Cioccolatitaliani, ltaly’s “Starbucks”
Vincenzo Ferrieri, CEO of Cioccolatitaliani is 33 years old. He is part of a new generation of skilled Italian entrepreneurs that wants to put the focus on teamwork. As of today, he has won over more than four million customers with a new kind of “chocolate experience.” For nine years now, Ferrieri has been at the helm of a company that aims to be a brand recognized for its quality internationally, exporting a new restaurant format. A graduate of Bocconi University, he opened the first flagship in Milan in 2009, and, today, he has 33 stores in seven countries, with turnover of more than 48 million euros, and an EBITDA greater than 15%.
His company employs about 680 people, 40% of whom are women (70% of store managers are female). In 2016, the company launched the From Bean To Bar Live initiative, creating an actual open chocolate factory allowing the client to see all phases of production, from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar. Recently, the company entered into a structured-finance agreement with Banca Ifis, raising five million euros to be dedicated exclusively to the opening of new stores. His objective? To remain a retail company, with 80% of stores outside of Italy, and to manage new brands. His dream? To make Cioccolatitaliani the “Starbucks” of Italy.
How did Cioccolatitaliani get its start?
The company began in 2009 with the idea of entering into the gelato industry. Nine years ago, was the era of Grom, and this is the model I aspired to. The seasonal nature of gelato scared me so I decided to create a chocolate brand that would be a gelateria, pastry shop, coffee shop, and a restaurant with a focus on design. It all began in Via De Amicis in Milan where I opened my first shop in what had been a McDonald’s.
With this very experiential and innovative — for that time period — space, I began to pick up on the big market trends—cooking classes, the concept of “Made in Italy,” and the value of authenticity as a new kind of luxury.
What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. I have it in my DNA. I was tired of my last job so I decided to invest in food, making the most of my family’s expertise in the pastry field.
What was the food market like when you began?
Today, the food market is booming, but the situation was different in 2009. Eataly had just started and nobody was talking about Expo yet. Cioccolatitaliani was first in paying attention to aesthetics and creativity beyond mere substance. In the last few years, restaurants have become more about culture, and the chocolate world is kind of like the wine world twenty years ago, so there is definitely room for things to evolve. From the beginning,
Cioccolatitaliani stood out on the market for using very high-quality ingredients, like the 100% fino de aroma chocolate from the criollo and trinitario varieties, and its attention to detail, from the logo to the packaging.
What is lacking in this industry?
The desire to work as a team. I’m very much for working together: sharing experiences and advice among businesspeople can be very important. Today, in food retail, there’s a new generation that is very open and ready to have a dialogue. I have a lot of respect for
Antonio Civita, the owner and CEO of Panino Giusto, who has also recently founded the Accademia del Panino Italiano. I find him to be very knowledgeable and an example to be followed for anyone who wants to work in this field.
What was the turning point for Cioccolatitaliani?
We were very successful the first year, but the true turning point for the company was when we opened the second shop right behind Milan’s Duomo near Luini (a famous “panzerotteria” in the city). That was when I decided to create a company and invest in the structure. Over the following eight years, we opened 31 stores in seven countries. For me, that second store represented the value of the company and is still today strategically important, both in terms of being a showcase as well as in terms of turnover. It is an entree to the international market, allowing us to understand how interested foreign agents might be.
Let’s talk numbers…
The initial investment to open the first shop was 800,000 euros — 50% was our money and 50% came from a bank loan. Since 2009, we’ve been seeing double-digit growth, and 2016 was the turning point for us. In terms of our earnings, 95% comes from selling chocolate, coffee, gelato, and pastry products. The turnover for the chain in 2018 is around 48 million euros, and we are going to close the year with an EBITDA between 15% and 16%. Recently, we carried out an extraordinary finance operation with Banca Ifis, which made five million available to us. This money is to be used exclusively for opening new stores. I think that we are the first case of a SME doing such a restrained structured-finance operation. This proves that the company has the structure and culture to move to a higher level.
What is your strategy today?
