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Zaini: a female chocolate factory in the heart of Milan

One of Italy’s first female entrepreneurs, Olga Zaini took over the helm of the company founded by her husband in the 1930s, making it prosper and grow.

reading time5 minutes

There are brands with all-female family and entrepreneurial stories. This is the case of the historic Made in Italy excellence Zaini spa, famous for its Boeri and dark chocolate. Given the large number of women employed, it was affectionately known in the past as ‘la fabbrica dei tusan‘ (in Milanese dialect, the women’s factory).

Milan chocolate since 1913

The story of this company began with a man, Luigi Zaini, who, in 1913, founded the eponymous ‘Factory of chocolate, candies, jams and the like’ in Via de Cristoforis, in the centre of Milan, which immediately distinguished itself for its refined wrappings, vast assortment and evocative names. In particular, the company’s success was due to ‘Block’, a block of dark cooking chocolate that can melt without the need for milk.

In the 1920s, Luigi Zaini, a widower with two young children, married Olga Torri, a cultured and visionary young woman, in his second marriage. During this period he moved the factory, which already employed almost only women, to Dergano, a then suburban district on the outskirts of Milan.

Olga Zaini, one of the first Made in Italy female entrepreneurs

However, in 1938, Olga Zaini suddenly became a widow, with four small children to raise and without ever having worked before. Determined to continue her husband Luigi’s dream, Olga rolled up her sleeves and, thanks to the advice of her female staff and the invaluable help of her nanny Emilia, took over the company, making it prosper and grow.

The factory was inevitably damaged during World War II, but it was quickly rebuilt at the end of the conflict, and production resumed.

From ‘Block’ to ‘Emilia’, in the name of gratitude

Block, the product that has driven the company’s success from the start, changes its name to ‘Emilia’. This is an acknowledgement of the precious work of the Zaini housekeeper, who played a decisive role not only in raising Olga’s children, as Olga was very involved in her work as an entrepreneur, but also in preparing chocolate cake recipes, which were then ‘tested’ by Olga’s son Piero, a true little connoisseur.

The boom years and the Boero’s success

Olga Zaini left the helm of the company in 1955 to her son Piero and his brother Vittorio. The economic boom years saw the definitive success of another iconic company product, the Boero, in classic red paper packaging. It was distributed in many Italian bars and promoted with a prize competition with immediate winnings.

100 years of success and an unending commitment

Today, Zaini Spa is headed by Luigi and Antonella Zaini (Olga and Luigi’s grandchildren). It has hundreds of employees, a turnover of tens of millions of Euros, and products sold in 80 countries.

In 2013, the company turned 100 years old, and to celebrate, the book ‘Luigi Zaini and the Chocolate Factory’ was produced by the publisher Giunti. An exhibition at Palazzo Romanti under the patronage of the City of Milan was also held.

Zaini has never stopped supporting women and women’s work. In fact, since 2015, with its ‘Le Nuove Donne del Cacao’ line of bars, the company has been supporting a women’s entrepreneurship project for cocoa-growing women in the Ivory Coast.

Congratulations to those who bring the chocolate of Milan and Italian values to the world!

Read more stories about cocoa becoming the protagonist of Made in Italy.