Chiostro di Saronno and Lefèvre Utile (LU, for short) are exemplary names in the European confectionery world. Both of them have centuries-long histories and traditions and are well-beloved for their iconic cookies.
In the article below, we'll be breaking down how the Italian cookie titan compares to the French one and which one may be a better start for a newbie customer with little knowledge of European cookies.
What is Chiostro di Saronno?
Chiostro di Saronno is an Italian baked goods company. It's one of the two brands under Italian food and drinks giant Lazzaroni & Figli. Lazzaroni & Figli production line is divided into three distinct parts: Amaretto liqueur, cookies, and traditional festive cakes (Panettone and Colomba). The other brand Lazzaroni, concentrates on the Amaretto liqueur, keeping the alcohol separate from the Chiostro di Saronno brand, which is in charge of the bakery.
The story of Paolo Lazzaroni & Figli S.P.A. as it is known today (and with it, Chiostro di Saronno) started in 1927. That said, it can be argued that the company's history goes back much further. See, Lazzaroni & Figli was merely a consolidation of the family's long-standing food production efforts.
The one who started it all was Carlo Lazzaroni. Born in 1774, Carlo began with Amaretto liqueur production at the beginning of the 19th century. The family focused on that for the next fifty or so years. But in 1869, one of his sons, Paolo, expanded his efforts into confectionery production, establishing the first of the two Lazzaroni companies in Saronno. Then, in 1888, the children of his brother (Carlo's other son) Davide established a second company (D. Lazzaroni & C). So, by the time the pivotal year of 1927 rolled around, the Lazzaroni family already owed two food and drink companies, each with more than half a century's worth of history on the market. They simply decided that combining the two and trimming down the production line would be best for the future.
The newly established Lazzaroni & Figli focused solely on two products: grandpa Carlo's original Amaretto Lazzaroni 1851 (did you know that the famous almond liqueur was born in Saronno? Now you do) and traditional Italian cookies.
The company headquarters is based in, fittingly, Saronno, a comune of Lombardy, in the province of Varese. “Chiostro di Saronno” means "Cloister of Saronno" in Italian. It's an old Franciscan cloister in the center of Saronno, where the company's seat is currently located.
Over the next fifty years, the company steadily expanded, attracting the attention of both cookie connoisseurs and potential investors.
In 1984, the biscuit-producing branch of the company was sold to an American company Campbell, though subsequently, the management of what was left of Lazzaroni & Figli decided to simply resume the.
In the early 90s, Paolo Lazzaroni (the namesake of his liqueur-making grandfather who started the entire Lazzaroni food-making business) built an industrial plant in Saronno and, with the expanded manufacturing capabilities, developed the production and product line-up, as well.
Nowadays, Chiostro di Saronno is one of the most recognizable Italian confectionery brands, though they're primarily known for their festive cakes instead of cookies. While Chiostro di Saronno is most invested in traditional Amaretti cookies, it must be mentioned that a large portion of their cookie assortment consists of regional specialties that not many people have heard of outside Italy.
What are LU Cookies?
Lefèvre Utile, better known as simply LU, is France's most prominent industrial manufacturer of "sweet biscuits." LU cookies have been around for more than 175+ years.
The story begins in 1846, when Jean-Romain Lefèvre, a pâtissier from Varennes-en-Argonne, arrived in Nantes and started working at the local bakery. In 1850, he married Pauline-Isabelle Utile and, together with her, bought out the bakery he was working at.
Offtop: interestingly, though it took him four years to fully own the bakery he worked at, LU considers the date of its foundation to be 1846, not 1850. We'll follow their lead on this one.
Initially, the cookies were baked on the spot and sold directly in the patisserie's courtyard. The success was modest and steadily growing. The couple was perhaps not the top bakers in Nantes, but their cookies generated enough positive buzz and demand that they opened another bakery in 1954.
The story of LU cookies took a rather drastic turn in 1882 when Lefèvre Utile received the gold medal at the Nantes Industrial Exhibition. The award increased brand recognition, and the demand for LU cookies started outpacing existing capacity. Unfortunately, the most significant transformation in the company would take place without its founder: a year later Jean-Romain's health began to decline, and he left the leadership position, bequeathing it to his son, Louis Lefèvre-Utile.
What was undoubtedly a personal tragedy for the family turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the company. Louis Lefèvre-Utile is rightfully accredited with the biggest success LU has ever seen for several reasons.