Currently, there are two parallel development plans—in the major cities around the country and in terms of franchising in Italy and abroad. We are interested in opening in malls and travel retail shops, with very big players like Autogrill and Cremonini. Despite the company’s small size, 12 of our 33 shops are outside of Italy. This is something that larger Italian restaurant groups don’t have. The problem with Italian companies has always been with taking things international, especially in the food-retail area.
Business is booming…
We are continuing to grow, and over the next ten years, we estimate that 80% of our stores will be abroad and 20% will be in Italy because the global market is truly huge. Foreign companies with formats similar to ours like Paul Bakery and Le Pain Quotidien have thousands of stores around the world. Unfortunately, we Italians don’t come close to our European cousins. We are much smaller. I think we have a good 20–25 years of growth for Italian food and the “Made in Italy” industry in foreign markets, and we are going to try to be there.
Do you have plans to open new stores on the horizon?
Yes, we are opening a lot of new stores: in Morocco, in Rabat, we have signed a contract with a big group that has plans to open five locations, and in the Balkans, in Kosovo after Tirana. In foreign countries, we draw up master contracts in which we specify that the partner, in order to have an exclusive agreement, must open five stores in five years. In Italy, we are opening new stores in Milan at Niguarda Hospital in the new food court and in Piazza Castello. In Rome we are going to open in the Roma-Est mall and in the Termini train station.
Are all of the stores the same?
No, different cultures mean you have to adapt to some extent, both in terms of how the product is offered and the products themselves. For example, in the West, we are used to eating gelato “on the go.” The counter tends to be as close to the street as possible to attract passersby. However, in the Middle East, where there is a slower concept of customer service while sitting at a table, we focus on having a welcoming entrance and larger, more comfortable spaces. Another difference has to do with tastes. In Italy, we use dark chocolate much more, though abroad, there is more of a preference for milk and white chocolate.
What can we expect from you in the future?
We will continue being a retail company, and therefore, we will open more stores. The objective is to create a global brand. We have a long-term goal. There’s nothing to say that the skills and resources we’ve acquired over the years with Cioccolatitaliani can’t also be used for other food-retail initiatives. Personally, in ten years, I see myself still with the company but perhaps managing more brands.
“Cioccolatitaliani was first in paying attention to aesthetics and creativity beyond mere substance. In the last few years, restaurants have become more about culture, and the chocolate world is kind of like the wine world twenty years ago, so there is definitely room for things to evolve.”
ORLANDINOTTI, THE NEW SHOWROOM’S ADVISOR
The new Cioccolatitaliani headquarters were recently inaugurated in what was once the Richard Ginori factory in Milan. The company relied on the real-estate services of Orlandinotti Real Estate, which took on the challenge by finding a space that could be a “showcase” for the brand, with a B2B focus. “In the last few years, the area around Via Morimondo has become a hub for fashion and design,” said Roberto Orlandinotti, the agency’s owner. “The area is new, and so are the ideas. There are ateliers, architecture and design studios, and this is where Italian creativity has made its home. For Cioccolatitaliani, I found a showroom with an exclusive personality, perfect for creating a framework and focusing on branding even in the headquarters. In this case, I’m talking about a space that has staff and can welcome clients, something that can contribute to creating a community attracted, in a positive way, by the type of business that they are doing around the world, where they are offering a certain aesthetic.” “The decision to move from Via Savona to this new area came from the desire to create a link between the headquarters and the brand’s values, focusing on the people who work there,” said Ferrieri. “The work space needs to be consistent with the company culture. We’ve always been a young company on the move just like our industry over the last few years. We like our new space because it is dynamic and allows us to be influenced by other areas.”
“Cioccolatitaliani is my first food client in Via Morimondo,” continues Orlandinotti, “sort of paving the way for an area that will soon become an expression of a certain lifestyle. I am sure that, in five years, Vincenzo Ferrieri will have multiple brands, and I’m already ready to find a bigger solution in this area for him.”
3 MILLION CUPS OF COFFEE SERVED
31,000 CUSTOMERS IN 2009
4 MILLION CUSTOMERS IN 2016
MORE THAN 220,000 500-GRAM CHOCOLATE BARS MADE
MORE THAN 2.7 MILLION GELATO CONES PREPARED