Tarja Valde-Brown is senior communications consultant and deputy managing director at Eurofacts Oy, a Finnish public affairs and communications agency operating in the Baltic Sea region.
Fazer, one of Finland's best known confectionery companies, has come a long way from its modest beginnings as a café in Helsinki, as fourth generation Majlen Fazer describes
Majlen Fazer's great-grandfather, Karl Fazer, founded the precursor to the Fazer Group 111 years ago when he opened a French-Russian café in Helsinki. Although the café is still there after all these years, the Fazer Group has since grown into an international confectionery, bakery and catering enterprise, and produces many well-known brands recognised by every Finn.
Karl Fazer's 40-year entrepreneurial career was full of innovation and courage. When he opened his Helsinki café in 1891, he wanted to offer his customers delicacies of unrivalled quality.
This idea of fulfilling customer expectations is still one of the main aspirations of the Fazer Group today. In fact the catchphrase, "Say Fazer when you want the very best", is a phrase all Finns, young and old, have learned at an early age.
In seeking "the very best", Karl adopted influences and quality criteria for his products from the places where quality was valued most: St Petersburg, Berlin and Paris. Thus, when launching his inaugural product, he did not hesitate to christen it "The Emperor's Blend" – a marketing tool that proved quite successful.
Karl also knew that if a Finnish company in the food industry could receive a gold medal at the Paris international food fair, it would attract great admiration. So, he set out to achieve that lofty prize and won it in 1905. Karl believed that high quality products would pay for themselves, and he soon found out he was correct.
The Fazer quality, based on knowledge and skill, continues to be a common denominator for the business today. One of the most important success factors for Karl, however, was not attributable to his uncanny business instinct.
Rather, one of his most important sources of inspiration, advice and energy was his wife Berta. Her panache and creativity brought a lot of added value to the company. With two such competent owners at the helm, personnel found it easy to commit themselves to them and the company. Though the world has changed and the Fazer Group's operations have grown from a combined confectionery and café into a diverse group of companies, Karl's expertise and values have been steadily passed from one generation to the next.
Majlen Fazer represents the fourth generation working in the Fazer family business. Majlen, who grew up in an environment that emphasised traditions and values, appears to have inherited her enthusiasm for chocolate production from her father, although she initially thought her calling lay elsewhere.
In fact, when Majlen's father suggested initially that she try confectionery work, Majlen decided to accept the offer to see how working at the family firm would feel like – but for a limited time only. What she had in mind was a short summer job because she had already acquired a diploma in accountancy and was a promising equestrian who dreamed of a career abroad.
However, work in the confectionery interested her and her professional riding pursuits soon took a backseat to baking. Her first months at Fazer went into making cakes and buns as a confectioner's assistant. Later, she worked in the kitchen of the Helsinki café, preparing food and confections.
After a year of study, the road led to Switzerland to learn professional confectionery production. The spark to becoming a fully-fledged chocolate professional was ignited and is still burning bright today.
Majlen is currently on maternity leave; however, she visits the factory regularly in order to check on the chocolate production process and to train Fazer's sensory evaluators.
Sensory evaluation, or chocolate tasting, is much like wine tasting in that many of the same lessons apply.
Majlen explains: "The best time to taste is in the morning, since the mouth should be neutral then. Spices and
garlic – the same as with the smell of makeup and perfumes – spoil the tasting experience."
She continues: "First, one investigates the colour and consistency of the chocolate; after that, the chocolate is aromatised and finally it's tasted and savoured. You drink some water in between tastings and then the new chocolate is tested. Of course, there are differences in the sense of taste – but in principle one can teach oneself to become a good taster; skills can be nurtured. Fundamentally, what's involved is the recognition of four basic tastes."
As with wine, the age of the chocolate is also important. "When chocolate is industrially produced from fresh milk, the taste is best developed when it's about two to four weeks old," explains Majlen. After the 'best before' date, the taste starts to change.
The secret of good chocolate
"These days, anybody can produce chocolate who has the equipment needed," admits Majlen. "However, only a few in the world make good chocolate. The basic raw materials are decisive. Of course, to me Fazer 'Blue' is the best chocolate on earth. It's prepared by merging high-quality raw materials, a good recipe and long-developed production processes.
"The most important base ingredients in Fazer's 'Blue' are the cocoa mass and fresh milk. The use of fresh milk is, at present, quite rare in making chocolate. Using milk is demanding and it requires a process of its own.
"Fazer 'Blue' is the company's most famous brand and one of the most well-known in Finland. In a way, it's part of the Finnish cultural heritage. The original recipe of Fazer 'Blue' dates from 1897.
"The current recipe hasn't really changed since 1921. The differences in taste owe to the fact that the taste of the raw materials has changed in accordance with, among other things, changes in nature. Changes in the base ingredients also requires continuous product development efforts in the area of so-called 'traditional products'," says Majlen.
Fazer, which has always emphasised tradition, is also known as a modern company that practises high standards of product development and as an expert in functional foodstuffs. This was recognised recently in the spring of 2002 when Fazer was given an award for, among other things, its new healthy "iLove" confectionery products.
Majlen has travelled throughout the world to visit various chocolate producers and meet other specialists in the field. She also participates in training sessions, which always teach something new. The best know-how in chocolate, in her view, is found in Europe, where Switzerland and Belgium are regarded as the top chocolate-making nations.
Majlen says she consumes chocolate every day at work; on holiday, a little less. On trips abroad, new types of chocolate are of interest. "Real enjoyment of chocolate comes out of an appropriately strong taste of cocoa.
"Chocolate shouldn't be too sweet. Though I eat chocolate as part of my work every day, chocolate is absolutely one of my favourite pleasures as well," she says.