Interview with Isabelle Jaouen, Founder of Forrey and Galland, Dubai
When walking past the many shop windows within the enormous expanses of the Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping centres in the world, it’s easy to wonder what level of competition each store faces. Arriving at the colourful chocolate boutique Forrey and Galland established in 2008, it is made abundantly clear how the business has raised the bar and thus managed to set itself apart. A beautiful decoration of crystal balls hangs from the ceiling, overlooking long glass counters filled with an unimaginable variety of chocolates. The boutique feels more like a luxurious living room than a shopping mall storefront.
Just opposite, sat on one of the comfy chairs that fill the boutique sits founder of Forrey And Galland, Isabelle Jaouen. Together with her husband Vincent, Isabelle established this dimension of high-end chocolate, basing their brand on the legacy of a reputed Parisian chocolatier established in 1912. Today, the Forrey and Galland atelier employs over 100 people in the UAE who are tirelessly creating innovative flavours and distinctive packaging for its customers. While discussing the business at length Isabelle Jaouen serves up a few of Forrey and Galland’s latest treats, setting the tone for a tasty tale of sweets.
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The passion for chocolate
Isabelle Jaouen possesses more than the average person’s passion for chocolate. She reasons that her desire is based on a childhood full of flavour. “We were raised in a gourmet family,” she explains. “My parents and especially my grandmother always emphasised that we had to discover new flavours, that we had to taste new things. We developed a curiosity for new tastes in our early childhood and it persisted into adulthood.” She goes on to highlight that with this education in taste experimentation soon followed a focus on quality. “You have to eat well. Only quality food. I think this is one of the main reasons why we apply so much creativity to our chocolates.”
“Chocolate is a beautiful product. It is a noble product that has a rich history. From being the beverage of the Mayan Gods, to becoming the favourite treats of kings and queens, chocolate has always been linked to enjoyment.” Isabelle cites tradition, royalty and the temptation to include regional flavour as the reasons she and her husband joined the market with Forrey and Galland.
“Together my husband and I have thought it out. We asked ourselves how we could bring the creation of chocolate to the next level by combining traditional best practice with the exotic flavours of the Middle East. Including halawa, rose and orange essence in our chocolates was but the beginning. The concept was born; a combination of the context we lived in and our French heritage of gourmet food. “
Despite maintaining a depth of knowledge and creativity behind their brand, the couple began the business equipped with different forms of expertise. “We were drawn into chocolate. My husband comes from a jewellery background and I myself am a lawyer. We love Dubai and we asked ourselves what would give us the most pleasure to work in. We felt that the market for chocolate was huge and had great potential. We wanted to create a new concept, and so we set to work.” It is a point of pride for the couple that their penetration into an already established industry has been so successful.
Chocolate as an industry
“Chocolate has known a great increase in consumption over the last ten years,” excitedly explains Isabelle Jaouen. “This is due to various factors. Firstly, chocolate now penetrates markets that were not so responsive before. For instance China and India were never before great chocolate consumers. When the demand from these large markets suddenly surged, the industry was faced with a change. Mass markets for chocolate have developed which have greatly influenced offer and demand and hence the prices of cocoa.” Jaouen additionally cites the wide scale promotion of dark chocolate as a healthy snack option as affecting demand as well.
“The industry is also changing in terms of design standards: chocolatiers are setting higher standards when it comes to the creation of unique tastes and packaging,” says Jaouen. An artistic approach to the marketing of chocolate products has clearly taken hold of the industry, but one wonders how a market driven by disposable income has managed to withstand a global downturn.
“We have not felt the recession in any immediate ways,” declares Isabelle. “Forrey and Galland caters to the hospitality sector and it is true that during the crisis hotels have restricted their budgets when it came to treats for their guests. We have suffered from that. They went from our luxury chocolates to more mainstream brands to cut costs. In retail it was different. People who like quality still continued to order from us in pretty much the same quantities. Do not forget that chocolate is also a refuge and consolation in times of crisis.”
