Josef Zotter, born 21 February 1961 in Feldbach (Styria/Austria)
Chocolatier, organic farmer and square peg.
Started as apprentice chef, waiter and confectioner.
Josef Zotter is married with three children.
1987: The Zotter family business is established. At only 26, Josef Zotter decides to go it alone and bring his creative ideas to fruition. With his wife Ulrike, they open the Zotter Konditorei confectionery at the central Glacisstraße address in Graz, southern Austria. Zotter's unusual creations like the "Hemp Bar", the "Funny Cake" and the "Runner Bean Roulade with Coriander" gain international recognition. Josef Zotter expands his business and opens three more branches.
1992: In a back room of the confectionery in Graz, Josef Zotter begins to produce chocolate and creates hand-scooped chocolate , delicious bars with layered centres - a mixture of creative genius and skilled craftsmanship. He also creates a new 70g bar and replaces the customary cubic break-off shape with a seamless chocolate coating. Zotter's first range of flavours included poppy and cinnamon, pumpkin macaroon and marzipan, hemp, dried fruit, champagne and grilled walnuts with marzipan.
1994: Chocolate and art melt together: Art Designer Andreas H. Gratze turns the chocolate bar wrappings into small works of art and creates whimsical names for them such as "For rascals" and "For angels". He had become disillusioned with the advertising field he worked in, which, in his opinion, played to the lowest common denominator, and so eventually turned to art. The kind of advertising he wanted to realise should inspire and challenge. Gratze has since created a huge range of designs while at the same time keeping to a very recognisable theme. Often, Zotter wrappers aren't thrown away but instead end up in affectionately maintained collections.
1996: Josef Zotter goes into administration. 3 branches have to close. This failure will be one of the most defining experiences in his life.
1998: Zotter refuses to quit and instead introduces a new product range: drinking chocolates in the shape of hand-scooped chocolate bars.
Josef Zotter remembers the exact moment he made his decision: "It's going to be either the chocolate or the confectionery shop", I said, and my wife Ulrike replied: "Then let's keep the shop. I'm not sure the chocolate production will work out." And I said: "Ok, so we'll make chocolate then." (Laughs)
1999: The Zotters decide to only produce chocolate. They open the z o t t e r Chocolate Manufactory, using a space at the parental farm that used to be a stable.
"There wasn't even a sign out front, but people just knocked on my mother's door and asked if they could buy some chocolate."
2001: Zotter starts traveling to cocoa growing regions - Nicaragua, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil. He wants to see the source, the raw material, and seeks direct contact with the cocoa bean farmers.
2002: Demand increases and the manufactory is expanded. Zotter doesn't have to install pipes or lay tiles himself that time. A hypermodern manufactory with a "running chocolate" sampling station for visitors is created. The business focus is on transparency, sincerity and a close relationship with the customer.
2004: Zotter makes his entire range FAIR TRADE. The business now works with small farms and prioritises quality as well as direct contact and a warm relationship with the growers.
"In Ghana and Ivory Coast, 200.000 children work in cocoa production. That's our real issue. That's the kind of thing you can't taste in the chocolate."
2006: Zotter makes his entire range organic. Not an easy endeavour, particularly when using many different and sometimes very specific ingredients. But the shift succeeds - even whisky and goji berries used in the range are now organic.
2006: Zotter gets involved with the "Quality instead of Poverty" development project and supports three cooperatives in Nicaragua.
2007: The manufactory is expanded again to accommodate bean-to-bar chocolate production and transformed into the Chocolate Theatre.
Bean-to-bar: Zotter invests 18 million euros to convert his manufactory into a bean-to-bar production house. He buys organic, fair trade cocoa beans directly from the farmers, roasts them, grinds and mills them and conches the chocolate, thereby slowly transforming the manufactory into a chocolate-producing centre of excellence. Many new varieties of chocolate are created. Zotter practices "in-sourcing" instead of outsourcing - he is one of only a handful of independent bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Europe and the only one exclusively using organic and fair trade ingredients. (Overall, only three large global players produce around 80% of the chocolate sold worldwide).
Chocolate Theatre: Visitors can experience chocolate production live. They can observe how cocoa beans are turned into delicious chocolate bars with all the (tasteable) stages like milling powder in between, and finally of course the finished chocolate bars can be enjoyed at a range of sampling stations.
2007: Zotter builds his on steam power generator. Biomass and cocoa bean shells are used to provide heat.
2008: Zotter offers Labooko for the first time: pure chocolate bars created at his bean-to-bar manufactory. For Labookos, regional cocoa blends are processed to produce pure single origin chocolate bars. Zotter also develops an entirely new chocolate genre: fruity chocolate bars, scrumptiously colourful through their natural, high fruit content.
