Chocoholics around the world would say that chocolate is happiness you can eat and Axel Lachhein, Managing Director of Ritter Sport Asia Pacific, would be inclined to agree. “Ritter Sport chocolate is loaded with joy and goodness,” he says. ‘Joy’ and ‘happiness’ are words synonymous with the sweet treat for most of the chocolate-loving population.
But for Axel, ‘joy’ also refers to the full Ritter Sport experience – from the colour and energy of the brand to its customer-centric marketing style. “Think uniquely coloured packaging with our instantly recognisable shape and Ritter Sport brand,” he says. “And anyone can find their favourite chocolate from our extensive flavour range.”
In 1932, 20 years after the first Ritter chocolates were produced, Founder Clara Ritter suggested the family launch a square chocolate bar designed to fit in the pocket of a gentleman’s sports jacket. From this, the iconic Ritter Sport brand and shape was born along with, some decades later, the famous slogan ‘Quality. Chocolate. Squared.’
Ever since then, this fourth-generation family business has been focused on forward-thinking functionality and innovation. And it’s not just about the chocolate. “Ritter Sport is actively involved in the sustainable cultivation of cocoa,’ Axel states. “The company owns a 2,500 hectare plantation in Nicaragua called El Cacao, which is one of the largest cocoa plantations in the world.
“For 30 years, Ritter Sport has also been active with its Cacao-Nica program, which is based on cooperative partnerships with more than 3,500 small farmers in around 20 cooperatives. Since 1990, the Cacao-Nica program has been helping improve the livelihood of Nicaraguan farmers and protect endangered rainforests through a variety of measures, such as modern methods of agroforestry and farming. In 2018, more than 60% of cocoa used by Ritter Sport came from long-term partnerships with cooperatives.
“Trust and respect are the emotional glue that binds leaders and teams together.”
Being involved in the sustainable cultivation of cocoa is the best way to have maximum influence over the environmental and social conditions in cocoa cultivation and Ritter Sport has made this a priority. Ritter Sport’s values towards environmental sustainability hit even closer to home for Axel.
“In Asia–Pacific, plastic waste in the water has increased dramatically. You’re literally swimming or walking among it, which is so alarming,” Axel says. “In our region, we’re committed to do our part to minimise plastic waste wherever possible and we’ve done this by removing unnecessary outer packaging and promotional wrappers. Our current chocolate wrapper is already 100% recyclable.”
The building blocks in Axel’s career have each played an integral role in getting him to where he is today. Starting in marketing, he was advised by his former boss to “carry the sales bag” in order to round out his profile.
Subsequently, in sales roles at GlaxoSmithKline in Europe and Asia at a regional and then global level, Axel went on to join the food industry, where to date he has gained more than 10 years of general management experience.
“Speaking an Asian language has also proven to be an invaluable asset for building trust and close relationships with our business partners,” Axel says. “But what’s important is the experience we have accumulated along the way. It’s the mistakes you learn from, the mentors who encourage you and the successes you own. These experiences give you the confidence and motivation to get better each day.”
Ritter Sport has never shied away from being brave and taking risks, and this continues to contribute to the success of the brand today. “I’m so proud of our innovation power,” Axel remarks.
“We have a full pipeline of fresh and exciting products, flavours and packaging. Ritter Sport isn’t afraid to travel roads not normally taken.”
From limited edition flavours such as Strawberry Mousse and Lemon Wafer to classics like Marzipan and Cornflakes, Ritter Sport has always stepped up in the flavour stakes.
What’s also important to Axel as Managing Director of the Asia–Pacific region is understanding the unique needs of his customer base and then responding to them. “From market research, we learned Asian consumers mostly prefer smaller portions and price is a concern,” Axel explains.
“So we developed a smaller and more affordable product that we’ve rolled out in Thailand with huge success.
“The future of Ritter Sport in Asia is exciting – we’re seeing a rapidly growing middle class with a higher disposable income and a desire for quality and sustainability. The new Asian upper middle class is proud and self-confident,” Axel suggests.
“This changing demographic is a great opportunity for us, particularly with our new single origin cacao selection, which ticks the sustainability box that so many of these consumers care about.”
By some, the middle class population in the Asia–Pacific region is predicted to grow up to 10 times the size of the American market by 2030, so establishing a strong foothold and building a reputable brand in Asia is vital.
People and respect are at the heart of Ritter Sport’s values and this ethos runs through the lifeblood of Axel’s Asia–Pacific operation. “I believe trust and respect are the emotional glue that binds leaders and teams together,” he says. “Credibility is the cornerstone of great leadership. Your team’s commitment, energy, productivity and loyalty are linked to your credibility as a leader.
“I believe to get the best from someone, you must look for the best in them and empower them to take ownership and pride in their work. The most important thing you can say to your team is, ‘I believe in you.’”
“The most important thing you can say to your team is, ‘I believe in you.’”
Ritter Sport has always stood out from the market and, today, as the first and only major chocolate bar manufacturer to procure exclusively certified sustainable cocoa for its entire range, its light is shining even brighter.
“We offer delectable chocolate with natural and sustainable ingredients. Our recipes are simple, understandable and pared down to the essentials, which heightens the quality. We give full rein to our enthusiasm for chocolate,” Axel laughs. “And we have a passion for cacao.”
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