Part artist and part entrepreneur, Geneviève Grandbois constantly strives to produce exceptional chocolates, while remaining profitable and respecting the planet and its inhabitants.
Passionate, energetic, fascinating and infectiously enthusiastic... As this former actress talks about her chocolates, these are just a few of the attributes that spring to mind. Grandbois draws her inspiration from "encounters, stories and impressions," which she then expresses through the use of unexpected ingredients, like saffron or olive oil.
Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois has carved out an enviable position in the gourmet food market, thanks to its founder's tireless determination.
"The more impossible something is, the more it attracts me," says Grandbois, a mother of two daughters who opened her first chocolate shop at age 21, following a brief stint as an actress. "Chocolate came into my life by chance, but it really was love at first sight. One evening I was invited to a lecture given by a Frenchman about unusual flavour combinations, like strawberry and black pepper. At that moment, I felt as though I had discovered a new way to express myself. It stirred something in me."
Grandbois set about learning her trade—by reading, taking classes and travelling to Belgium—and her dream quickly took shape with the opening of her first shop on Fabre Street in Montreal. The shop didn’t last long, however, and it was on her second try that her business model was truly defined.
"My first shop was inspired by the Belgian tradition and had a very romantic feel," says Grandbois. "But I didn't want to sell traditional chocolates anymore. I wanted to create new things and explore new flavours."
It was this desire that led her to open Chocolats Geneviève Grandbois at Atwater Market in 2002. Just one week after the opening, the kiosk caught fire! Undeterred, Grandbois set about repairing the damage and replacing her stock. The following winter, she opened up another shop on Saint-Viateur. A few years later, she set up her "Chocolate Bar" in the Quartier Dix30 shopping district. This businesswoman’s taste for success didn’t intend to stop there.
"I still haven't reached all my potential customers," says Grandbois. "Consumer behaviour in Quebec is changing rapidly. We're starting to create our own food culture and develop our regional products." There's one problem, however: sales are highly seasonal, with Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter accounting for most of the company's revenue.
"We start the summer with full coffers, but that money has to cover our costs until the next holiday season, including the significant cost of replenishing our inventory. Fortunately, National Bank has increased our line of credit as the company has grown. The Bank is really involved in our projects, above and beyond the financial aspect. It's also a very good corporate client!"
Going forward, business growth will be driven by vertical integration as well as the opening of new retail outlets. In the future, Grandbois would like to take over the process of producing cocoa and transforming the dried cocoa beans into “couverture chocolate” (the raw material used by chocolatiers).
On impulse, Grandbois bought an old plantation in Costa Rica in 2007. Her aim was to ensure a supply of top-quality organic cocoa for her business and, after a number of challenges, she is beginning to see promising results.
"The first harvest was gathered on horseback using baskets, in the heat of the jungle. I watched over the fermentation of the cocoa beans in banana leaves as patiently as a mother watches her child," says Grandbois, infusing her story with such enthusiasm that you would think it happened yesterday. "My production is small and not commercially viable for the moment, but I think it has huge potential."
In addition, the cocoa trees on her plantation actually encourage biodiversity in the local area. This aspect is crucial for Grandbois: "Business has to be meaningful. I want to produce chocolate as part of a project that helps the environment and people, and I don't want to do it half-heartedly."
Number of employees: 20
Activities: Produces and sells premium chocolates
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