On the brink of its eleventh birthday, the company founded by Jorge McKay has firmly established its presence in the Chilean market, with a network of 38 stores nationwide. It has now taken an important leap abroad by opening its first store in the United States, in Atlanta, with plans in the pipeline to follow suit in New York. All the while, the company continues to make progress with its own cocoa plantation in Mexico.
By Ignacia Medina
With no factory and in possession of just his savings, his good ideas, and a rented storage space in the Santiago district of Quilicura, in July 2006 Jorge McKay Alliende began to develop what would eventually become La Fête chocolate shop. A decade later and the company has successfully built a network of 38 stores, from Antofagasta in the far north of Chile to Punta Arenas in the extreme south. All 38 of these chocolate shops are stocked by La Fête’s own factory, which provides employment to around 400 people.
This rise to the top intertwines the founder’s personal history, which is rooted in the renowned family behind the ‘McKay’ brand of cookies that was created by his father Jorge McKay Harseim, and his own business outlook that was able to foresee the great potential behind a refined chocolate shop.
The current standing of La Fête is testament to the successful development of this potential. In August this year, this potential will grow even further as work will begin on the expansion of the company’s factory, taking the total operating area to 7,000 square meters. This work will increase the chocolate company’s production capacity, technology standards and improve its work spaces, thereby helping it to meet the growing demand for its product. This development work will be taking place in conjunction with La Fête’s goal to open stores right across the country. Indeed, plans are in place to open new shops in the city of Valdivia and the future Mall Plaza Los Domínicos in Santiago, each of which will require investment of approximately US$200,000.
The company’s drive for expansion has not been diminished by the slow pace of economic growth in Chile. On the contrary, McKay emphasizes the quality of the chocolate as a highly satisfying product at an affordable price, which is an attribute the team at La Fête is keen to exploit, frequently launching new and original products and combinations. Accordingly, the company estimates sales of approximately US$24 million for 2017, a 20% rise on the previous year.
Prior to its current wave of business growth in Chile, which has earned the founder widespread recognition among his peers, McKay had already laid the foundations for the expansion of La Fête beyond the local market.
The first steps in the United States
Having gained approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and secured a variety of new patents, La Fête opened in first store in the US six months ago in Atlanta, Georgia. This represents significant success that was a long time in the making. However, Jorge McKay greatly values the effort expended because of the new opportunities afforded by the US market; opportunities that will be further consolidated in the coming weeks with the launch of the company’s online store. Meanwhile, ongoing work is focusing on future expansion possibilities in the US, with sights firmly set on establishing new stores in New York.
As part of its internationalization plan, La Fête is looking to fulfil additional objectives in other markets as well. In 2014, in association with chocolatiers from Belgium, France and the Czech Republic, 200 hectares of land were purchased in the Mexican state of Yucatan to develop a cocoa plantation. The project that began with the cultivation of the first 25 hectares produced its first harvest in 2015, the quality of which is currently undergoing analysis to gauge whether it can be made available to the association for the manufacture of new products. Currently, this agricultural development hosts a plant that employs 50 local persons. It also runs distinct social initiatives aimed at promoting the Mayan origin of cocoa, through which it seeks to add new qualities and attributes to the final products that are created.
“I love providing work for people, that is my biggest challenge”, says Jorge McKay in relation to his business approach, which also includes the fundamental component of creating working environments full of positive energy. “Human values are very important here: a job well done, honesty, always viewing the customer as the most important person, respect for the people who work here, and constantly striving for excellence” are all essential, he adds.
Among the factors to which McKay attributes the strong and fast growth of La Fête Chocolat is the prioritization of excellence. Indeed, this objective is actively pursued at the company by means of the ongoing training and capacity building of staff through, for example, a development committee, as well as the provision of incentives such as travel opportunities and participation in local fairs and markets. This approach reinforces the management’s objective of offering its workforce stimulating and stable conditions. McKay contends that these concepts are relatively rare within Chilean companies, in which it is possible to observe shortcomings across a range of areas, including customer service and an effective monitoring of projects.
McKay believes that the human resources policy implemented at La Fête Chocolat has been a fundamental part of the positive results achieved by the company: “In 10 years, we have multiplied the size of this market three or four times, and we have now become the largest market player”.
In this regard, the entrepreneur outlines the final ingredient of his business formula: 90% of the employees at La Fête are women. “The buying experience is largely female, and our work behind the scenes is both delicate and precise”, he explains.