Female craftsmanship, the democratisation of high-end chocolate coated with an image of luxury and the internationalisation of 'made in Luxembourg' seem to be Genaveh chocolate factory's recipe for success. Hand in hand with her young team of chocolate makers, Alexandra Kahn has succeeded in preserving the house's essence while endowing it with a modern image that has consolidated beyond Luxembourg's borders.
We met with the young entrepreneur to hear about her passion for chocolate, the importance of craftsmanship and how she keeps the handmade side of a product she sells internationally.
After studying management and entrepreneurship, you worked for four years in Hong Kong, first in banking and then in luxury marketing consultancy. With your passion for pastry-making, you decided to retrain a few years ago by doing several internships with pastry-making and chocolate craftsmen. You have been the manager of Genaveh since 2017. Is there a common thread between your experiences in Asia and the current evolution of the chocolate industry?
Yes, everything is connected to something! I started cooking and pastry-making in Asia to try to find the flavours we were missing there. That's how I really got interested in gastronomy and cooking and really started enjoying these things.
In the end I realise that everything has a meaning, even if it is not obvious at the beginning, nor particularly wanted. Finance, marketing, luxury... all of my experience now comes in handy in the daily management and development of the chocolate factory.
Genaveh products can be found on the shelves of many points of sale in Luxembourg. They can also be found in France and a distribution partnership has been entered into with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Canada. How to remain both hand-'made in Luxembourg' and international at the same time?
The idea is to grow, of course, but to keep the focus on craftsmanship, handmade products and quality. It is not about abandoning craftsmanship in favour of large partnerships. These new partnerships have been thought through at length and correspond to certain criteria that allow us to remain craftsmen.
To preserve the artisan side of our products in spite of the sales increase, it was also necessary to increase the team by +50% during the year and by +150% during the high season.
'We are 'made in Luxembourg' because we want everything to be done on site in our workshop in Steinfort! We are 'made in Luxembourg' by selecting as many local products as possible, which come straight from Luxembourg! Added to this is the know-how of our team, which we wish to export internationally and make Luxembourg chocolates known throughout the world.'
Does the opening of a new chocolate production workshop in October 2020 support Genaveh's internationalisation strategy?
Genaveh's development in the last three years was a true test for us on our former premises: an increasingly obvious lack of space which forced us to play Tetris in the high season. With this new workshop with better thought-out spaces, we can now gain in efficiency, to respond to growing demand and to contemplate growth both nationally and internationally.
It was also our wish to give our craftsmen the best working conditions.
Innovation has been one of the key words of Genaveh's new page since your take-over in 2017. What was the greatest innovation?
In terms of chocolate-related work, many new elements punctuated my arrival. But I would say that the 'Fingers' were the greatest innovation! Fine sesame, feuilletine or pistachio pralines with a hint of salt, which I created following the purchase for a client of moulds of this shape.
We also redesigned our range of spreads, now known as 'Noisettes à Tartiner' (Hazelnut Spread), to make them healthier (with coconut oil), tastier and less sweet. We've also just finished creating a vegan version of it.
In terms of business, we have tripled the size of the team, which is also more structured and specialised, and developed processes to manage demand as well as possible.
As for the chocolate-related trade... First of all, what is artisan chocolate?
It all starts with a very careful selection of quality raw material. Along with our know-how, this is what is behind the full flavour of our products. From the creation of recipes, to the decoration of the chocolates, everything is handmade by our craftsmen.
'By combining Belgian and French techniques, we can say that we have created a Genaveh chocolate identity. Generous and gourmet chocolates, just like Luxembourg, that make us very proud.'
What is the creative process behind new delights? What inspires you and your team?
Creation springs either from a pure desire or from the need to launch a novelty for a season or an event.
We try to innovate every year for the key moments of the year. Last Christmas, we created three new types of chocolate and a new environmentally friendly packaging: 'Christmas Cubes'. We are currently thinking about our Easter range.
When the creative process stems from a client's request, I look for ideas and inspiration by walking around, looking at competitors' ranges, but not only at the chocolate makers: I seek inspiration in design, fashion, the luxury world, etc.
In any case, I determine a line of thought with the team and as soon as we have a more specific idea, we start testing, tasting, looking.
I also make my family take part in the process, asking their opinion, which always means a lot to me.
Could you sum up these three years of work? How would you like Genaveh to be within three years?
I couldn't have hoped for better. The brand quickly found loyal customers over the last three years and Genaveh has been chosen among the best chocolate makers in Luxembourg by the Gault&Millau guide! As for the team, all the collaborators stayed and were loyal, and other members were added to it. Our partners are attentive and always on the lookout for new products. We also successfully completed expansion work in record time, enabling us to get ready for the Christmas holiday season in our new premises. The website has found its niche and the shop in Steinfort gets busier and busier.
Within the next three years, a shop in the city would be a dream come true!
The interview has been edited and shortened for the purposes of the article.