Society

Nestle And The Chocolate Factory

In the French city of Noisiel, the old Menier chocolate factory is a grand architectural landmark of the industrial age. It's now the luxurious headquarters of Nestle France.

The Menier chocolatefactory in Noisiel
The Menier chocolatefactory in Noisiel
Paul de Coustin
NOISIEL — A large window with exposed metal beams connects two noble, historic buildings of red and white bricks, symbolizing the transformation of a 19th-century industrial complex into a contemporary office campus. This extraordinary mix of old and new can be seen in Noisiel, a city just 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside Paris, where the dozen buildings of the former Menier chocolate factory sprawl over 14 hectares (34 acres) and are now the French headquarters for Swiss-based Nestlé.
The history of the Menier chocolate factory is intertwined with that of a family business that grew over three generations. At the beginning of the 19th century, a pharmacologist named Jean-Antoine Brutus Menier was using cocoa in the Marais neighborhood of Paris as a healing product. But Menier was convinced that the product could be used for commercial purposes too. So in 1825, he purchased a small water mill on the Marne river in Noisiel, and used it to crush his beans and make chocolate.
The idea proved successful, which led Menier to extend the mill, increase production and devote himself exclusively to chocolate production. In 1842, he left his booming business to his son Emile-Justin. Thanks to 8,000 hectares (19,700 acres) of Nicaraguan cocoa plantations and factories in both London and New York, the company's production rose from 4,000 tons in 1853 to 25,000 in 1867. During the same period, architect Jules Saunier was charged with rebuilding the mill. It was completed in 1872 and is a quintessential model of industrial architecture. In 1992, it was listed as an historical monument.
It also symbolizes the brand’s influence. The exposed metal structure is unique and the colored flower-shaped patterns on the bricks, luxurious. More building were added to the campus in 1900, when the company controlled more than 50% of the chocolate market. The newer buildings, called “la cathédrale”, were construced with reinforced concrete. The patios were joined together by a bridge called on which small carts carrying the chocolate could roll. Today, more than 30 years after the factory ceased production, the rails remain as a symbol of the once-vibrant industrial activity here.
History revived
Offices have now replaced the machines. After World War II, the Menier company had trouble competing with American chocolate companies, so it was eventually bought by Rowntree-Mackintosh in 1971, and then by Nestlé in 1988. The Swiss settled its French operations in Noisiel but moved production to Dijon, in eastern France.
Initially, then-CEO of Nestlé France, Yves Barbieux, hoped to sell it. But after studying the project for three months, architect Jacques Lissarrague shared his plans for the new campus and convinced Nestlé to turn it into offices.
Barbieux decided to consolidate all seven of the company's French subsidiaries into one office in Noisiel. It took three years and 100 million euros to complete 60,000 meters (196,850 square feet), one-third of it new construction. In 1995, Barbieux considered the project a solid investment, saying that in any other city closer to Paris, it “would have cost twice as much.”
The lobby was remodeled with big glass walls built between two old buildings. From there to the new atrium, the materials are all glass and brick. The mill has been preserved and remains the centerpiece, glowing on the river Marne. The only area left untouched is the below-ground engine room, as all the floors above have been turned into meeting spaces. The “cathedral” is now a training center for new employees. Today, 1,700 people work on the campus, and more than 15,000 visit each year during the “Journées du patrimoine,” a French heritage day when people can freely sojourn to historical monuments.
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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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