Championing Happiness with a Heritage Brand

With Jérôme Chouchan, CEO, Godiva Japan

27. 11. 2023

Robert Costelloe, Head of Growth

Welcome to Eat Takeaway! In this series we hear from business, brand and marketing leaders on their ambitions and challenges this year and beyond. We explore their day-to-day and what lessons they have in the fast-changing and sometimes overwhelming worlds of brand experience and delivering for customers and employees. Check-out our take-aways at the end!

In this volume, our Head of Growth Robert Costelloe sat down with Jérôme Chouchan, CEO of Godiva Japan, which operates the luxury chocolatier GODIVA in Japan, a number of markets across APAC, as well as the GODIVA factory in Belgium. The GODIVA brand celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2026 and hit a milestone of 50 years in Japan in 2022.

Please note this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Robert Costelloe: Jérôme, it’s such an honour to speak with you today. The GODIVA brand here in Japan will have seen some fascinating evolutions over the course of its 50 years in the market and has experienced tremendous success under your leadership. What are you focusing your time on today?

Jérôme Chouchan: Really there are two parts to my job. One is to manage the day-to-day business. We have over 300 stores, an omnichannel business, developments in-store, new product launches and so on. But I try to reserve time in my day to focus on the future and what we can be doing two, three years from now. So meeting people, inside or outside our industry, customers and peers which helps me stay connected and hear diverse views. So it’s a dual role of the work today and the future which is fascinating.

Additionally, as well as Japan, my CEO role covers South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. I also manage the parent company of Godiva Japan, Orchid Inc., which just acquired a new brand Pierre Marcolini. Working with these different markets, or with a new brand like Pierre Marcolini which we just acquired, you see new best practices which can feed back into your core business. Godiva Japan also owns the main chocolate factory in Belgium. This is then about producing, not selling, so brings with it a completely different set of operations and challenges. All of this means you have to manage your time in a very disciplined manner and set priorities for where you allocate your resources.

Working with these different markets, or with a new brand, you see new best practices which can feed back into your core business.

RC: And what are some of the biggest changes that have happened for the GODIVA brand over the past 50 years here in Japan?

JC: Well, when we first arrived in Japan, we were the first premium chocolate brand, where a single piece of chocolate could cost 300 yen and the other local brands were three to five times lower. So ultimately we created a whole new category.

Fifty years later, we are known by most consumers in Japan – we have brand awareness for example of over 90%. And the constant attribute in all that time has been quality. Our quality continues to be very well recognised but our brand has become more accessible in the everyday life of the consumer. We’ve expanded beyond chocolate into baked goods, ice cream and drinks. In August this year, for example, we launched our first bakery, Godipan, which is seeing huge success. So we are touching daily life, not just in one key season or for Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year with a full line of products.

We now call our brand as a strategy, ‘aspirational and accessible’. It’s aspirational in terms of image, and accessible in terms of feasible access to our product.

One of the other big changes is the channel mix. In the past we were only in a few select department stores. Now, we are in shopping malls, we have independent stores and boutiques, we have e-commerce, we are in supermarkets and in convenience stores. So the challenges around distribution have changed a lot. We now call our brand as a strategy, ‘aspirational and accessible’. It’s aspirational in terms of image, and accessible in terms of feasible access to our product. You don’t have to go to the department stores in Tokyo, which was the case 50 years ago. You can find us all over Japan.

RC: What’s informing these changes? What are the insights you draw on to define which product to move into or which territory to expand into?

JC: We shift a lot depending on the season. So from May to September when it’s warm, we prioritise our product offers such as ice cream, baked goods, cookies and drinks, or launch a new chocolate product - one you can put in your fridge. With Japan’s four distinct seasons, we link our product offer, visuals and packaging to these seasons. We are very much inspired by the Japanese seasons and try to integrate these with our own chocolate expertise.

