Champions of Design: Toblerone

The triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate may be more than 100 years old, but it is a mainstay of duty-free shops.

Champions of Design: Toblerone

The distinctive triangular-shaped Toblerone is a symbol of Switzerland and, oddly, airport duty-free shops.

Its unusual shape is often mistakenly assumed to have been inspired by the Swiss Alps and, in particular, the Matterhorn. However, its creator, Theodor Tobler, based the design on the Folies Bergere in Paris, whose dancers ended their performances in the shape of a pyramid.

The Tobler company, making Toblerone and other confectionery, was established by Theodor and his father Jean, expanding the family's already successful sweet-shop business.

Located in Bern, Switzerland, Fabrique de Chocolat Berne, Tobler & Cie opened in 1899. A year later, Theodor took over the business.

Alongside his cousin Emil Bauman, he came up with the honey and almond nougat recipe and unique shape in 1908, patenting both a year later. It is rumoured that the person who granted the patent was none other than Albert Einstein, who at the time worked in the Swiss patent office.

The cousins came up with a name for the concoction by combining the family name with 'torrone', the Italian word for nougat. Toblerone was born.

The confection was a success, with its unique shape an inspired idea that helped it stand out in the crowded Swiss chocolate market.

In 1925, the ambitious Tobler opened a US subsidiary. However, the move was a flop, as the timing coincided with a rise in import duties. The great crash followed and in 1931 the entire board was forced to resign. Tobler remained a director and the company was sold to a French consortium. Within a couple of years, though, Tobler had stepped down from the company.

Recovering from the fallout of World War II, when ingredients such as cocoa and milk had been rationed, the Tobler company embarked on international expansion again, successfully opening subsidiaries in Germany and Italy. Toblerone remained a flagship product, as did a rum-filled chocolate. Although now discontinued, Tobler-O-Rum was claimed by the company to be the first filled chocolate ever created.

By 1963, Toblerone was being exported to 101 countries.

Tobler merged with Suchard, maker of Milka chocolate bars, in 1970. In 1982, the company merged with the Jacobs coffee company, which was acquired by Kraft Foods in 1990.

All Toblerone bars are produced in Brunnen, just outside Bern, allowing the chocolate to be promoted as Swiss-made, if no longer Swiss-owned.

Its strong associations with its homeland perhaps explain its presence in airports and the duty-free shopping bags of travellers.

Successive owners have built upon this and airport retail remains a major focus for the brand.

In 2000, Toblerone's packaging was redesigned, although the shape was retained. An eagle appeared on the first bars, which was replaced by a bear, the symbol of its home town, Bern. The current logo incorporates a bear shape hidden in an image of the Matterhorn.

Toblerone accounts for 40% of Swiss chocolate exports and 96% of the bars produced are for export. It is reportedly the third-best seller in duty-free stores after tobacco and alcohol.


BRAND LESSON

Silas Amons, creative strategist, JKRCREATIVE STRATEGIST, JKR

By Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKR

What defines an 'iconic' design? It's an overused expression, but, by my reckoning, Toblerone fits the bill. For me, an iconic design features a graphical or stylistic property that symbolises the brand's values and attributes, thereby creating charisma. One also has to apply best practice: the tenacity, over many years, to focus on the core iconography and keep investing it with meaning.

Toblerone has a distinctive shape and comes in an equally distinctively shaped pack - one that looks like a mountain, of which you find many in Switzerland.

So this is definitively 'Swiss' chocolate. In truth, mountains might not have inspired the original shape, but original intentions are irrelevant - myth and meanings attach themselves to iconic brands like iron filings to a magnet.

It sounds simple, but such apparent simplicity is a spark of genius. Over time, the iconography has allowed the pack to transcend its category. This is no longer another chocolate bar. Rather it's Toblerone and it resides in a category of one. For proof of its genius, consider that Albert Einstein (employed by the Swiss Federal Institute for Intellectual Property in Bern) supposedly signed off the design - some endorsement. Another myth? Perhaps. But when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

A top tip: if struggling to separate the last two segments of a big bar, use two fingers to push the mountain tips together. They will snap apart with ease. Some designs you just love, in all their dimensions. This is one of them.


TIMELINE

1868: Jean Tobler, the father of Theodor Tobler, opened a sweet shop in Bern, Switzerland.

1900: Theodor took over the company.

1908: Theodor and cousin Emil Bauman created the recipe for Toblerone. They chose a unique triangular shape for the bar.

1909: Theodor Tobler patented the process for making Toblerone and the brand.

1969: A dark version of Toblerone was launched, followed four years later by a white-chocolate version.

2007: A fruit and nut variety of Toblerone was launched.

2008: Toblerone celebrated its 100th anniversary.

2010: The chocolate bars became one triangle shorter to ensure the price stayed the same, despite the rising cost of ingredients.

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