Laura Secord Chocolates
One of Canada’s most known and beloved brand is celebrating a historic landmark anniversary this year. Laura Secord Chocolates has been serving Canadians as our nation’s premier chocolatier for a century – 100 glorious years and counting.
Since first opening its doors back in 1913, Laura Secord Chocolates has sold a wide variety of premium-quality chocolates, and more than 400 high quality products in all, including milk, dark and white chocolate, flavoured chocolate, chocolate-covered nuts, caramel crunch, chocolate fudge, ice cream, lollipops and jellies. A tremendous amount of the company’s success can be attributed to the fact that Laura Secord, with its 111 locations, has remained true to its original values, which includes honouring its well-established recipe favourites while ensuring a strong commitment to excellence, quality and customer service.
The Early Years
The story began in 1913 when Frank P. O’Connor started selling chocolates in his candy store on Yonge Street in Toronto, creating his tasty treats in an apartment directly above the store. O’Connor chose to name his store in honour of Laura Secord, the Canadian heroine of the War of 1812, as a representation of Canadian courage, devotion, and loyalty.
Due to the widespread success of O’Connor’s store and its Laura Secord products, he was prompted to expand his operations throughout Ontario and into Quebec. In the 1930s, with a desire to have a presence farther west, Laura Secord Chocolates opened a Winnipeg office with chocolate products distributed through local pharmacies. By 1950, the Laura Secord brand of chocolates had become a well-established family tradition, totalling 96 stores in Ontario and Quebec.
The late 1960s was a time of transition whereby Laura Secord Chocolates changed ownership on several occasions. The next major transaction came in 2010, when Jean and Jacques Leclerc acquired the brand.
The Leclerc name has a rich family legacy in the food industry dating back to 1905 with François Leclerc, who had a vision to launch his own cookie company after working as a plant manager for La Biscuiterie Charest. Leclerc’s commitment to freshness and great taste conquered the palates and hearts of Quebecers, spreading the company’s name and raising it from its modest beginnings on Arago Street in Quebec City to a household name right across North America. Jean and Jacques Leclerc now represent the third generation of the Leclerc family with more than 100 years of combined experience within the industry.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Jean Leclerc about the Laura Secord brand and its current business operations, including its sincere commitment to ensure the ongoing high-quality of their chocolates, ice cream, confectionery products and customer service.
“First of all, I would like to say that chocolate is a lovely business for us,” Leclerc begins. “It’s a business like no other. The Leclerc family has been in the food business for a long time. We sold our original food production company that manufactured foodstuffs for large retailers, but we kept one chocolate factory. So we had the chocolate production ready, and we produced private label chocolate products for retail stores, but we had no brand.”
Much of the corporate infrastructure of the company has changed from a business perspective since they’ve taken over the reins, according to Leclerc.
“At that time, Laura Secord was owned by an American investment fund and so all products were made in the U.S.,” he says. “The Canadian operation was a mirage. It was a virtual company. We were a chocolate factory without a brand and Laura Secord was a chocolate brand without a factory. It was a perfect fit.
Today, Laura Secord is the main story behind the company.”
From the point in time when they took over the business three years ago, the Leclerc family had the chocolate product manufacturing returned to Canada, creating chocolates for Laura Secord stores and private label chocolates. Laura Secord now offers a large variety of chocolates, including no sugar added chocolates and peanut free chocolates. However, Laura Secord offers much more than just chocolate in its stores as regular customers have come to know.
Other delicious treats include: jellies, lollipops, nuts, ice cream and so much more.
“The consumer has changed,” Leclerc notes. “We took over the business during a positive shift in the industry. In around 2006 there were serious studies being published about the positive health effects of chocolate. That’s why people started to be more interested in higher quality chocolate. To call a product chocolate, it has to contain over 10 percent of chocolate. But today, there is a tendency to use a much higher content of chocolate – we often see products containing 70, 80 or even 90 per cent of chocolate!”
Leclerc’s observation is right on the money. According to a recent Markets and Markets report, the global chocolate sector is expected to reach US$98.3 billion by 2016 at a compound annual growth rate of 2.7 per cent. The main factors behind this positive upswing include the health benefits, its widespread variety of potential food recipe applications and seasonal and festive occasion sales. This marketplace also shifts rapidly with diverging, with fast-growing economies and empowered consumers demanding more from their products, seeking diversity and customer satisfaction.
Responsible Cocoa Cultivation
As part of its company philosophy, Laura Secord Chocolates supports responsible cocoa cultivation, sound environmental management, respect for the local communities from where it’s harvested, recognition of international labour standards, and fair employee compensation with regard to the purchase of cocoa beans.
“Corporate social responsibility is important to us,” Leclerc proudly states. “We work directly with our cocoa producers in Ivory Coast, and we also have partnerships in Colombia. We are in constant contact with them and we seek ways to improve their quality of life while getting the best cocoa bean possible.”
Prior to the Leclerc family taking over control of the business, the company had withdrawn from Western Canada. Moving forward, the corporate plan is to continue to expand the brand, including establishing a presence in the western regions of the country, while doing everything within its power to improve upon the excellent levels of products and services Canadians have come to know and expect at each of the company’s locations. Furthermore, the company just launched its transactional website to expand and complete its presence throughout Canada and better serve its loyal customers.