As sales of Belgian sweets boom internationally, the country has gone to war against chocolate forgery.
Sales of Belgian chocolate to Asia and Africa soared by 60% and 82%, respectively, between 2007 to 2011, according to Guy Gallet of the Brussels-based Royal Belgian Association of the Biscuit, Chocolate, Pralines and Confectionery (Choprabisco).
That demand has spawned a market of copycat sweets that don’t contain a trace of Belgian chocolate.
It works like this: chocolate made in places like Hungary, Turkey and even China is showing up in Belgian-style packaging (complete with Belgian flags and photos of Brussels) and attempting to piggyback on the success of the European nation’s chocolate heritage.
Other brands are, in Gallet’s opinion, exploiting a marketing loophole: they contain bulk chocolate from one of Belgium’s three large industrial processors but are made abroad.
“Some companies think that if they use Belgian chocolate as an ingredient, they can call the finished product Belgian chocolate,” Gallet says. “But this we can’t accept, because the consumer thinks it’s a Belgian product.”
Gallet says his group is deciding whether to apply for European Union “protected geographical indication” for Belgian chocolates. A law change in Europe last year made chocolate eligible for EU food protection rules that had previously been reserved for French Champagne from the Champagne region or Italian ham from Parma.
But EU laws wouldn’t do much to curb Belgian chocolate impersonation outside of Europe—an issue that has so bothered Belgium’s chocolatiers that they’ve sent envoys in search of spurious sweets. When they find examples, they send packaging and photos back to Gallet. He then contacts the companies in question and asks them to recall the products. If that doesn’t work, the association asks Belgium’s embassies to get involved. “And if that doesn’t work,” Gallet says, “we eventually go to court—but this we try to avoid.”