Firstly, he started to expand the cookie catalog. At that point, one could argue it was a risky move. Customers were coming to LU for the biscuits that had become staples and won awards. But Louis was interested in revamping the way the LU cookies were produced and sold, and he was ready to take the appropriate risks. For all instances and purposes, his gamble paid off: in 1886, he unveiled what would then become the flagship trademark product of the company: LU Petit Beurre, a thin, dry shortbread inspired by British biscuits.
Secondly, he modernized the production process, turning to industrialized means to rapidly increase the capacity. Louis opened a factory and switched from an oven-to-table approach to bulk packaging.
Thirdly, once he was sure that there was enough demand for their bulk-sold cookies, he started reorganizing the entire management system. In 1887, Louis joined forces with his brother-in-law, Ernest Lefièvre, and finally officially founded Lefèvre-Utile Biscuit Co. With Ernest at the helm of day-to-day management, Louis became free to devote himself entirely to the production process. He expanded the factory, building workshops, offices, laboratories, storage spaces, stables, and even a power station. A clearly successful investment because by 1900 LU was producing around 200 types of cookies.
Last but not least, he switched up the marketing approach. While his father preferred minimal white paper packages with black print and simple illustrations, Luis switched to lavishly decorated cardboard and tin boxes. He enlisted the services of several acclaimed painters to develop illustrations for the cookie boxes and ads, including Firmin Bouisset, who created LU's iconic Little Schoolboy, Hippolyte Berteaux, who painted La Brettone for them, and, perhaps, most notably, Czech illustrator Alphonse Mucha, who was, at that point, most famous for painting posters for plays actress Sarah Bernhardt started in (that's going to be an interesting connection in the future). LU cookies were now recognized not only for their quality and taste but also for their distinct visual identity.
In the 1900s, LU was primarily focused on expanding its line-up and introducing different sub-brands under its label, including the now-famous Prince, Pim's, Pepito, Mikado, and Belvita, all of which can be found on the list of most oft-consumed sweet biscuits in France.
Nowadays, LU operates under the ownership of the US food conglomerate Mondelez International but maintains its distinct French identity. The current line-up though constantly expanding, is still dominated by the classics like LU Petit Ecolier, LU Petit Beurre, and LU Prince.
Which Brand Has More Options?
LU Cookies undoubtedly win this category, though Chiostro di Saronno's line-up is nothing to sneeze at.
The win is largely premeditated by the vastly different approaches the two companies have chosen. LU spent almost the entire mid-to-late 20th century developing various sub-brands and then additional cookies under each sub-brand. Their catalog carries more than a hundred cookies across all the sub-brands. The assortment includes around over half a dozen variations on the famous Veritable Petit Beurre (including Petit LU, Petit Ecolier, Beurrés Nantais, and Petit LU Moelleux), French takes on internationally renowned cookies like Japanese Pocky (LU's Mikado) or British Jaffa Cakes (LU's Pim's), and LU's own original inventions like Barquettes (boat-shaped thumbprint cookies), Belvita's five-grain breakfast cookies, La Paille d'Or, uniquely shaped wafer tube cookies.
In contrast, Chiostro di Saronno primarily concentrates on traditional Italian cookies. Their selection is quite vast because they offer no less than half a dozen different types of just Amaretti cookies, plus half a dozen more regional specialties that aren't widely known outside Italy. The amaretti collection includes both the classic Saronno-style crunchy and soft cookies and a unique take with various flavored Amaretti varieties.
Other notable entries include traditional Italian cookies like crunchy almond Cantuccini Biscotti (including Cantuccini Toscani IGP, a protected product), Canestrelli (Ligurian flower-shaped butter cookies), Baci di Dama (Piedmontese sandwich cookies), Brutti e Buoni (Gaviratese butter cookies with nuts), and Savoiardi.
Which Brand Offers More Unique Flavors?
Chiostro di Saronno undoubtedly wins this one, though not by a wide margin. The crux of the matter is that the direction the brand has chosen for itself doesn't lend itself particularly well to experimentation with flavors.
The Chiostro di Saronno bakery line focuses on traditional Italian cookies, including the lesser-known regional varieties. On the one hand, that approach allows them to take up a rather important niche in the market, becoming the dependable go-to option for those who are looking for authentic Italian baked goods. On the other hand, it somewhat curtails their ability to alter the recipes in unconventional ways, as their customers might find unorthodox changes to the classics disappointing or offensive.
