In 1950, in a beautiful medieval city near Milan, Cioccolato Donini opened its doors as a crafter of chocolate novelties enjoyed during the holidays by Italian children.
Its founder Nello Donini began his foray into chocolate making early in life, as a 10-year-old in a chocolate factory in Milan. Nello continued to move around Italy working in other chocolate factories, the most notorious of which was the classic favourite Ferrerro. By 1950, the Donini Chocolate brand was realized and Nello began making his own line of hollow eggs that would be filled with surprises during Easter. A specialty of Donini’s, these treats (similar to a Kinder Surprise egg) were called “Sorpresino” and were far more popular at Easter than the chocolate bunnies we know and love in North America. Alongside the eggs, Donini crafted chocolate bunnies and Christmas ornaments like lanterns, snowmen and Santas to hang from a tree.
Three weeks of travel around Ontario gave the family a good idea of the potential opportunities for relocation to Canada. Working with the government, sites were outlined in Belleville, Trenton, Brockville and Kingston, and ultimately, the family felt most at home in the Friendly City. The family moved and the plant was completed in 1980, and the original Italian factory was sold and continued to operate under the same name for a number of years.
The 200-300K kilograms of chocolate produced each year in Italy grew to 15 times that amount with the move to Canada. Donini continued to source its cocoa from West Africa, where the mildest varieties are found. Instead of creating chocolate novelties, which didn’t resonate the same as they had in Europe, the Canadian market offered the opportunity for Donini to begin specializing in providing the different components of chocolate to be sold to non-producers. Liquid chocolate, blocks of chocolate and chocolate to be used by pastry chefs became the core offering, and now over 80% of the chocolate produced at Donini in Belleville is used to enrobe chocolate almonds by other producers.
As one of the smallest-batch cocoa processors in North America, its niche size means that Donini is able to work closely with other companies to create exactly what they need. In fact, if you’ve ever enjoyed Cocoa Canyon from Sobeys or Dolce Luna from Metro, you’re actually eating Donini’s chocolate under another brand name. Now under new ownership, what has always been a family company is still very family-oriented and invested in its growth and its people. Beyond supermarket brands, the company also has its own stores (including the outlet in Belleville), a shop in The Big Apple in Colborne, at Waupoos Winery and at several wineries in the Niagara region. Some of the company’s most memorable collaborations include the Quinte Childrens Foundation, the City of Belleville and Bay of Quinte Region. Donini even worked with the Lions Club of North America to produce a special easter bunny.
As a small operation, attention to detail and flexibility make Donini stand out – here’s to 65 more years of chocolate and smiles!