An initiative we launched last year for the 50th anniversary of GODIVA being in Japan, was a campaign about GODIVA wants to know more about Japan. We did a lot of research into the different products and foods typical in prefectures across Japan. Our executive chef chocolatier and patissier for Godiva Japan mixed our products with Japanese confectionery or ingredients from Japan’s north and south for example. It was a real mixing of cultures and figuring out how we can combine these unique ingredients with our chocolate. So a lot of the change can be from product drivers, but also some from cultural drivers. It’s not about asking the customer ‘What do you want?’

We still believe face to face communication and the human interaction has a very big role to play. And ultimately we are in the business of happiness.

RC: And how is the retail model of GODIVA evolving? How do you balance brick and mortar stores versus e-commerce and how does the experience differ?

JC: Our focus is not really about delivering the same experience across every channel. We still believe face to face communication and the human interaction has a very big role to play. And ultimately we are in the business of happiness, so celebrating Valentine’s Day, celebrating a birthday, summer, Christmas. It’s about giving you something you enjoy and if you have GODIVA staff who communicate with you and share in that occasion, that connection can become very powerful.

Retail is where you experience the brand the most. And alongside that, our cafés are where you can really experience the brand not only by yourself but with friends and family. With digital it’s more about that convenience attribute – it’s easy to order, the product arrives in great condition, and it’s quick. The consumer very much sits at the heart of our brand so we always have to ensure the experience is as high as it can be across every channel. We don’t have a target of say X percent digitial versus X percent physical. It’s a much more natural ecosystem that evolves as situations and conditions change. Covid was the example where you saw ecommerce growing very fast and inevitably some physical stores had to close. But it’s that flexibility to adapt where the model shows its resilience.

RC: Where do you see the brand moving in the near future?

JC: An area we are seeing a lot of momentum is customers buying for themselves. We’ve had a lot of success in gifting where people come in to buy something for someone else. But now it’s about “Let’s buy something for me” or “Let’s buy something for tonight”. This all means different product sizes, packaging and price points. So that’s quite interesting.

In the next year I want to enhance this ‘culture of happiness’. We can do better to embed this in our stores and with our staff

RC: And as we head into 2024, what does success look like, both for the GODIVA brand but also for you as a leader?

JC: If we focus on the end of 2023, it’s the holiday season so a big period for us. And moving into 2024, we have very exciting plans for Valentine’s Day in February 2024. We also have a new café opening next year. It is our new baby and we want to grow this child with strength and smiles.

For me as a leader, in the next year I want to enhance this ‘culture of happiness’. We can do better to embed this in our stores and with our staff so that when you enter a GODIVA store, you feel something that you can’t quite explain. But you sense a tone and manner from our staff that makes you feel good. So if I could embody that even more than I can today then that would be a huge success.

Some of this also comes down to our operations. Where can we streamline so that a staff member in a GODIVA store can focus more on their customers and the customer experience rather than having to spend time looking at stock figures for example. This kind of evolution takes a lot of work but if we could see that change I would be very happy.

The Eat Take-Away

  1. Keep a long-term view: When a brand or organisation is going through a period of great change or complexity, there can be a tendency to focus on what is immediately in front of you and lose sight of what is further down the road. Ultimately a brand or business leader must always ensure they keep an eye on the longer-term vision that can ensure short-term decisions don’t derail or distract from future opportunities. Always make sure to allocate that time to think about what the future may hold. Only that way can you build a future-proof business and brand.

  2. Move fast: With competition in all categories deepening, it is critical for a brand to be able to react to new emerging threats and opportunities while staying true to the brand foundations and values that guide the organisation and behaviour. By embracing bold thinking and experimenting with new concepts and experiences, brands can reveal new commercial opportunities, tap into new customer segments and set themselves up for long-term success through constant evolution.

  3. It’s about connections: At the end of the day, your brand and every touchpoint is about connecting with people. By focusing and better understanding that unique interaction between a member of staff and a customer, you can open new opportunities to build loyalty and a customer base that are not only customers, but also your brand champions, raising the voice of your brand with their own communities.

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