What allows Chiostro di Saronno to win this category is their flavored Amaretti line, the singular line they've allowed themselves to take a bold, experimental approach (even though flavoring Amaretti cookies isn't prevalent). The assortment includes options like Lemon, Tangerine, Mixed Berry, Chocolate, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Rhum-Coffee, and Lemon-Pistachio flavors. Flavored Amaretti are comparatively rare as is, and the Mixed Berry, Rhum-Coffee, and Lemon-Pistachio flavors are definitely Chiostro di Saronno exclusives.
LU cookies, on the other hand, while offering plenty of different types of cookies, are limited when it comes to flavors. A rather large portion of LU cookies is some variety of the safe, traditional biscuit-and-chocolate combination (including Petit Ecolier, Prince sandwich cookies, heart-shaped Petit Coeurs, and even Barquettes).
For fairness' sake, LU has a relatively broad assortment of fruit-flavored cookies, including boat-shaped Barquettes, jam-filled Cracottes, and La Paille d'Or, but the variety among these cookies is limited. Fruity LU cookies are generally either raspberry, strawberry, or apricot-flavored, with a few exceptions.
Which Brand is Better Overall?
As usual, it's hard to say that one brand is 100% better than the other, considering there are many caveats to evaluating the product they produce. It becomes even more complicated when the comparison is supposed to be drawn between two brands with assortments as vastly different as Chiostro di Saronno and LU. But let's break each down into several categories to see which may suit your needs best:
- The Packaging
Chiostro di Saronno seems to have a slight edge when it comes to the average assortment. Both companies essentially default to simple packaging with cardboard boxes or plastic wraps. While the plastic wraps typically fall into the same category: relatively simple with no excessive decorations, the Chiostro di Saronno ones have a slighter edge when it comes to cardboard boxes. LU cookies pretty much duplicate their plastic wrap package style onto the boxes: white background, colorful borders, the name of the cookie, and a bright, colorful image depicting the product. In contrast, Chiostro di Saronno cardboard boxes look a bit more decorative, with loud shades (green, blue, yellow, and red) and ornate, vintage imagery.
Additionally, Chiostro di Saronno offers consumers a respectable assortment of luxury gift tins, even more lavishly and distinctly decorated; LU cookies offer no such option.
- The History
An argument can be made about which of these companies has had a longer history in food production. Technically, Chiostro di Saronno is overall older than LU if we start the count with Carlo Lazzaroni's Amaretto liqueur. On the other hand, LU has had a more prolonged presence in the baked goods world, starting its confectionery tradition in 1846 vs. the Lazzaroni's 1869.
In the end, If long traditions are important to you, both these companies stand on solid ground, but LU has a slight edge over Chiostro di Saronno.
- The Flavors
When it comes to classic flavor combinations, we'd say LU has a slight edge only because it offers more cookie varieties. You're more likely to find a classic biscuit-and-chocolate (or biscuit-and-berries) combination packaged in a form tailored to your tastes when exploring LU's assortment.
But if you're looking for a broader or more unique choice of flavors, Chiostro di Saronno definitely offers more. Its flavor assortment has you covered on both fronts with comparatively classic options like lemon, tangerine, or pistachio and more unique, two-flavored combos, like Lemon-Pistachio or Rhum-Coffee,
- The Decorative Aspect
Chiostro di Saronno wins this one hand down. To be fair, it's not even a competition. Unlike Chiostro di Saronno, LU has no luxury gift tin line (rather ironic, considering how large a role iconic illustrations played in popularizing the cookies at the beginning of the 20th century).
- The Price
Keep in mind that the products these two companies offer are vastly different. So take all comparisons we're about to draw with a caveat.
Overall, we'd say Chiostro di Saronno cookies are slightly more expensive than LU cookies, aside from their most basic products. Though, to be fair, often it's due to the former's more elaborate packaging.
If we compare their most basic products, say a 7.1 oz (200g) plastic wrap package of Petit Beurre vs. plastic wrap-packaged classic apricot kernel Amaretti cookies of the same size, then LU costs a bit more: around $3.45 vs. $2.99. But almond Amaretti cookies in the same packaging can cost up to $5.
A cardboard box package of LU cookies in comparable size can cost between $4-6 depending on the type, while a cardboard box package of Chiostro di Saronno cookies can cost $6-10 depending on the type.
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Image sources: all official product images taken from the Chiostro di Saronno and LU Biscuits official websites and FB pages.