Renata Vichi, CEO of Grupo CRM

Portfolio Profile

Building a chocolate empire in Brazil: Renata Vichi, CEO of Grupo CRM

Andrew Thomas Short

May 21, 2024

Approaching a Kopenhagen store in Brazil, the sight of precisely arranged chocolates reveals the brand’s dedication to quality. Beyond the display, there is a narrative of craftsmanship and passion, understated elegance, the careful balance of flavors, and the subtle aroma that invites curiosity about the storied history behind these creations.

At the heart of this chocolate empire is Renata Vichi, CEO of Grupo CRM, the company that owns the Kopenhagen brand as well as Brasil Cacau. For 26 years, she has worked to transform these treats into symbols of indulgence and innovation across Brazil.

Her journey from the intricacies of operational roles to the pinnacle of chocolate industry leadership exemplifies a narrative of dedication, imbuing every chocolate piece with a story of triumph and visionary entrepreneurship. In an interview conducted in Portuguese, and translated into English, she tells the story of this ascent, and the crucial role Advent played in helping her business realize its ambitions.

Sweet beginnings

Vichi’s foray into the chocolate world began at 16 with a marketing role. Little did she know that she would one day oversee the company’s transformation into a diversified, multibillion-dollar juggernaut.
“I started my career in marketing, which is where my heart beats the strongest,” she says. “I say with great pride that I will always be a marketer at heart.”

After completing dual degrees in business administration and advertising while working, Vichi climbed the ranks of her the organization, taking on increasingly challenging roles and spearheading transformative initiatives. Her first major project – the structuring of Kopenhagen’s franchise model – would prove to be pivotal. It propelled the company’s exponential growth.

“Franchising made our growth possible,” she says. “When we started, there were 90 stores. Now, there are 1,200.”

Kopenhagen chocolate

Bringing fine chocolate to the mass market

Vichi’s ambition and vision were further demonstrated by the launch of Brasil Cacau, a brand she founded with the aim to democratize quality chocolate in Brazil. This venture not only diversified Grupo CRM’s portfolio but also solidified the company’s position as a dominant force in the domestic chocolate market.

“Founding the Brasil Cacau brand was a completely different experience, continuing a success story that demanded a lot of innovation,” Vichi says. “Kopenhagen has tradition without being traditional. We are a 96-year-old startup. Brasil Cacau was part of that innovation.”

Vichi’s commitment to innovation and a pioneering spirit has been a hallmark of her tenure. Under her leadership, Grupo CRM has pushed boundaries, introducing brands such as Kop Koffee, for those who like to drink coffee with their chocolate, and bringing the renowned Lindt brand to Brazil by establishing 55 stores in the country’s premier shopping centers.

“Bringing Lindt to Brazil was a highlight,” she says.

Vichi’s ability to navigate the complexities of the retail and franchise sectors, coupled with her visionary approach, has been instrumental in Grupo CRM’s rise. And the company has no plans to slow down. “We went from opening 25 stores a year to more than 200,” she says. “We have a robust expansion plan.”

A transformative alliance with Advent

Vichi’s journey gained pace when Grupo CRM forged a partnership with Advent International, which invested in the company in a deal announced in 2020. This alliance, which Vichi describes as “mutually beneficial and complementary,” would prove to be transformative. The relationship was instrumental in doubling the company’s size, a feat achieved through shared knowledge and strategic governance, but without compromising the company’s culture and operating model.

“The main success point of our partnership was that it was symbiotic,” says Vichi. “Advent gave me autonomy over these three years to manage the culture of the organization, without altering the operating model of a business, which is specific to retail and franchise with a strong B2C component. They also provided substantial support in governance. All this was crucial.”

Under Advent’s guidance, Vichi and her team strengthened Grupo CRM’s core areas, such as digital and franchise expansion, while attracting top-tier talent to bolster the company’s leadership.

“Hiring extraordinary talent has strengthened the company,” she says. “The partnership also helped us broaden networking with all contact points. Advent made us aware of case studies from both the national and international markets, and placed executives within the group to support the company, thereby fostering robust governance, and forming a board of directors with advisory committees.”

The partnership with Advent laid the foundation for the company’s next chapter. In 2023, Nestlé, the global food and beverage giant, agreed to acquire a majority stake in the business, cementing Grupo CRM’s position as a powerhouse in the Brazilian chocolate industry.

Now that the deal has closed, Vichi admits to a nostalgia for her relationship with Advent. “I confess I miss it because those were truly incredible years of exchange, respect, and admiration.”

Renata Vichi with Advent team on Nestle acquisition

The Kopenhagen legacy and beyond

As Grupo CRM embarks on its new chapter with Nestlé, Vichi’s vision for the company’s future remains as ambitious as ever. “We have plans to more than double the size of the company, with 2,000 stores to be opened nationwide,” she says.

Her aspirations extend far beyond physical expansion. She is equally committed to strengthening Grupo CRM’s digital presence, with a goal of increasing the contribution of online sales to 30% of the company’s revenue.

“There are also plans for Kopenhagen cafeterias. Nestlé bring much more knowledge and experience with Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, and Nescafé,” she says.

Vichi’s vision for the future is underpinned by a deep understanding of the rapidly evolving consumer landscape. She recognizes the growing importance of emotional connections and brand storytelling in the industry, and Kopenhagen, with its rich history, is poised to capitalize on this trend.

“Kopenhagen is not just acting to offer quality chocolate, the best in Brazil, but is on a journey of brand presence with a significant aspirational value,” she says. “We believe we will become increasingly relevant in consumers’ lives through the history that Kopenhagen has and continues to build in the emotional relationships that are created.”

Innovative leadership and corporate philosophy

As Vichi looks ahead, she remains steadfast in her belief that people are the key to Grupo CRM’s continued success. Her advice to fellow CEOs emphasizes the importance of cultivating a people-centric approach, fostering innovation, and maintaining a long-term vision.

“I am a CEO that is focused on people. I believe, without a doubt, that despite the advance of technology and artificial intelligence, impact comes through people, who are irreplaceable,” Vichi says. “A CEO should stimulate innovation within the company, encourage new ideas, but also safeguard corporate culture, and ensure alignment with the company’s objectives.”

Renata Vichi’s journey from a 16-year-old marketing intern to the trailblazing CEO of one of Brazil’s most beloved chocolate empires is a testament to her unwavering determination, visionary mindset, and commitment to people. As Grupo CRM embarks on its next chapter, her leadership will undoubtedly continue to shape the future of Brazil’s chocolate industry.

Andrew Thomas Short is a finance journalist and investment writer based in São Paulo.

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