Chocolate should, in theory, be a quintessential African product: almost two thirds of the world’s cocoa beans are grown on our continent. So why is it that we don’t have a reputation for making chocolate? ‘Africa is known for cocoa beans, but not for chocolate,’ says Kees Beyers, owner and founder of Beyers Chocolate. He believes it would take a shift in culture for that to change. ‘In South Africa, the average person eats one and a half kilograms of chocolate a year. That might sound like a fair bit, but compared to Europe, where people consume about 10kg per person, it’s not much at all.’ Despite that, business is good. ‘As a business we grow 10-15% year on year, which is well above inflation,’ he says. ‘And 95% of what we produce is sold in SA.’ Kees, who was born in Belgium, grew up with chocolate. ‘A friend’s parents had a pastry shop and I spent a good bit of time there,’ he laughs. He went to confectionary school in Antwerp at the age of 12, qualified as a pastry chef at 17 and then spent a year specialising in cakes, chocolates and ice cream.
During a visit to SA, Kees got a job offer and ended up making it his permanent home. He also noticed an obvious gap in the market for quality locally produced chocolates. At just 21, while working as a pastry chef during the day, he started making chocolates at night. Almost 30 years on, Beyers Chocolates is the largest independent manufacturer of boxed chocolate in SA, producing 35 tonnes of chocolate every week. ‘Our manufacturing facility covers 13 000 square metres, and we employ 550 people in season,’ says Kees. ‘We have been supplying Woolworths for 27 years – we make most of their house-brand products – and five years ago we launched our own brand. Beyers Chocolates is the fastest growing part of our business now.’ His favourite part of the job is coming up with new concepts and developing new flavours. Beyers produces a uniquely South African Amarula range, the first cream liqueur chocolates to be made in Africa. But their fans are still very loyal to another iconic local treat. ‘Our single bestselling item is the Sweetie Pie,’ says Kees. Most recently, they launched their first premium range of boxed chocolates, called the Art of Chocolate.
‘We put a lot of time and effort into it and these chocolates are the very best we have to offer: beautiful, decadent works of confectionery art, a real treat for the true chocolate connoisseur.’ His personal favourite is the Heart of Chocolate collection, which consists of milk, dark and white chocolates. Though there still aren’t any real chocolate schools in SA, the market for good quality chocolate has grown. ‘A lot of good brands from overseas are coming in,’ says Kees, ‘and local manufacturers are starting to pop up.’ Marita Lamprecht, owner of La Chocolaterie Rococo in Oudtshoorn, has seen first-hand how difficult it can be to break into the industry. After years of working as PA to the CEO of a large company, she was ready for a change. ‘I was working a full day with no time to express my artistic personality,’ she says. ‘One day I thought, when I’m old, looking back on my life, I don’t want to wonder: “What did I accomplish for myself?”’ Marita decided to become a choc-olatier – she had always loved working with chocolate when decorating cakes. But finding someone to teach her proved nearly impossible.
‘After many fruitless attempts to find choc-olatiers in South Africa who would be willing to train me, I ended up at the SA Embassy in Brussels. They referred me to chocolate schools in the area, but again I was turned down this time, due to my age!’ (Marita was in her fifties.) ‘This, of course, just made me more determined.’ After three years of searching, Marita eventually got in touch with a former chocolate school lecturer in Brussels, who was willing to take her under his wing. ‘My visa only allowed for a three-month training period and he warned me that I would have to work very hard to master all the techniques in such a short period. It was a real baptism of fire, but I wanted to show him that he hadn’t made a mistake in taking a chance on me, and also prove to myself that I could do it!’ Seven years on, Marita has her own little chocolate shop, where she makes and sells her handcrafted Belgian chocolates – mostly to tourists. ‘We are fortunate to be near the Garden Route, and on Route 62, en route to the famous Cango Caves,’ she says. Her shop even has a 5-star rating on TripAdvisor, as a ‘Must-visit’ spot in Oudtshoorn.
Marita develops her own unique ganaches. ‘I specialise in Belgian praline. Some of the most popular are our wine infusions: black pepper and shiraz, pinotage, potstill brandy, champagne and vintage reserve port wine. People also love our imported German marzipan with caramelised nuts and 70% chocolate (we call it the ‘krokant’), our delectable blue cheese truffles (imagine that on a cheeseboard!), the dreamy creamy lemon meringue fillings and our own signature chocolate, the lavender-infused praline. And in winter we make our orangettes [orange peel in dark chocolate] – also a favourite.’ Seeing her customers walk in ‘eyes closed, sniffing the air’ and leaving happy has made all the hard work worth it. ‘Had I known the enjoyment of contented customers then, I would have resigned from my job many, many years ago!’ she laughs. aking the plunge has also paid off for Alan Clegg, owner of Alexander Avery Fine Chocolates. Although his business is less than two years old, he has found his niche selling wholesale to restaurants and hotels, and making bespoke chocolates for them.
