Tony's Chocolonely, an Amsterdam-based chocolate brand that promotes slave-free chocolate, has big plans indeed: the company wants to build a new factory that includes a theme park, and is looking to be acquired by a major food corporation such as Nestlé or Mondelez in the hopes of improving an industry giant from the inside.
Factory with roller-coaster
The remarkable plans for Tony's Chocolonely Chocolate Circus are certainly imaginative: in three years' time, the company aims to transform a protected art-deco flour mill into a state-of-the-art headquarter with two additional manufacturing buildings. The most eye-catching part of the project is the experience centre, which will include a roller-coaster and which aims at half a million visitors every year.
The project will have a price tag of 100 million euros. Founder Henk Jan Beltman is still in the dark about its finances, but he is certain that visitors will love the "Willy Wonka feeling" he wants to give them when they can follow the entire chain of the manufacturing process - just like in Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. People will even be able to make their own chocolate. In addition, there will be catering, congress facilities and an incubator for selected starter companies.
In every story, there are losers as well as winners, and in the case of Tony's Chocolonely Chocolate Circus they are called Belgium and Amsterdam. The former loses the chocolate bars factory that is currently still located there, the latter sees the Zaandam plans as a defeat because the original plans for the complex were intended for the former NDSM shipyards in Amsterdam North.
Chocoholics looking to plan a visit will have to be patient: the future of the project is still very unclear. While there is an agreement with the new owner of the terrain, the municipality of Zaandam maintains the plans are not quite in order yet, but has stated it is ready to help Tony's Chocolonely solve any difficulties they may encounter.
"Improve from the inside"
Meanwhile, Beltman announced that he wants to make Tony's Chocolonely a part of a worldwide chocolate group, in order to improve it from the inside. The company was founded in 2005 by a number of journalists after they discovered that many cacao plantations still use child slavery. In being acquired by a food conglomerate, Beltman hopes that other brands will also be making the move to slavery-free chocolate.
Co-founder Teun van de Keuken is less enthusiastic about those plans, fearing that Tony's would end up becoming "a pretty signboard hiding a dirty company". Of course, the question then is whether van de Keuken can change anything about his companion's intentions: Beltman holds 56% of the shares. The other 44% belongs to the staff and the other founders.
The takeover is also supposed to contribute to Tony's international expansion: ideally, the company hopes they will be able to get in touch with the British and the Americans. The company announced as much when they released their admittedly disappointing results: while turnover increased by 23% to 55 million euros, that is far below the expected growth of 50%.
The two propositions may not be realised right away, but the fair chocolate brand did achieve at least one big success in the past week: it convinced Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands (which happens to be based in Zaandam as well) and the world's largest chocolate producer Barry Callebaut to sign up to a platform that will enable other companies to produce slavery-free chocolate.