IF WILLIE WONKA WERE FROM AFRICA
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 Right: The delicious De Villiers Chocolate Honey Comb milk chocolate bar is part of their “Treat Collection”.
Second Page Bottom Right: Mrs Yokoniyo, a cocoa bean farmer from the Bundibugyo district of Uganda, holding freshly harvested cocoa pods.
This Page Top: Pieter with wife Cornell in their garage in Hermanus; a complete “Bean to Bar” chocolate factory built out of recycled home appliances.