Forrey and Galland – more than just a name
The company’s brand name was chosen with a nod to the couple’s lineage, one which coincidentally included a history of chocolate makers. “We were looking for a name and I spoke about it with my father-in-law. To my great surprise, he helped us discover that through a great uncle we actually had chocolatiers in the family. After further investigation he produced the old chocolate boxes of a brand named ‘Fouray Galland’ which used to be based in Paris right at the Avenue Victor Hugo as well as at Faubourg Saint Honnore. Not only was the brand in existence from 1912 till 1951, it also was categorised as a luxury provider to the elite of Paris.”
Isabelle and Vincent were allowed to inherit the name, slightly adapted it for English pronunciation and began establishing their new incarnation of the brand around the existing legacy alongside their concept of Forrey and Galland. The couple hope to one day to revive their manifestation of the brand in Paris by setting up shop in its original home.
In terms of entrepreneurship
Applying a new concept to a name conceived under different circumstances appears as a long shot, yet Isabelle feels the process was seamless due to how similar each era of the brand has proven to be. “It was a fusion between our new concept and the history of the name. We have taken on a part of the history, which we complemented with our passion and entrepreneurship,” she states.
Isabelle admits that the bigger challenge was positioning Forrey and Galland in an already saturated industry. “We had to educate our clients and get them used to our creative flavours. We also do not wrap our chocolates, which they found unusual. But what is the point in wrapping a chocolate that it took two or three days to make? It would be a pity.” The pair succeeded in seducing its customers into their boutiques and in time their loyalty grew. “Today, our local clients understand the concept entirely and would never ask for wrapped chocolates but appreciate the art of it.” The satisfaction derived from this evolution shows plainly on Isabelle’s face.
“Another challenge we faced in building our brand was the realisation of the concept as we imagined it. We wanted to do more than just produce chocolates. We wanted to create a universe. Through a unique decoration and service we wanted to create a customer experience like no other.” Isabelle explains further that it is her aim to make sure that any customer entering the shop will come back. “There is great customisation and design involved so that we can bring our clients exactly what they want. People love that we make their chocolate dreams come true,” Isabelle underlines with a smile.
Isabelle Jaouen strongly feels that this strategy applies to any business that offers a specialised luxury product and has worked effectively. “When you are in a niche market, it is essential to give a great experience. The client needs to be recognised. Advice and guidance are essential. People want a story with their product. It means so much more to them when you provide them with a background to their purchase from packaging to the flavours you provide.”
Forrey and Galland stands out for the attention to detail it provides and for this reason Isabelle is reluctant to consider spreading the brand too thin. “If we want to continue by our high standards we cannot franchise the brand. And frankly, we don’t want to. It would take away the whole USP, which is the concept of providing a chocolate universe and a great experience,” she relates.
Educating the staff is a key component to the company’s offering and Isabelle Jaouen puts a large amount of emphasis on how the sales team is trained to know the creations and packaging options in an effort to provide consumers with the best shopping experience. Says Isabelle, “We incontestably face a longer way to growth but we want to make sure that in any Forrey and Galland store our customers will be received in the same way.”
In the entrepreneurial couple, division is key
Enterprises built by couples are not unusual as many businesses around the world are run by husband-and-wife teams. The rate of success however, tends to be lower than hoped for. Isabelle feels that she and Vincent have managed to become successful because of the way they manage their responsibilities. “The business can be seen to include two parts which are separate and yet interdependent: the production of the chocolates and the packaging and the retail side. I think that the real success between myself and Vincent is that even though we are working together our responsibilities are different within the business. He manages production and with his jewellery background makes our packaging look fantastic.” Isabelle delights in highlighting her husband’s abilities.
“I am in charge of the retail aspect, which means putting in place the boutiques, planning the expansions and the training of the staff.”
Isabelle and Vincent inevitably allow talking shop to enter the couple’s home. She smilingly confesses that it is usually their two sons who manage to distract them with the family’s domestic priorities. Such diversions notwithstanding both Jaouen children have shown a pronounced interest in the business and follow their parents’ careers with pleasure. It is certainly not without reason that Isabelle harbours the secret desire that one day her children might want to take over the brand. And quite frankly, who would not want to own so much chocolate?
Tharawat Magazine, Issue 21, 2014