At Guittard, making chocolate is a sweet family affair
Through earthquakes, fires, and the Great Depression, five generations have continued to craft premium chocolate.
Gary Guittard still remembers the unmistakable smell of chocolate that wafted through his family’s factory near the San Francisco waterfront in the 1970s. As a child, he and his brother would roam through the three-story brick building, play with the crank adding machine, and hope their father would reach into the cupboard and pull out five- and 10-gram bars of chocolate for them to snack on.
“I would say, ‘Wow, wouldn’t this be great to have when we grow up?” Gary Guittard recalled.
He is now CEO and president of Guittard Chocolate Company, which has been making high-quality chocolate in the Bay Area for more than 150 years. In the mid-1800s, his great-grandfather, Etienne Guittard, left France for the lure of gold in California. Etienne traded the chocolate he had brought with him for mining supplies, and later realized that wealthy miners were willing to pay a premium for his sweet treats. Thus, Guittard Chocolate was born in 1868 in San Francisco, with Etienne Guittard selling chocolate, coffee, and other commodities.
Today, Guittard is a major supplier of premium chocolate to confectioners like See’s Candies, and offers a popular line of baking chips for home bakers. The company, banked by Wells Fargo for the past decade, is in its fifth generation, with Gary Guittard’s daughter, Amy, and nephew, Clark, joining the family business. Known for its variety of high-quality chocolate, including fair trade and organic offerings, Guittard is one of the oldest family-run businesses to have roots in San Francisco, and the current members are working hard to keep the chocolate flowing.
Championing quality and sustainability
Amy Guittard likes to say that chocolate is only as good as its ingredients, and that’s why sustainable sourcing of cocoa is so important to the company. Guittard buys its beans from small farms in cocoa-growing regions all over the world, and its milk and sugar from local suppliers. As the first woman in her family to work in the family business, she also feels a kinship with the growing number of women farmers she meets during her travels.
“By helping them understand flavor, which is essential for making high-quality chocolate, and what they’re planting and breeding, we can help them understand the value of their product and create a premium for it.” — John Kehoe, Guittard director of sustainability
The Guittard team works closely with farmers from South and Central America to West Africa to develop desired flavors in the beans and work with governments to drive and help protect their historic flavor profiles. This includes investments in health management of the trees, to the best techniques for harvesting, fermenting, and drying the beans.
“By helping them understand flavor, which is essential for making high-quality chocolate, and what they’re planting and breeding, we can help them understand the value of their product and create a premium for it,” said John Kehoe, Guittard’s director of sustainability. “And that value goes back to the community. We get to talk to the cooperatives about equity and savings and loans to really engage the community, as well as participate in programs that promote education and agroforestry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily put those global visits on hold, but Kehoe said the silver lining has been Guittard’s ability to direct more effort into its own environmental footprint. A large solar energy installation at its new 300,000 square-foot facility in Fairfield, California, is nearly finished, and projects are underway at Guittard’s headquarters in Burlingame, California, to reduce their carbon footprint and energy waste. The company is also aiming to reduce water usage by 25% and landfill waste by 30% in the coming years.
The future is sweet
Over the past 12 years, Wells Fargo has helped provide capital and cash management services for Guittard. Recently, the bank helped finance equipment that will allow the chocolate company to expand its operations and product line at the Fairfield plant. Its retail operations, in particular, have received an unexpected boost thanks to the increase in home baking during the pandemic.
“We’re very excited about our future, and we really appreciate the bank’s help in being able to make this dream a reality.” — Gary Guittard
“We’re very excited about our future, and we really appreciate the bank’s help in being able to make this dream a reality,” Gary Guittard said. “There’s a flexibility that comes with different situations and economies, and COVID is an example of that. We had to make certain changes in expectations with one another, and we felt more comfortable because we knew the bank had our back. We just feel there’s a flexibility and understanding and trust, and that’s a two-way street.”
“The thing that makes our relationship so successful is our collaboration,” added Sean McClure, relationship manager for Wells Fargo. “We’ve been able to support them through the ups and downs. And our companies have very similar values. We’re both committed to reinvesting in our communities.”
The fact that Guittard and Wells Fargo began in San Francisco just a few blocks from each other in the mid-1800s? Consider it icing on the chocolate cake.
“We both know we’ve been around for the long run, and look at growth in the long run,” Gary Guittard said. “Our historical roots have really helped build a strong relationship.”
Images provided by Guittard Chocolate Company.