make the caramel ourselves and are certified fair trade. ‘
Transparency is important, Van Vyve believes. ‘Our cocoa comes from Papua New Guinea, where we pay the farmers a fair price, plus an annual bonus. For the production and packaging we work together with Belgian family businesses. ‘
The retail template is also not an option for sales. Van Vyve, who started his career in e-commerce and worked at Takeaway.com and Bellerose, among others, Meurisse wants to sell online first. By the end of the year, Meurisse will also be available at a few specialty stores, but not immediately in the supermarkets. However, it seems like the perfect place to reach former Meurisse fans. But Van Vyve wants to take it easy. ‘I also know that retail is an indispensable partner to become profitable. By the end of 2021, I am aiming at around 100 points of sale in Belgium – organic shops or specialty shops. But I want to learn to walk before I start walking. That is why we finance everything ourselves in this initial phase. We now have about 2 tons of chocolate in production. A major player thinks that is peanuts, but for us it is already a lot. ‘
Clement Van Vyve (33) studied psychology and information design in London. He worked for the Dutch designer Paul Mijksenaar. He is now creative director at Meurisse.
Henry Van Vyve (35) studied business management at the ICHEC in Brussels. He has worked in the e-commerce sector for Djump, Groupon, Takeaway.com, Bellerose and other fashion brands, among others. He is operational director at Meurisse.
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