Has Godiva Chocolate Converted to Islam Under Erdogan's Influence?

The legendary Belgian confectioner, now owned by a Turkish company, is no longer making chocolates containing alcohol

Strawberries coated with chocolate at a Godiva in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, central Brussels, July 17, 2017.
Strawberries coated with chocolate at a Godiva in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, central Brussels, July 17, 2017. FRANCOIS LENOIR/REUTERS

Godiva, the luxury chocolate company founded in Belgium more than 90 years ago, is one of world’s best-known chocolate brands. Less well known is that it’s now fully owned by a Turkish company that has raised eyebrows by ending the Belgian legend's production of chocolates containing alcohol.

Godiva, founded in Brussels in 1926 by Pierre Draps, was named after Lady Godiva, the Englishwoman who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry to pressure her husband, the earl of Mercia, to lower the onerous taxes he had imposed.

After more than three decades in which Godiva chocolates were only available in Belgium, the company opened its first store abroad in Paris in 1958. The following decade it crossed the Atlantic to New York.

That move eventually led to its acquisition by an American firm, the Campbell Soup Company. Within 15 years, Campbell had increased Godiva’s annual sales to about $500 million, but in March 2008, Campbell offloaded the company as well.

The buyer, who paid $850 million, was the Turkish holding company Yildiz, which also owns the Turkish food conglomerate Ulker. Yildiz has expanded Godiva even further, and today the company has some 600 stores in about 100 countries.

A Godiva Chocolatier Inc. store on Stapany Square in Brussels.
Shlomo Papirblat

But last year’s attempted coup in Turkey caused problems for Yildiz. According to the Belgian financial newspaper L’Echo, Yildiz’s owner, billionaire Murat Ulker, has suffered from rumors claiming he had a connection to the conspirators. Ulker denied the rumors, which were published in papers that support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Still, the company’s share price fell on the Istanbul stock exchange.

Recently, journalists from the Belgian media group Sudpresse discovered that in April, Godiva’s Turkish managers secretly decided to liquidate all production lines for chocolates containing alcohol. This mainly affects Godiva’s pralines, which contain various flavors of liqueur.

“Is this a step intended to find favor in the eyes of the Muslim public?” the Belgian paper La Libre asked on Sunday. Medias-Presse.Info, a far-right website, added: “Has Godiva decided to adapt itself to Koranic principles?”

A spokesman for Godiva, responding to questions from Sudpresse, insisted that the decision had nothing to do with religion but was merely a marketing strategy aiming “to offer everyone the same range of products. The pralines with alcohol are meant only for adults. Our intention now is to offer all our products universally.”

Regardless of the reason, there's no doubt the anti-alcohol decision has improved Godiva’s stock – if not on the Istanbul stock exchange then in the presidential palace in Ankara, from which Erdogan has been steering Turkey in the direction of Islam.