Strong ambitions: de Selliers says Leonidas is focused on becoming a global brand

With a career that includes a decade at Coca Cola plus a stint at Mars Inc, Philippe de Selliers’ extensive experience across the multinational FMCG space is one not to be ignored. Six months ago, he turned his expertise to a smaller, family-owned business when he was appointed CEO at Belgian confectionery brand Leonidas.

The company was founded in 1913 by Leonidas Kestekides, a Greek man who eventually set up his business in Ghent, Belgium after successfully presenting his pastry and confectionery creations at the Brussels World’s Exhibition in 1910. Today, fourth generation family members Dimitrios Kestekoglou, Maria Kestekides and Vassiliki Kestekides run the business.

The Moodie Davitt Report caught up with de Selliers at the recent TFWA World Exhibition & Conference in Cannes, where he outlined his objectives and vision “to grow like hell”.

“I decided to work at Leonidas for three reasons,” explains de Selliers. “Firstly, Leonidas is a beautiful brand which is well known in certain countries but not all over the world, making it a fantastic opportunity. Secondly, Leonidas produces high quality chocolate with an affordable price which is a unique positioning. Thirdly, I joined because I wanted to work for a high-potential company at least once in my career, and Leonidas has huge potential.”

So how does de Selliers plan to capitalise on this potential? “I wanted to re-write the company’s mission, vision and values. It’s critical for me to ensure everyone is on the same page with clear objectives and clear goals. Our mission is to create moments of happiness for all, and we want to grow like hell.

Four generations: Leonidas is now run by Dimitrios Kestekoglou, Maria Kestekides and Vassiliki Kestekides

“In Benefralux we are really developed. We are in 40 other countries but not always well represented so we are focused on becoming a global brand. In the longer term, we want to double the profits and volume within the coming years.”

“Our mission is to create moments of happiness for all, and we want to grow like hell”

Key to that plan will be travel retail, which will play a critical role, says de Selliers. “At the moment the channel [travel retail] accounts for a small fraction of our total business and that is not enough. But we registered +30% growth in the last year so that’s going in the right direction.”

de Selliers has earmarked five key priority regions for development: travel retail, China, USA, UK and Germany. “Travel retail is definitely one of my pillars for growth but for different reasons. First of all, the channel offers huge potential; everybody in the world loves to eat chocolate and there is a clear trend to upgrade consumption, so that means big business for us. Secondly, because we want to become a global brand and travel retail is the right way to achieve that.

Leonidas’ travel retail-exclusive products include the new Asterix Collection, whose launch coincides with the 37th Adventure of Asterix

Steaming ahead in travel retail: the brand recently partnered with Lagardère Travel Retail to open a 40sq m Leonidas store at Cologne Central Station

“Thirdly, we want to create moments of happiness for all. Normally when people travel they are looking for things to make them happy, and to bring some joy back home to their loved ones, so that’s the reason why I think we can provide people with a little bit more enjoyment when they travel.”

This ‘happiness’ can only be achieved if sufficient shelf space is given to confectionery brands in travel retail, which, according to de Selliers, is not at the level it should be. “In general, the [confectionery] category needs more space and more impulse space because we really have to go out of the shelf sometimes to attract consumers to buy. We have an outstanding product offer that allows us to bring strong activations onto the shop floors.”

de Selliers (pictured here at TFWA World Exhibition) brings a wealth of experience to his role at Leonidas

“Confectionery is an impulse driven category and the conversion rate is amongst the highest within the industry”, notes de Selliers. “Retailers need to use the category much more to attract people to come into their stores to encourage cross-category sales.”

“We have an outstanding product offer that allows us to bring strong activations onto the shop floors”

As de Selliers puts it, Leonidas is a company that has a unique positioning with its high quality chocolate at affordable pricing. Backed with de Selliers’ expertise and mission to rewrite the company’s vision and values, Leonidas stands in good stead for a future of growth in travel retail.