Lange Elzenstraat 123
2018 Antwerpen, Belgium
Hours: Monday – Thursday 9.00 – 18.00 | Friday 9.00 – 17.00 | Saturday and Sunday closed
Belgium is not only home to some of the best chocolatiers in the world, it is also one of the global centers for chocolate making tools. At the top of the ladder of places every chocolatier must visit in Belgium is Chocolate World. This cash and carry warehouse in Antwerp features over 1000 chocolate as well as industrial chocolate tempering machines, cake making supplies, and everything the professional and hobbyist chocolate maker needs. I recently had the pleasure of meeting with Filip Buelens, co-owner of Chocolate World, to learn more about this venerable chocolate establishment.
Two brothers in the bakery and confectionary tool distribution business founded the company in 1985. As the chocolate industry in Belgium grew, the brothers decided to switch their focus exclusively to chocolate—primarily the production and sales of chocolate moulds#. They started out having the tooling for the moulds done in Portugal and outsourced the plastics in Belgium. As their business grew, they realized they needed to move the entire production to Belgium. In 1994, they opened their factory in Hoboken, Belgium and their entire product line was now made in Belgium.
The new 3D mould of the earth on a stand from the 2012 collection.
Belgium has played a significant role in the history of chocolate moulds. The first chocolate moulds were invented around 1830 and were made of tin-coated sheets of metal pressed into shapes. Belgian born chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland changed the face of chocolate moulds when he invented Bakelite in 1907 (considered the beginning of modern plastics). Bakelite (and later more modern plastics) replaced metal in chocolate moulds. Chocolate World moulds are made out of polycarbonate. This hard plastic is heat resistant and produces a high-quality shine on the chocolates.
Another Belgian who changed the nature of moulded chocolates was Jean Neuhaus Jr, (descendant of the founder of Neuhaus Chocolates). In 1912 he invented the first filled moulded chocolates. Neuhaus named this type of filled chocolates “pralines.” The name is still used today in Belgium chocolate shops. Moreover, some attribute working with moulds as primarily a Belgian tradition of making pralines and dipping or enrobing the chocolates as more French or Swiss.
Filip Buelens and his partner Jan Neven bought Chocolate World in 1995. They were already working for the company at the time: Buelens in sales and Neven in production. Buying Chocolate World was an easy decision for Buelens; he loved the company from the start with its large inventory and cash and carry warehouse opened to everyone.
When they bought the company their first order of business was to improve client customer service: specifically shorten delivery times, improve product quality and expand the product line. Their success is evident in their catalogue: 120 pages of well-presented photographs representing the 1000+ inventory of moulds organized by shape, holiday, and/or category. The shapes go from realistic (flowers, fruits, nuts, people, animals and musical instruments) to geometric (spheres, cones, bars, blocks and tablets) to whimsical (fans, pyramids, and even mini spoons). And, of course, there is a large selection of holiday moulds: Easter, Christmas, New Years, and Valentines Day.
Chocolate World Catalogue
Each year they introduce a new collection of moulds. In 2011-2012 there will be 42 new designs in the collection (click here to see the new collection). Everything in contemporary culture is fair game to inspire a new collection. The 2012 collection includes moulds in the shape of buttons, a globe, a retro robot and even a skull. Each year’s collection also includes signature moulds from leaders in the chocolate field. Our friend Belgian Chocolate Master Ryan Stevenson has a mould in the collection that he debuted at the 2011 World Chocolate Masters competition in Paris.
If you are interested in the chronological progression of moulds, you can either look through the catalogue with the lowest number being the oldest mould, or take a walk down chocolate mould history lane at the warehouse. The warehouse is divided into two parts. The left side houses the chocolate moulds, machinery, bookstore and chocolate making tools. The right side has baking tools, decorating supplies and packaging. This side features the products of Sileto, a company they bought in 2004. Chocolate World also produces and sells its own brand of tempering machines and other chocolate making machinery.
Hollow moulds in the center
The customer service at Chocolate World is worth noting. The staff is knowledgeable about its products, friendly to everyone who comes through the door (professional and hobbiest alike) and multi-lingual (not only can they help you in French, Flemish and English, but there are also people who can assist customers in Portuguese, German, Italian just to name a few).
Their customer base is worldwide. They do online sales, but most of their customers come to the warehouse or work directly with their sales representatives.
Coming to Chocolate World is almost a pilgrimage for chocolatiers visiting Belgium. Everytime I take a professional chocolate classes at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Wieze, Belgium, the students from outside of Belgium always insist on a visit to Chocolate World as part of their itinerary. For some, visiting Chocolate World can be very emotional. Buelens told me about one chocolatier from Brazil who burst into tears when visiting the warehouse because she was so overwhelmed by all the merchandise on display.
Chocolate World co-owner Filip Buelens
One of the highlights of my interview with Buelens was touring the shelves of chocolate moulds with him. Buelens is a man of calm demeanor and generous disposition. We walked from one side of the warehouse to the other chatting about the moulds: from the oldest and most traditional shapes to the current collection. We even spent a bit of time discussing some of my projects. Buelens demonstrated his intimate knowledge of his inventory by recommended moulds that I never would have looked at but ended up being perfect for my projects.
An article about Chocolate World would not be complete without a few shopping tips. First, there is plenty of free parking, either in the driveway in front of the warehouse or in the parking lot on Desguinlei. Second, be sure to check out the sales bins for used moulds at reduced prices. I always find a few moulds in the sales bin that I can’t pass up. Thirdly, if you are coming from out of town or have special language requirements, call ahead and make an appointment. And finally, plan on spending several hours there your first visit. In fact, don’t be surprised if you end up joining the ranks of visitors who plan on shopping for an hour and end up staying until closing time.
*NOTE: Mould is the Belgian spelling and mold is the American English spelling.