Last summer colleagues from China asked me to find producers of high quality chocolates from Russia. They had to be willing and able to export their sweets to the many choco-aficionado’s in the Celestial Empire.
‘Easy-peasy’ I thought to myself, and our team started contacting all the major producers from the Baltic to the Pacific. Not so easy or peasy. The biggest ones were multinational and already had distribution set up in China, the midsized barely had the volume capabilities or export experience, and then Covid did its thing and put the brakes on this China request for a while from my team and my China connection.
What is this all leading to? It is about chocolate of course. We wanted to find the Faberge of chocolatiers, the black beluga of the cocoa bean. Our efforts began with two questions: ‘where is the best quality and tastiest chocolate in Russia? Is there such an animal’? As it happened, after many twists and turns our investigation eventually converged in one region. No, it was not in St. Petersburg, or even Moscow, it was in the semi-isolated Baltic city of Kaliningrad!
Our search was still in its early days when I called the “Munger Maitre Chocolatier” facility in Kaliningrad and spoke with the owner, unsurprisingly called David Munger. He spoke excellent Russian but his accent revealed he was also a foreigner like myself. He told me he was heading to Moscow anyway, and we could meet face to face over a coffee and talk China and chocolates. Yes, this was still during the late pre-mask era.
We met at an outdoor cafe near the Tretyakov Gallery where he handed me a shopping bag full of his various chocolates each cocooned in tasteful state of the art packaging. He warned me to refrigerate them if I didn’t open and eat them all in the next 6 months as they were 100% natural with no preservatives whatsoever. As we chatted I learned that his small ‘Chocolatier’ in Kaliningrad supplies the Kremlin which comes replete with a special seal similar to England for its Royal Warrants of Appointment. This is a sure sign that demanding gourmands & gastronomes acknowledge these confections as suitable to their particular ecstasies, or while searching for a delicious serotonin and dopamine high.
David Munger’s Russia story is unique, even by my oft-jaded standards. Born in French-speaking Quebec Canada, he always had a soft spot for things Russian, from literature, and the arts, to theology and business. His professional path began as an engineer and developed through to director of development at A. Korkunov Chocolates, Confectionary House Vostok and Wimm-Bill-Dann. Being an engineer, a dedicated theologian, and a chocolatier from the soul by vocation he finally decided to start his own company. He wanted to realize his original recipes from natural ingredients with the addition of warmth and soul, which was impossible to fully accomplish in large diverse commercial projects.
He said, “For 15 years in the chocolate business, I realized that every tiny detail matters. The selection of raw materials, transportation, the production process itself, packaging, training, workers and, of course, the conditions for doing business. Therefore, in 2018, my choice fell on the Kaliningrad region, as the most optimal site in Russia for expanding production and selling our finished products.”
For his highly specialized crafting of chocolates David has had to import almost all initial factory equipment and many first raw materials from abroad. Therefore, the conditions of Kaliningrad’s free customs zone with zero-duty and no VAT on imported components was the deciding factor in choosing this region for his start up.
The Munger Maitre-Chocolatier started within a 2000 square meter production area. Aside from developing a good reputation inside Russia, David also won the prestigious Parisian Chocolate Salon nomination for “The best chocolate candy”. The company proudly crafts their many chocolate lines with the individual client experience very much in mind, be they in Japan, France, Russia, or China. The philosophy of the company is simple and clear: only the best. It is 100% made in Russia, and gives preference to Russian ingredients and packaging suppliers whenever possible.
“We use only fresh cow cream which makes our chocolates so tasty, but at the same time perishable, due to the accompanying high proportion of moisture. Moisture migrates through the chocolate shell and the filling dries out, while the chocolate itself becomes soft and begins to lose its fine taste”.
David introduced and developed unique packaging that is hermetically sealed and provides flawless protection for these fragile chocolate delicacies.
Russian history, art and culture has always been interwoven through the centuries with the Russian Orthodox Church. With a deep interest in the role of Theology in life, David also created a set of chocolates for the Christmas and New Year season as a calendar and book set setting out the history and symbols of the Russian Orthodox faith.
As it happens, now that Spring 2021 is upon us in Russia, David’s chocolates are just now establishing themselves in China as a premiere boutique brand. Seems the Chinese also do due diligence, and I was beaten to the punch. That being said, I am a firm believer that the best in anything will always rise to the top one way or another. It looks as though “Made In Russia” will successfully compete with the Belgians and the Swiss chocolatiers in appealing to the most demanding palates in China and throughout Asia, especially with David Munger’s superb confections setting the standard.
Analyst Paul Goncharoff, Moscow