A strong, rich history
October 25, 2012
By Stefanie Wallace
Victoria’s beautiful history is on display throughout the city, and Rogers’ Chocolates is a longstanding part of it.
Victoria’s beautiful history is on display throughout the city, and Rogers’ Chocolates is a longstanding part of it. Now in its 127th year of business, the southwestern British Columbia staple is known for its gourmet chocolate bars, rich truffles and, perhaps most notably, its luscious Victoria Creams. And much like the city, Rogers’ Chocolates has a rich history to celebrate.
|The Victoria Creams and squares, hand-wrapped in Rogers’ Chocolates’ signature pink gingham paper, are the company’s most famous treat. all photos courtesy of Rogers’ Chocolates
Charles Rogers founded Rogers’ Chocolates in 1885 in Victoria when he began making chocolates at the back of his grocery store on Government Street. Before he knew it, Rogers had unexpectedly found his niche. “Charles found that the chocolates were more popular than anything else he sold in the store,” says Sonia Edwards, marketing manager at Rogers’ Chocolates Ltd. From then on, Rogers produced only chocolates. The entrepreneur moved shop in 1891, but not far – just across the street to the company’s flagship store, which is now a heritage building. “There’s something quite magic about it . . . everything is basically in its original state,” Edwards says. “It’s like walking into an antique boutique. There’s some very cool looking stained glass, the original windows are there and we even have one of the original display cases. The store is a must-see for locals and tourists alike for its beauty and history.” New visitors may be surprised to see a cracked display case though: so the story goes (although no one knows for sure what happened), many years ago, a customer broke the glass with her cane. “We have thought about replacing the glass many times, but we have decided to keep it there as a reminder of the importance of always ensuring our customers are happy.”
|Larry Sullivan, CEO, in the Rogers’ Chocolates factory store.
The company has been expanded over the years, but Edwards says it took almost 100 years before major changes occurred in the 1980s, when more stores, resellers and wholesalers were added. Besides its heritage location, Rogers’ Chocolates stores can be found in Oak Bay, Sidney and a factory outlet in Victoria, and in Vancouver at Granville Island, Gastown and Park Royal. There is also one store in Whistler. “When we open a store, we try to replicate that Victorian feel. We want to give our customers that experience of being in a Rogers’ Chocolates store, instead of just a regular store,” says Edwards. With approximately 300 current resellers (the majority in Canada with a few in Washington state), the business is poised for more growth. “We are a western-based company, still a west-coast secret. We see lots of opportunity to share our story and our products with chocolate lovers in Eastern Canada,” adds Larry Sullivan, president and CEO of Rogers’ Chocolates.
When it comes to choosing new resellers, Edwards says special care is taken to ensure the store is the right fit for Rogers’ Chocolates. “We’re not looking to have our products in every retail store, but we are trying to partner with retailers who want to tell our story and love our chocolate,” adds Sullivan.
|Rogers’ chocolate truffles come in a variety of flavours.
The company is dedicated to helping charities and has worked hard to develop its community presence over the years, starting with Leah Rogers, the wife of Charles, back in the early 1900s. After Charles passed away, Leah took over the company. “She was very generous with her time and money,” Edwards says, and was dedicated to helping different not-for-profits and charities. Her good intentions eventually forced her to sell the business, and unfortunately, there are no members of the Rogers family still involved in the business. However, the legacy of Leah Rogers lives on through the company’s commitment to helping the communities that have been so important to Rogers’ success over the years. “We like to get involved in projects that provide direct support to our local communities,” Sullivan says, mentioning an ongoing fundraising project that is set up to help the navy. “For this project, we have a navy commemorative tin as well as two chocolate bars.” A portion of the proceeds from the tin and chocolate bars is being donated to the CFB Esquimalt personnel support program.
While there are constant changes happening – new products, new seasonal staff, new processes and new fundraising efforts – one thing has always stayed the same. “Today we are using many of the same recipes that Charles Rogers delighted his customers with in 1885,” says Sullivan, noting that modern manufacturing methods are used to meet a larger customer base. Cornell Idu, the company’s master chocolatier, is instrumental in ensuring the original recipes are honoured. “He leads product development and will bring ideas to the table, and he also makes sure that everything that was created before his time remains the same,” says Edwards.
|Dark sea salt caramels are popular with customers.
When it comes to popularity, Edwards says, the classic recipes are the clear winners, but new developments have been well received. The Victoria Creams, hand-wrapped in signature pink gingham paper and available in 45-gram and mini sizes, are what the company is famous for. “Right now we have 19 different centre flavours to accommodate different taste buds, like fruit, chocolate, maple and coffee.” Flavour selections depend on the season, of course, with such options as gingerbread, eggnog, candy cane and cranberry at Christmastime. Edwards says truffles are also popular among customers. “Over the years it seems like people have developed a palate for truffles,” she says. Classic flavoured and ice wine truffles are hits among customers, and this year, cocktail-inspired truffles were a summer favourite. Popular summer cocktail flavours, such as mai tai, pina colada and mojito, were infused into a truffle centre. “There were a lot of taste tests involved in that development, but in the end we think we found the perfect balance between having a really good cocktail and chocolate taste at the same time.”
The perfect balance is something the company has mastered. Preserving and using classic recipes and evolving naturally over time have proven to be successful strategies for Rogers’ Chocolates. “Authenticity and really doing what’s best for our customers [is the secret to success],” Edwards says. “We have been keeping the same recipes, maintaining our quality and making sure that people like our chocolates over the years. That’s what has kept us in business for 127 years and I think if we keep it up, it’s going to keep us in business for another 127 years.”
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