Butlers Chocolates has come a long way since its foundation in Dublin’s Lad Lane in 1932. Today, the business employs more than 400 staff throughout its Butlers Chocolate Café network and in its factory in Dublin. Marketing director Aisling Walsh talks to Maev Martin about moving successfully with the times and putting sustainability at the heart of the business.
Butlers Chocolates celebrated 90 years in business last year.
The Sorensen family has owned the company since 1959, while the Butlers Irish brand itself was born in 1986, at a time of great change in Ireland.
“There was increasing demand for high quality Irish made products and a willingness from the Irish public to support Irish producers,” says Aisling.
“This was also at a time when international travel became open to a much wider audience. Travellers saw and enjoyed luxury chocolates in lots of international locations, especially in countries like Belgium, France, and Switzerland.
“This led to growing awareness and appreciation for premium chocolates in general and a specific demand for luxury Irish-made chocolates.”
Butlers Chocolate Cafés
The first Butlers Irish store opened in Grafton Street in 1989.
This was an exclusively chocolate boutique serving uniquely Irish varieties such as Irish Coffee and Curragh Truffles, alongside well-known favourites such as Hazelnut Praline and Milk Truffle.
In the 1990s, the coffee world in Ireland changed utterly – it became the norm to go out for a specialty coffee made by an expertly trained barista to enjoy in a nice coffee house, or grab a coffee while on the move.
“This in turn led to the opening of the first Butlers Chocolate Café in a beautiful corner building in Dublin’s Wicklow Street in 1998,” says Aisling.
“There are now 27 Butlers Chocolate Cafés in Ireland, where visitors enjoy everyday specialty beverages accompanied by a complimentary chocolate of their choice.
"At the same time, we focused on increasing our export markets, initially to the UK and then further afield. Butlers Chocolates are now available in over 30 countries worldwide.
“Over the years, the factory has relocated a number of times.
"We have been based in Clonshaugh in north Dublin for nearly 20 years.
"The factory is BRC Grade A+ accredited and is home to Butlers Factory Tour.
"Our visitor experience has become a very popular destination for chocolate lovers of all ages – as a day out for the family, as a school tour, and as a birthday party venue.”
Family Values And Ethos
According to Aisling, the culture at Butlers is “quite special and unique and this is reflected in the length of time that so many members of our team have stayed with the company.
"The culture is open and accessible. It is a family company – both in terms of ownership and in terms of values and ethos.”
She also believes that family ownership has inspired long-term thinking and a philosophy of doing the right thing always.
“These principles are evident across all aspects of the business: how we make our chocolates, never compromising on quality, and how we treat others (colleagues, customers, and suppliers),” she says.
“We believe in understanding and valuing our customers’ needs and working alongside them to come up with outcomes that win for everyone.
"We understand the grocery market very well in Ireland and draw on our own insights as a retailer to develop product ideas and concepts that will work well for a wider group of retail stores.
“As a producer with our own store network, we are uniquely positioned to understand what is important to Irish premium chocolate shoppers and work with grocery retailers to create compelling chocolate offers that shoppers will love, both all year round and during key gifting seasons.”
Most Irish people are very familiar with the Butlers Chocolates range.
In addition to luxurious milk, dark and white speciality chocolate assortments, Butlers Chocolates produce filled and solid chocolate bars, milk chocolate truffles flavoured with famous liquors, hot chocolate, sugar confectionery and seasonal collections at Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Christmas.
The brand is currently preparing to rollout some mouth-watering innovations for the festive season.
“We are currently launching some gorgeous new lines for Christmas, including luxury filled pouches, a dinky six-piece cracker, perfect for a festive tabletop, and some delicious new chocolate assortments,” says Aisling.
“The innovation process that went into developing these lines started about a year ago and it is super exciting to go into stores at this time and see them on sale.
“As well as launching our Christmas range, we are putting the final touches to our products for Easter 2024.
"We have many fabulous new Easter gifts coming through for next year.
