We re­cently dis­cov­ered a golden ticket in­side our email in­box invit­ing us to hear the story of lo­cal choco­latier and ac­ci­den­tal busi­ness­man, Pi­eter de Vil­liers.

It was never the plan of Pi­eter de Vil­liers to make a full­time busi­ness out of his ex­per­i­men­tal hobby. An en­gi­neer by pro­fes­sion, Pi­eter started ex­per­i­ment­ing with choco­late pro­duc­tion in the dou­ble garage of his home in Her­manus in the Over­berg. With the use of an old masala grinder, a hairdryer, and a re­cy­cled wash­ing ma­chine, De Vil­liers would grind, melt and roast his per­son­ally sourced co­coa beans to form the first sin­gle-ori­gin De Vil­liers Choco­late bars – the range would ul­ti­mately end up on the shelves of Wool­wor ths out­lets across the na­tion.

The choco­late bug first bit De Vil­liers while he was pe­rus­ing lo­cal farm­ers’ mar­kets. “I was se­ri­ously im­pressed by the pas­sion the pro­duc­ers had for their prod­ucts. I ini­tially tried my hand at bread- and wine-mak­ing, which then cul­mi­nated in choco­latemak­ing. I came to ap­pre­ci­ate that, like wine, the flavour pro­file of co­coa is in­flu­enced by ter­roir – the environment and the soil in which it grows. It in­spired me to pro­duce sin­gle-ori­gin choco­late bars,” De Vil­liers says.

It was an 18-month jour­ney from hob­by­ist to full-time choco­latier. The De Vil­liers sin­gle-ori­gin choco­lates were first sold at farm­ers’ mar­kets, where the brand be­gan to gain a loyal fol­low­ing. As De Vil­liers’ in­ter­est in choco­late grew with ev­ery bar sold, so did the re­al­i­sa­tion that De Vil­liers Choco­late might have the po­ten­tial of grow­ing into some­thing more than just a side-line busi­ness.

To­day, the busi­ness has grown from a small stall at the Her­manus mar­ket to: a choco­late shop and ice cream­ery at Spice Route out­side Paarl; a choco­late, cof­fee, and ice-cream café in Fran­schhoek (if you visit here, I highly rec­om­mend or­der­ing their one-of-a-kind choco­late shot – a warm shot of thick, melted choco­late); and an ar­ti­san choco­late brand avail­able at all Wool­worths food stores.

It’s not dif­fi­cult to sup­port the prod­uct when you know the full story be­hind it – of course it helps that all of the De Vil­liers prod­ucts are de­li­cious. While sourc­ing the co­coa beans him­self, De Vil­liers re­alised that they are a much sought-af­ter com­mod­ity, and that farm­ers are of­ten get­ting a raw deal. “There’s a lot of ex­ploita­tion in­volved, which is why we wanted to en­sure that we’re of­fer­ing a prod­uct that’s pro­duced eth­i­cally.

I of­ten travel into Africa to visit the farm­ers we deal with,” De Vil­liers ex­plains.

“I once saw a doc­u­men­tary on co­coa bean farm­ers who had never tasted choco­late, so I took choco­late for them. Un­like wine farm­ing, where the cel­lar is on the farm, co­coa bean farms are on the Equa­tor, while the fac­to­ries are in Europe. Th­ese small-scale farm­ers of­ten don’t get to taste the end-prod­uct. We de­cided to work closely with the farm­ers, and al­low them to taste the end prod­uct of what they’re grow­ing.”

The sad re­al­ity is that while 70 % of the world’s co­coa is pro­duced in Africa, only 1 % of the world’s choco­late is ac­tu­ally pro­duced in Africa. De Vil­liers is do­ing his bit to rec­tify the gross im­bal­ance of this statis­tic. And he’s mak­ing sure he goes about it in the most eth­i­cally re­spon­si­ble way. All of the farms from which De Vil­liers sources his beans have been ap­proved by the sus­tain­abil­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion body UTZ. UTZ is in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised as a body that pro­motes bet­ter crops, at a bet­ter in­come, en­sur­ing a bet­ter life for the farm­ers, while en­dors­ing sus­tain­able prac­tices which limit the im­pact on the environment.

Ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness fo­cuses on lo­cally and eth­i­cally sourced prod­ucts.The art­work on the wrap­pers of the African Col­lec­tion range of choco­lates, for ex­am­ple, is taken from paint­ings done by Con­golese artist Marien Freddy Nsompy. All of the prod­ucts sold in their café in Fran­schhoek, from ice-cream cones to cap­puc­ci­nos, are also made by lo­cal hands in the on­site kitchen.

While choco­late and ice-cream are usu­ally guilty treats (for all those who are health-con­scious and keep­ing an eye on their fig­ure), ev­ery De Vil­liers prod­uct can be en­joyed prac­ti­cally guilt-free. Not only are you sup­port­ing the growth of our con­ti­nent’s econ­omy with ev­ery prod­uct you buy, but you’re also look­ing af­ter your body. All of the De Vil­liers prod­ucts come from or­gan­i­cally farmed co­coa beans. Free from GMOs, sta­bilis­ers, and gluten and with a par­tic­u­larly high and un­mod­i­fied co­coa con­tent, his fi­nal prod­ucts are as healthy as choco­late can pos­si­bly be.

While the De Vil­liers brand con­tin­ues to push for­ward in terms of growth and in­no­va­tion, De Vil­liers prom­ises that his hands-on, so­cially re­spon­si­ble busi­ness model will never change. “I will al­ways en­sure that we have a hand in each step of the process – from grower to con­sumer,” De Vil­liers con­cludes.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the brand, visit www.dv­choco­late.com.

First Page: Pi­eter de Vil­liers with co­coa farm­ers from the Bundibu­gyo district of Uganda in­spect­ing co­coa beans on dry­ing racks. Sec­ond Page Left: There is a wide choco­late se­lec­tion at the De Vil­liers Choco­late Café in Fran­schhoek. Sec­ond Page Top...

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