Josef Zotter, born 21
February 1961 in Feldbach (Styria/Austria)
Chocolatier, organic farmer and square peg.
Started as apprentice chef, waiter and confectioner.
Josef Zotter is married with three children.
1987: The Zotter family business is established. At only 26, Josef Zotter decides to go it alone and bring his creative ideas to fruition. With his wife Ulrike, they open the Zotter Konditorei confectionery at the central Glacisstraße address in Graz, southern Austria. Zotter's unusual creations like the "Hemp Bar", the "Funny Cake" and the "Runner Bean Roulade with Coriander" gain international recognition. Josef Zotter expands his business and opens three more branches.
1992: In a back room of the confectionery in Graz, Josef Zotter begins to produce chocolate and creates hand-scooped chocolate , delicious bars with layered centres - a mixture of creative genius and skilled craftsmanship. He also creates a new 70g bar and replaces the customary cubic break-off shape with a seamless chocolate coating. Zotter's first range of flavors included poppy and cinnamon, pumpkin macaroon and marzipan, hemp, dried fruit, champagne and grilled walnuts with marzipan.
1994: Chocolate and art melt together: Art Designer Andreas H. Gratze turns the chocolate bar wrappings into small works of art and creates whimsical names for them such as "For rascals" and "For angels". He had become disillusioned with the advertising field he worked in, which, in his opinion, played to the lowest common denominator, and so eventually turned to art. The kind of advertising he wanted to realise should inspire and challenge. Gratze has since created a huge range of designs while at the same time keeping to a very recognisable theme. Often, Zotter wrappers aren't thrown away but instead end up in affectionately maintained collections.
1996: Josef Zotter goes into administration. 3 branches have to close. This failure will be one of the most defining experiences in his life.
1998: Zotter refuses to quit and instead introduces a new product range: drinking chocolates in the shape of hand-scooped chocolate bars.
Josef Zotter remembers the exact moment he made his decision: "It's going to be either the chocolate or the confectionery shop", I said, and my wife Ulrike replied: "Then let's keep the shop. I'm not sure the chocolate production will work out." And I said: "Ok, so we'll make chocolate then." (Laughs)
1999: The Zotters decide to only produce chocolate. They open the z o t t e r Chocolate Manufactory, using a space at the parental farm that used to be a stable.
"There wasn't even a sign out front, but people just knocked on my mother's door and asked if they could buy some chocolate."
2001: Zotter starts traveling to cocoa growing regions - Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. He wants to see the source, the raw material, and seeks direct contact with the cocoa bean farmers.
2002: Demand increases and the manufactory is expanded. Zotter doesn't have to install pipes or lay tiles himself that time. A hypermodern manufactory with a "running chocolate" sampling station for visitors is created. The business focus is on transparency, sincerity and a close relationship with the customer.
2004: Zotter makes his entire range FAIR TRADE. The business now works with small farms and prioritises quality as well as direct contact and a warm relationship with the growers.
"In Ghana and Ivory Coast, 200.000 children work in cocoa production. That's our real issue. That's the kind of thing you can't taste in the chocolate."
2006: Zotter makes his entire range organic. Not an easy endeavour, particularly when using many different and sometimes very specific ingredients. But the shift succeeds - even whisky
and goji berries used in the range are now organic.
2007: The manufactory is expanded again to accommodate bean-to-bar chocolate production and transformed into the Chocolate Theatre.
Bean-to-bar: Zotter invests 18 million euros to convert his manufactory into a bean-to-bar production house. He buys organic, fair trade cocoa beans directly from the farmers, roasts them, grinds and mills them and conches the chocolate, thereby slowly transforming the manufactory into a chocolate-producing centre of excellence. Many new varieties of chocolate are created. Zotter practices "in-sourcing" instead of outsourcing - he is one of only a handful of independent bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Europe and the only one exclusively using organic and fair trade ingredients.
Chocolate Theatre: Visitors can experience chocolate production live. They can observe how cocoa beans are turned into delicious chocolate bars with all the (tasteable) stages like milling powder in between, and finally of course the finished chocolate bars can be enjoyed at a range of sampling stations.
2007: Zotter builds his on steam power generator. Biomass and cocoa bean shells are used to provide heat.
2008: Zotter offers Labooko for the first time: pure chocolate bars created at his bean-to-bar manufactory. For Labookos, regional cocoa blends are processed to produce pure single origin chocolate bars. Zotter also develops an entirely new chocolate genre: fruity chocolate bars, scrumptiously colorful through their natural, high fruit content.
2009 and 2010: Chocolate shops open in Essen (Germany), Innsbruck and Salzburg (both Austria).
2010: Zotter is invited to Harvard University. Zotter is the first and only Austrian company ever to be used as a case study on the prestigious university's curriculum.
2011: Zotter opens the Edible Zoo in an open air section of the Chocolate Theatre. Catering is offered courtesy of the Öko-Essbar, offering organic meals farm-to-table with ingredients coming directly from the farm's own meadows and vegetable gardens. "Look your food in the eye" is the motto. Animals and plants are sentient beings, not products and they deserve to be treated with affection and respect.
And just like with his Chocolate Theatre, Zotter again leads the pack in transparency, sustainability and innovation in the areas of agriculture and a way out of factory farming.
2012: Josef Zotter and his family visit Burmese refugee children living in camps in Thailand. They are sponsored by his "Yummy! Meals for Schools" project.
2012: Zotter's biography is published. The square peg releases his fourth book "Kopfstand mit frischen Fischen. Mein Weg aus der Krise" ("Upside down with fresh fish - my way out of the crisis"). The Kindle version of the book even climbs to number one in Amazon's philosophical biography rankings.
2012: The Chocolate Theatre shows the latest film "Namaste Cocoa - In the Cocoa Fields of Southern India".
2012: Zotter is named one of the world's 8 best chocolate producers. Georg Bernardini tested 2.700 products by 271 brands hailing from 38 countries for his book "Chocolate - The Reference Standard". His research, completed over the course of two years, ranks Zotter among the best chocolatiers on the planet.
His verdict: "Zotter is the most inventive chocolate producer in the industry, by a long shot. During the chocolate boom, this company was one of the driving forces. Zotter's products aren't just innovative, they also show a consistently superior quality. Even their well-established hand-scooped chocolates undergo constant improvement and innovation."
Bernardini declares Zotter's Labooko Nicaragua 50% the best milk chocolate in the world. Zotter's strawberry chocolate achieves a sensational global runner-up spot. According to Bernardini, this chocolate sets entirely new standards. Alongside the hand-scooped chocolate bars, the Nougus nougats as well as the Biofekt bonbon range also achieve top international rankings.
2013: The physical traceability formula offers full transparency, putting the heart and soul in each and every chocolate bar.
2013: The Chocolate Theatre expands
2014: Zotter opens a second Chocolate Theatre in Shanghai and starts exporting his chocolates along with all his environmental initiatives to China, delighting the 23 million inhabitants of this booming metropolis with organic and fair trade chocolates from Austria. Josef Zotter’s daughter Julia is now the head of Chinese venture.