It’s not often one wakes up to the sound of church bells in the morning. Through the better part of last week and early this week, the bells of Our Lady of the Assumption cathedral in Bolzano, Italy provided my wake-up call just outside the Hotel Greif located on the city’s main square, Piazza Walther Platz.

Thanks to the efforts of the Italian Trade Commission (otherwise known as the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade [Ice]) and the Export Organization South Tyrol (EOS), I ― along with seven other food and wine writers/editors ― were asked to experience the first edition of the South Tyrol Gourmet Festival as well as learn about South Tyrol’s agricultural and culinary cultures.

Having had the great fortune of visiting the area twice in the past as part of the magazine’s coverage of A. Loacker AG-Spa, the famed premium wafer manufacturer, I was thrilled to no end to travel to this magical land of the Dolomites and King Laurin, the legendary dwarf king.

As coincidence has it, I had spoken to Ulrich Zuenelli, chairman of Loacker, during the most recent ISM show. During our discussion about trends, new products and the company’s ongoing growth, he had mentioned the various expansions that had occurred within the company since my last visit, which was when co-managing director Armin Loacker received the European Candy Kettle Club Award in October 2003. Now would be a good time for an update on Loacker, Zuenelli told me.

This past Monday I had a chance to see exactly what Zuenelli was talking about as he took me on a guided tour of the company’s Heinfels plant in Austria and the original headquarters facility in Auna Di Sotto, Italy.

With more than €80 million invested during the past four years, both plants have doubled their capacity with the installation of the latest state-of-the-art processing and packaging equipment.

In doing so, Loacker not only has increased its output and efficiency, it also has enabled expansion into the specialty cookie segment as well as chocolate pralines. What’s critical to underline here, however, is that throughout this commitment to diversification and expansion, the company has remained adamant about keeping all its products natural and wholesome.

Mind you, no one at Loacker will tell you that their products are anything but pleasurable delights. Nevertheless, every ingredient put into their products, from the Italian-sourced hazelnuts to the vanilla that’s actually personally ground by Armin who oversees research & development/operations, is 100% natural. There are no compromises.

As a third-generation, family-run organization, the company stresses a long-term approach to everything it does. As Ulrich notes, “Whatever new strategy we implement or market we approach, it’s a matter of crawl, walk and run.”

The decision to open up moccarias, essentially an Italian bar, pasticceria, coffee shop and retail outlet, reflected several years of testing and tweaking. With five in operation today, the moccarias represent a way for Loacker to get close to the consumer with its brand, be it pastries developed by Martin Loacker, Armin’s son; all 150 SKUs from Loacker’s product lines (; or organic wines from its subsidiary, Tenute Loacker (, run by Franz Joseph Loacker.

The new moccaria on Piazza Walther Platz proved to be an overnight success, underscoring the South Tyroleans’ love of fine sweets, good coffee, refreshing wines and la dolce vita. (By the way, Loacker offers its own special coffee, sourced, blended and roasted to its specifications).

In essence, the entire trip organized by the ICE and EOS stressed the emphasis that the region’s farmers, vintners, food and dairy processors and chefs have placed on preserving traditional and natural food techniques.

The tour (thank you again Vincenza Kelly and Hannes Tauber) offered the U.S. press contingent a wonderful example of why this region is a top tourist destination for Germans, Italians and others in the know (

Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Dolomites, energized by the Alpine air and invigorated by the passion and pride of the South Tyroleans, the region really reflects how man, nature and technology can be melded together harmoniously.

But then again, the area was able to integrate the best of Italian and Austrian cultures, so it shouldn’t be surprising.

So look for a complete profile on Loacker and more South Tyrolean tidbits in our July issue. In the interim, take some time to enjoy the sweet goodness this industry and all of the world’s cultures provide.