Originally from England, Alan worked in finance for years before deciding to change direction and start his own company. ‘Back in the UK I probably wouldn’t have thought about it, but South Africans are very entrepreneurial and I had a lot of friends who had successfully created things or started businesses. I saw that there weren’t really nice Easter eggs in this country, and I was interested in doing something a bit more creative. It’s exciting to start something from scratch rather than For further information contact Architects of Time (Oil) 669 0790 working for a big corporate where you’re just a cog in the machine.’ The name was inspired by his sons; Alexander and Avery are their middle names. Although he did some training with chocolate makers in England, Alan is largely self-taught – a love of food runs in the family. ‘My father was a chef and my brother is a chef; as a banker, I was the black sheep,’ he laughs. ‘The first thing I did was make some Easter eggs, and I had a stall at Taste of Cape Town. Then I started making bonbons and confectionery, and started producing for a few restaurants and hotels.’ His focus is on bonbons with contemporary flavours and a darker, less sweet taste.
‘I use an imported French couverture chocolate called Valrhona as the raw ingredient,’ he says. His chocolates are infused with flavours of his own creation. ‘The lemongrass, lime leaf and coconut cream one is very popular, and I’ve been working a lot with an ornamental citrus called calamansi. But the gin and tonic bonbon is my favourite.’ The ganache is infused with juniper berry and gin from local distillery Jorgensen’s. ‘I love meeting other artisanal producers and incorporating their products,’ he says. Not very many SA chocolate makers have actually attempted making chocolate from cocoa beans, but Cape Town-based brand CocoaFair wanted to do things differently. ‘We don’t consider ourselves a chocolate-rie,’ says co-owner Heinrich Kotze. ‘We are chocolate makers. We bring in beans, roast them and make our own chocolate from scratch.’ ‘It’s clear that people are waking up to the artisanal way of doing things, and I think chocolate will go the same way,’ he says. Heinrich is convinced SA chocolate can stand up to its European counterparts. ‘Nothing stops us from competing on the world stage. Maybe not from a mass market perspective, but from an artisanal perspective – definitely. We have enough people and passion here to be able to do it.’ The biggest challenge, says Heinrich, is educating people about the bean-to-bar approach.
‘Artisanal chocolate is going to taste different. I compare it to making wine. The flavour is dependent on the bean and, as with wine, it also tastes different from one year to the next.’ This back-to-basics method also gives them a lot more influence on the taste. ‘We try to get the best possible flavours out of the bean: by deciding at what temperature to roast it and how long it’s conched, and by not adding any extra flavourants to it.’ At the moment, their beans come from Panama, with some from Peru and Ecuador. ‘We’re also working with people in Ghana to try and set up a direct supply chain there,’ says Heinrich. As a Fairtrade company, they have strict criteria: the beans must be sustainably farmed, farming practices need to be eco-friendly and the people involved in cultivation must be rewarded. CocoaFair buy their beans directly from the farm. ‘So, instead of paying the farmer what they would have got if they sold to a co-op, we pay them what we would have paid a merchant.
That full margin now goes to the farm, and that also gives us influence on the type and quality of bean, and how it’s processed.’ It was this aspect of the business that first lured Heinrich away from his corporate career. ‘I loved the idea that you could have a successful business and do good at the same time,’ he says. Not having access to the chocolate schools and experience they have in Europe has its drawbacks. ‘All our specialised machines are imported, so we have no technical support. We service the machines ourselves, with Skype calls to Italy,’ he laughs. ‘But we are working with a local engineer to see if we can build some of the machines here.’ Their signature flavours are 95% dark chocolate, dark milk chocolate with liquorice and 71% dark with citrus and cardamom. ‘We also have a new flavour coming out: white chocolate with passion fruit and pepper,’ says Heinrich. ‘We probably have some way to go to get our quality absolutely perfect, but we work on it every day. We’ve learnt a lot from playing around and experimenting.’ CocoaFair currently supplies chocolate to hotels, restaurants and bakeries and sells from their premises and at select Spars. They also export to Denmark and Germany.