From the humble green pods of the cacao tree comes a substance so divine it was once traded as currency, gifted to kings and used to celebrate Mayan and Aztec religious events. The precious cacao beans were first consumed as a beverage and later combined with sugar, milk and other ingredients to produce the world’s most beloved confection—chocolate. It’s an obsession that is reputed to generate revenues of more than $83 billion annually for the candy industry.
Centuries after chocolate making became an art, Leopold Grunhut began crafting chocolates in small batches in his kitchen in Czechoslovakia using only the finest Belgian chocolate and fresh cream from local farmers. After World War II, he and his family relocated the company, Astor Chocolate (UPIC: Astor), to New York and his son Erwin took over the family business in 1950. The company flourished and Astor soon made its way onto shelves at Macy’s and other department stores.
In the 1960s, the company began pushing the edge of creativity in the chocolate market with the development of a dark chocolate cordial cup designed to be filled with liqueur. Since selling liqueur-filled chocolates was illegal at the time, Astor aligned with well-known liqueur brands such as Kahlua and Tia Maria as well as private label-packages for other liqueur companies. With a growing sales base, the company expanded to a new factory in Glendale, New York.
In the 1970s Astor Chocolate was selected by New York City’s Waldorf Hotel for a revolutionary guest program it was launching: Evening turndown service featuring chocolate mints placed on guests’ bed pillows. By 1998 it was time for even larger facilities and the company moved to its current headquarters, a 120,000-square-foot factory and corporate offices in Lakewood, New Jersey.
Today the company manufactures hand-finished truffles in an array of flavors as well as individually wrapped bars, squares and coins along with boxed chocolate selections. The entire facility is certified Kosher by the O-U (Orthodox Union).
Although Erwin Grunhut continues to have an executive role in the company, the day-to-day operations are left in the capable hands of his sons David, president, Meir and Nathan, who both bear the title of executive vice president. They work closely with Howard Cubberly, vice president, corporate sales division, Charles Duggan II, national accounts manager and the rest of the company team.
“Astor is a bit of hidden gem that brings a boutique-style chocolatier approach to the industry,” explains Cubberly. “We work with our distributor partners to educate them about the huge revenue potential in food gifting and promotions and then show them how to combine Belgian chocolate with our in-house state-of-the-art print facility to produce a custom chocolate experience for their customers.”
>>Good And Good For The Earth
Astor Chocolate focuses on reducing its carbon footprint with its unique combination of tri-generation and solar usage. It’s one of only a few manufacturing facilities in New Jersey that provides 100 percent of the factory’s electricity consumption through alternative and renewable energy solutions. Astor has a state-of-the-art electricity generation system in which the by-product of the plant’s heat output is recycled to provide cooling and refrigeration throughout the facility.
The system is used to:
- Save 250,000 kilowatts of energy annually
- Maintain approximately 50,000 square feet of temperature controlled space to manufacture and store chocolate
- Generate 80 tons of refrigeration
- Cool and heat all of Astor’s corporate offices
- Create hot water heating, domestic hot water and process hot water for the plant
Energy is generated through 2,250 solar panels installed on the factory rooftop that generate 490 kilowatts of energy, and store and provide excess energy back to the grid for local utilities to distribute to other companies.
In addition, the company has adopted a system of water recirculation where it treats and recirculates water to reduce the amount of usage.
To complete the eco-friendly loop, in 2010 it introduced an Eco-Friendly Truffle Box Collection that combines upscale packaging crafted with Certified FSC board that is 100-percent recyclable.
With its “Go Green” initiatives in place, the company is committed to reducing waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. Members of the company’s Go Green Task Force meet monthly to review and evaluate the initiatives and create ways to make Astor as environmentally friendly as possible.
>>Top Chocolate Consumers Per Year
- Switzerland 22.36
- Austria 20.13
- Ireland 19.47
- Germany 18.04
- Norway 17.93
*Amounts shown in pounds per person. Source: The World Atlas of Chocolate