Waterbridge chocolate and confections owe their quality and success to the vision of Brian Hicks. Brian doesn't really spend much time in the spotlight, but his passion for the product and his conviction for the Waterbridge philosophy is undeniable.
To introduce our readers to Brian, we had our writer sit down with him.
A Brief Introduction
When I arrive, Brian personally welcomes me with a firm handshake. His demeanor is friendly and welcoming, and his accent is quintessentially Welsh. When he speaks, you can hear that undeniable spark of someone who genuinely enjoys his work, and is more than happy to talk about it.
Humble Origins of a Confections Master
In spite of how posh his accent might sound to the untrained Canadian ear, Brian comes from a poor working-class family. He was one of the first from his home village to attend university, and had originally planned to turn his experience as an amateur rugby player into a career as a phys-ed teacher.
"I had one fundamental problem," he says with a smile: "I just didn't like it."
When he left education to reconsider his career, he actually happened upon the confectionary industry by accident. "I took the first job that anyone would give me," Brian says,"and I ended up accepting a job for a confectionary company."
"I joined them as a mobile sales representative," he adds,"which was the amoeba of the sales world."
In spite of the humble starting point, Brian quickly found that not only did he enjoy working in confections, but he also had quite a knack for it. Using this newly-discovered passion, he rose up the ranks in his company, and had earned the title of General Manager of International Sales and Marketing only seven years after starting.
As Brian phrased it, "That was the start of the 'International Adventure', if you will."
In his new position, he found himself travelling all over the world for 25 weeks out of the year, exploring markets and meeting confectioners.
He became somewhat obsessed with answering the question, "Where are the exquisite confections and taste experiences of the world?" And so he sought out to sample not only the candies, chocolates, and confections of each country, but all the various exotic treats and tastes unique to their country.
In time, Brian's mindset shifted from discovering the exquisite tastes that the world had to offer, towards sharing his discoveries. He remembered his humble upbringing in his village, where chocolate was an extremely rare treat, and dreamed of being able to provide these wonderful tastes he had discovered to families like his own.
"I know where all these things are," he remembers saying to himself. "Wouldn't it be great to bring them to the public?"
When presented with the opportunity to buy into a Canadian confection distribution company, Brian saw it as a serendipitous chance to fulfill his dream.
And so, Brian set forth to pursue his dream in Canada.
Wheels Down in Pearson
Brian landed in January of 1995. In the middle of a cold snap. According to records, that day hit -14°C.
"The wind whistled through what scant clothes I was wearing when I arrived in Toronto," he remembers, "and all I can think of was 'Oh my God, what have you done?"
Once he started his work, however, Brian found himself quickly warming to our country. He admits that the original plan wasn't to stay here, but to start the company and move back to Europe, but Brian found himself quickly falling in love with his new home.
He describes Canada as "a very comfortable, affluent, and laid-back place. I'd always felt welcomed here, and I always had a great time every time I came over here."
"It's a difficult place to leave," he adds with a smile.
The Rocky Start of His Most Popular Product
In 1997, two years after he moved to Canada, Brian's new company, Waterbridge, released its first chocolate bar.
The chocolate was of decent quality, and the sales were okay, but Brian quickly found himself dissatisfied. After all, he hadn't uprooted his family and moved to Canada to produce a product that wasn't "serious quality." Shortly thereafter, he acquired full control of the company, officially re-structuring it to meet his vision.
With full control, he was finally free to bring the best that the world had to offer, at a price point that was accessible to everyone.
The Waterbridge Wheel: Brian's Key to Success
Brian looks at the success of Waterbridge as a four-spoke wagon wheel: It's only sturdy because of his commitment to his four elements:
It's important to Brian that he set the customer's expectations, letting them know that, even though Waterbridge chocolate and confections aren’t the most expensive brand, customers should still expect delicious, authentic, high-quality treats. "The consumer eats first with his eyes," Brian says, quoting a famous chef. "We always wanted Waterbridge to be the best-dressed player in the chocolate set."
Given the household in which Brian grew up, the importance of value is far from surprising. "Don't challenge the consumer's pocket," Brian says. "You don't have to be the cheapest product in the world, but you have to represent real serious value for the consumer."
The taste of the product is absolutely necessary to back up the value and packaging. "At the end of the day, if you can't deliver a great consumer experience, then the first two steps are just a waste of time. What we've always aspired to do with Waterbridge is to deliver a great tasting product."
Above all, we want to make everyone who purchases our bars happy. We do whatever we can to keep costs down, quality up, and packaging enticing and honest."Being able to share great treats that everyone can enjoy at a reasonable cost has been a driving force at Waterbridge."
A Question of Quality
The Waterbridge dedication to quality in chocolate and confections does raise a question:
Why no luxury line?
After all, Waterbridge is all about quality. Wouldn't 'luxury' follow naturally? Couldn't they take some of their high-quality suppliers and release a designer line of 'premium products'?
"Ultimately, what defines premium items is cost," Brian says. "A lot of it is about the image—the way you tie the bow, the energy you put in to sell the product... Often I think the consumer is over-promised with the image, and actually tastes the product like, 'Hmm, that's okay.'"
"Premium is about the image", Brian continues. "We want to focus on quality... we want to provide pure and actual indulgence at a ludicrously reasonable price."
We'd like to thank Brian for taking the time to conduct this interview. We hope that this has given you a new level of insight about the philosophy that drives Waterbridge to deliver quality chocolates and confections at such a reasonable price point. If so, we invite you to share this article with your friends on Twitter or Facebook, or follow us for fun confection-themed facts, recipes, and entertainment.