2009 and 2010: Chocolate shops open in Essen (Germany), Innsbruck and Salzburg (both Austria).
2009: "Bad Blumauer Manifest" - supporting economic sustainability, initiated by Josef Zotter, Robert Rogner jr. (Blumau Spa) and Johannes Gutmann (Sonnentor).
2010: Zotter starts the "Cocoa instead of Cocaine" project in Colombia, which focuses on development aid based on economic partnerships. The project is stopped in August 2010 due to a lack of local networks and danger to life.
2010: "A Piece of Forest" - the environmental chocolate bar. Zotter plants one tree in the rainforest of Laos per chocolate bar sold. To date, 202.374 Zotter trees are growing there.
2010: Zotter is invited to Harvard University. Zotter is the first and only Austrian company ever to be used as a case study on the prestigious university's curriculum.
2010: Zotter introduces free organic meals for all his employees - food cooked fresh daily at the organic in-house canteen.
2011: Zotter opens the Edible Zoo in an open air section of the Chocolate Theatre. From a total of 72 hectares of organic farm, the adventure area accessible to visitors covers 27 hectares. Catering is offered courtesy of the Öko-Essbar, offering organic meals farm-to-table with ingredients coming directly from the farm's own meadows and vegetable gardens. "Look your food in the eye" is the motto. Animals and plants are sentient beings, not products and they deserve to be treated with affection and respect.
And just like with his Chocolate Theatre, Zotter again leads the pack in transparency, sustainability and innovation in the areas of agriculture and a way out of factory farming.
2011: Zotter sets up a photovoltaic power plant meeting the Edible Zoo's entire energy requirements (energy self-sufficiency), an in-house drinking water source is established, Zotter starts to expand his fleet of electric cars and also sets up an e-charge point station. Zotter goes down the path of complete self-sufficiency.
2011: Individualisation 1 - the MiXing Bar is set up, which lets customers create their own individual chocolate, offering over 20 billion options.
2012: Individualisation 2 - the Biofectorator is created, which lets customers create their own individual chocolate bonbon box.
2012: Josef Zotter and his family visit Burmese refugee children living in camps in Thailand. They are sponsored by his "Yummy! Meals for Schools" project.
2012: Zotter's biography is published. The square peg releases his fourth book "Kopfstand mit frischen Fischen. Mein Weg aus der Krise" ("Upside down with fresh fish - my way out of the crisis"). The Kindle version of the book even climbs to number one in Amazon's philosophical biography rankings.
2012: The Chocolate Theatre shows the latest film "Namaste Cocoa - In the Cocoa Fields of Southern India".
2012: The Inspiration Memorial - Josef Zotter builds remembrance stones for previous chocolate flavours and outdated ideas all over the Edible Zoo. The weirdest memorial in the world is an absolute visitor favourite and many people genuinely mourn the ghosts of flavours past. So on occasion, we resurrect the most popular of the retired chocolate bars and give them another few days in the sun.
2012: Zotter is named one of the world's 8 best chocolate producers. Georg Bernardini tested 2.700 products by 271 brands hailing from 38 countries for his book "Chocolate - The Reference Standard". His research, completed over the course of two years, ranks Zotter among the best chocolatiers on the planet.
His verdict: "Zotter is the most inventive chocolate producer in the industry, by a long shot. During the chocolate boom, this company was one of the driving forces. Zotter's products aren't just innovative, they also show a consistently superior quality. Even their well-established hand-scooped chocolates undergo constant improvement and innovation."
Bernardini declares Zotter's Labooko Nicaragua 50% the best milk chocolate in the world. Zotter's strawberry chocolate achieves a sensational global runner-up spot. According to Bernardini, this chocolate sets entirely new standards. Alongside the hand-scooped chocolate bars, the Nougsus nougats as well as the Biofekt bonbon range also achieve top international rankings.
2013: The physical traceability formula offers full transparency, putting the heart and soul in each and every chocolate bar.
2013: The Chocolate Theatre expands. At that point, the manufactory counts more than 260.000 visitors every year, making Zotter the second most popular holiday destination in Austria's southern region of Styria.
2013: Independent globetrotter and dedicated economic and environmental scientist Gregor Sieböck goes on a trip around Zotter's globe, visiting suppliers the world over and thereby kicking off a unique and very personal project on transparency, supply chains and physical traceability of raw materials.