"Product development is a huge driver of our business, and we are lucky to be in a category where there are lots of occasions to introduce new lines and limited editions.
"Taste and quality are always of paramount importance and are attributes that we are constantly focused on and, of course, packaging is incredibly important.”
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Sustainability is another key driver of the business.
“We source packaging elements and ingredients locally where possible and we are committed to reducing and reusing packaging as much as we can,” says Aisling.
In 2018, Butlers Chocolate Café introduced a 100% recyclable paper cup across its stores.
These cups are sourced and printed in Ireland. Butlers Chocolate Café also actively encourages the use of reusable cups and offer its customers a 20-cent discount on the presentation of same.
They also have a Butlers KeepCup for sale through their network of Butlers Chocolate Cafés and they are a member of the Conscious Cup campaign.
“In addition, we are proud to have achieved zero waste to landfill and we actively compost our food waste from our factory,” she says.
As well as packaging and waste, sourcing is another very important part of Butlers Chocolates’ sustainability plans.
The coffee used in Butlers Chocolate Cafés is ethically sourced and the coffee beans are sourced from Brazil, Honduras, Sumatra, and Colombia.
“Our coffee farmers are guaranteed to receive a fair market price for their coffee,” says Aisling.
“By investing in better crop growing techniques, the farmers enhance productivity and the quality of the coffee.”
2017 was a momentous year for the company in terms of electricity initiatives.
Butlers Chocolates installed the largest solar panel system on an industrial unit in the Republic of Ireland at that time on the roof of their factory.
The installation covers over 3,000 square metres and the solar panels provide in the region of 25% of the company’s annual electricity needs – that’s the amount of electricity needed to make 4.5 million chocolate bars.
Their solar panel installation also saves the equivalent of approximately 290 tonnes of C02 emissions per annum.
“Since we began our Origin Green journey, we have decreased our carbon emissions,” she says.
“Given that the company has enjoyed growth in terms of the amount of chocolate produced and expansion in the physical size of the factory, this is a considerable achievement.”
A combined heat and power unit (CHP) was installed which has had a positive impact on energy usage.
In addition, various lighting projects have been undertaken to reduce the energy used.
Water conservation has also been an important tenet of their sustainability plan.
The company installed new valves and taps, among other things, which led to a more than 20% reduction in water usage.
Doing The Right Thing
“Sustainability and doing the right thing have always been important to us,” she says.
“We have been a member of Origin Green since the early days.
"We are thrilled to have been recently awarded Gold Membership status for four years in a row – we are one of a handful of companies to achieve this.
"Origin Green has provided a useful structure in which we have been able to grow and progress our sustainability journey, with the added support of independent verification.
"We have made some quantum leaps over the last few years; notable milestones include the fact that 100% of the cocoa used in our chocolate is sustainably sourced, most of our packaging is recyclable, we do not use any palm oil in our factory, and if all our solar panels were laid end to end, they would have a footprint equivalent to about 80% of the pitch at the Aviva Stadium!
"As time continues, we will continue to seek meaningful sustainability initiatives for our business.”
Love Irish Food
In describing the impact of Love Irish Food membership on the Butlers Chocolates’ brand, Aisling is keen to emphasise the impact that shoppers supporting Irish brands can have.
“The impact of supporting Irish brands is not just a support for the brand in question, it also has a ripple effect that runs throughout our supply chain because we source locally as much as possible,” she says.
“Being Irish is part of who we are, and we are proud to still be a family-owned producer making everything ourselves in our plant in north Dublin.
"We are also incredibly grateful for the support we have received from the Irish public over the years through a variety of retail outlets: grocery, specialty retail, Butlers Chocolate Cafés, and the airports.
"Buying a box of Butlers Chocolates is supporting the Irish food industry and Irish jobs.
“Love Irish Food is now well established in the mind of the Irish consumer as a benchmark and support for quality Irish brands. We are delighted to be part of this story and of the wider Love Irish Food family."