2013: Individualisation: The MiXing Bar diversifies to include MiXing Drink, MiXing Mini and MiXing Kids, giving visitors the opportunity to create their own individual chocolate with a variety of fillings, as a drinking chocolate or in the shape of a star, heart or car.
2013: Variety by design: Zotter offers 365 different types of chocolate - one for each day of the year! Zotter is one of the most innovative chocolatiers in the world and creates 30 to 70 new and original flavours annually.
2013: Zotter receives the Kennedy Award in London in the category "Most Creative Chocolate Company".
2013: Zotter receives the Austrian Leading Companies' coveted audience award, the "Publikumspreis".
2013: With his Chocolate Shocker, Zotter branches out into a new line of research. Insects! This is of course a very wide-reaching subject touching on global food supplies but also on vegan or other specialised diets. The big challenge is to find alternatives to meat. Courageous visitors to the manufactory can sample "Buffalo Worm with Blanched Almonds" and "Locust in White Wine". These chocolates are not made available in stores.
2014: Overdose: the cool chocolate drink with a superfood kick hits the market, making Zotter the first top chocolatier offering quality and superior taste as a trendy canned drink.
2014: Zotter receives ISO 14001 and EMAS certifications and now also counts among the few companies leading the field in environmental conservation. During a rigorous examination of the company's organic and fair trade credentials, Zotter's environmental initiatives are also analysed and evaluated for the first time and determined to be exemplary.
2014: The Weideschlachthaus (field butchery) is realised in Burgau, through a cooperation with Labonca's Norbert Hackl, and opens in the autumn of 2014. The main requirement for the organic meat supply to the employee canteen and the Edible Zoo's Öko-Essbar is an ethically sound abattoir practice. We are currently working on a new project called Weide Himmelsbrücke (Field Rainbow Bridge), an in-house abattoir created to spare our animals the stress of a long, uncomfortable transport. It is of course closed to the public.
2014: Zotter keeps expanding and developing: at the Bergl location, a new online logistics system is established alongside the Sim Bim Cake Bakery and a Flat Ice Kitchen.
2014: Zotter opens a second Chocolate Theatre in Shanghai and starts exporting his chocolates along with all his environmental initiatives to China, delighting the 23 million inhabitants of this booming metropolis with organic and fair trade chocolates from Austria. Zotter's daughter Julia (*1987) heads the new adventure park established in a former brick factory, a historic monument on the banks of the Huangpu river. The Theatre is 2400 square metres in size and celebrates the art of Austrian chocolate making with all the trimmings: it includes a small factory, where bonbons and chocolate bars are created "on demand", a big sampling tour and of course an authentic Viennese coffee house complete with drinking chocolates and apple strudel. The Chocolate Theatre is a popular destination for expat Europeans as well as local Chinese and American visitors and has, within a very short time, turned itself into one of the trendiest locations in the vibrant megacity of Shanghai. Both the Shanghai Wall Street Journal and Smart Shanghai rank it among the top recommended destinations.
2014: Zotter presents a new range of purely plant-based milk chocolate bars with the focus of the 2014/15 season being on lactose-free and vegan chocolates. Zotter has dedicated a new research station at his manufactory to redefining and creating new vegan and lactose-free chocolate varieties which are healthy, environmentally friendly and full of intense flavours.
2014: On the upper floors of the chocolate manufactory, a glass Skywalk is built, offering a spectacular view of the building and its surrounding areas.
2014: Zotter creates the Flic Floc Chocolate Flakes - to be noshed on their own or as a yogurt topping, with ice cream, on a dessert or scattered on your breakfast cereal.
2014: The mass balance system is addressed: Zotter applies a system of complete physical traceability to all fair trade products used in chocolate production and supports the "classic" fair trade certification system without the mass balance factor. We choose our cocoa growing regions very deliberately and work with the farmers very closely in order to produce a superior quality cocoa. It is essential for us to process this exact single origin cocoa, and not just any kind of cocoa bean. We also pay more than stipulated by the fair trade rules, because quality is our highest priority.
2015: In the newly created Meat Workshop in a nearby town, Zotter turns the meat from the Edible Zoo animals into sublime meat and sausage delicacies. They can be sampled at the Öko-Essbar and are available as tinned take-home DelikatESSEN as well.
2015: The Zotter Chocolates US subsidiary is established in North America in April, initially focusing on e-commerce and online sales. In August, the first pop-up store opens its doors at the Cape Coral branch in Florida.
2015: Fertilizer for Hearts and Minds. Zotter kicks off the 2015/16 season by releasing the Fertilizer Bars, an eccentric fusion of chocolate and art. Even old classics are converted into signature Zotter creations such as "Coffee Toffee", "Liquorice de Luxe" and "Chocolate Mint". The idea of reducing sugar produces three new chocolate bars, "Verjus - Green Grapes", Labooko "Cheeky Fruits" and Labooko "Vanilla Apple with Sea-Buckthorn", all with a refreshing, tart flavour.
2015: Zotter is taking up the cake challenge and launches Sim Bim Cakes, the world's first organic and fair trade cake in a jar, a small, quickly made baking miracle that makes an ideal gift and can be stored for up to a year. Passionate bakers can now also acquire jars of Zotter's chocolate icing and the long-awaited new cookbook "Zettelwirtschaft" featuring innovative cake and dessert recipes.
2015: The Inspiration Memorial is expanded. Several old flavours are resurrected for the 2015/16 season.
2015: Zotter releases the Bloody Chocolate Bar, a thriller made of chocolate: a raspberry chocolate ganache with a few droplets of real blood from our Edible Zoo animals, combined with a bloody delicious jelly made from Cornelian cherries, long thought to be poisonous but actually an old remedy; covered with a dark, high-percentage chocolate coating.
"I have created this chocolate shocker, because I figured that even a couple of drops of blood will cause a massive outrage, while factory farming is still tacitly accepted as the norm. Clearly there is something wrong with our value system", says Josef Zotter.
2015: Zotter is again ranked among the world's 25 best chocolate producers. For the new, 919-page edition of his book "Chocolate - The Reference Standard", Georg Bernardini tested 4.000 products by 550 brands from 70 countries.
Bernardini's verdict: "Zotter... remains one of the world's top chocolatiers and is still the most innovative of them all, by far." (Chocolate – the reference standard 2015, p. 839)
Bernardini's Top 25 are awarded 6 Cocoa Pods, which stands for "extraordinary product quality overall, deviating from a superior quality standard rarely to not at all." (Chocolate – the reference standard 2015, p. 137)
Zotter is the only manufacturer within Germany and Austria who has made it into the top 25, and still the only one exclusively creating organic and fair trade products.
2015/16: Zotter releases the "Helping + Nibbling" chocolate bars and establishes an international disaster relief fund, providing quick and unbureaucratic help in emergencies. The children's aid project "School Gardens" in Bolivia and the project "School lunches for Roma Children" in Hostica (Slovakia) have since been beneficiaries of the fund.
2015: Josef Zotter receives the "Entrepreneur of the Year" award by audit and consulting giant EY at a Vienna Hofburg awards gala, in the category trade and consumer goods.
2016: Zotter sweeps the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2016. Of the 17 chocolate bars submitted, 15 receive awards. 2 gold, 8 silver and 5 bronze medals are awarded to Zotter chocolates, an absolutely singular achievement, particularly in competition with grandees like Amedei, Michel Cluizel and Demarquette.
2016: The WKO (Austrian Economic Chamber) honours Zotter with a "Sieger aus Leidenschaft" (winner through passion) award.
2016: Zotter is nominated for the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2016, held annually in Monte Carlo. He is inducted into the "EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame".
2016: Zotter expands the Bergl/Riegersburg location and increases the retail area.
2016: Zotter kicks off the chocolate season by releasing over 70 new products, among them Josef Zotter's favourite creation, the Firewood Brandy Chocolate made of toasted pieces of wood, marinated in brandy after the barrique method!
2016: Nashidos hit the market - wafer-thin chocolate bars with a creamy centre.
2016: Zotter creates Xocitto - the drinking chocolate smoothie, created quickly and easily with a handmixer and enhanced to taste with milk and sugar.
2016: Zotter wins the Brand Life Award 2016, awarded by the European Brand Institute.
Julia Zotter (*1987) manages the Chocolate Theatre in Shanghai. Julia spent a year in China (Xi-an and Beijing) during secondary school and went on to study food science and biotechnology at Vienna's University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. For her final thesis, she travelled to Brazil to establish a cocoa research project. In 2013, she graduates from the Cordon Bleu Academy in Paris with a Grand-Diplome in Pâtisserie and Cuisine as one of the best in her year. Julia has been working in all areas of the chocolate manufactory since she was a child and is a polyglot, speaking fluent English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, German and even a little Latin.
Michael Zotter (*1988) also studied food science and biotechnology at Vienna's University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences and is currently reading business information systems in Vienna. Michael is responsible for Zotter's website, online shop and everything else IT.
Valerie Zotter (*2005) currently heads animal care at the in-house petting zoo and oversees the egg collection.
Ulrike Zotter continues to manage the company, otherwise this biography would end here.