BUSI­NESS WATCH

Front run­ners in pro­duc­ing lo­cal, ar­ti­sanal fare, Perry and Karen Chaloner have cre­ated a brand that is syn­ony­mous with ex­cep­tional qual­ity and out­stand­ing flavour

Food & Home - - Contents - BY NATALIE BORUVKA PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ADEL FER­REIRA

Meet the fam­ily be­hind Chaloner’s hand-crafted olive prod­ucts, pre­serves and sauces

Un­com­pro­mis­ing in qual­ity and sin­gu­lar in flavour, it’s no sur­prise that Chaloner prod­ucts have cap­tured a grow­ing lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. “If you are not will­ing to risk the usual, you will have to set­tle for the or­di­nary,” – the words of Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur Jim Rohn – is a quote that speaks vol­umes about Perry and Karen, and the jour­ney they have taken to es­tab­lish the Chaloner brand, their sig­na­ture range of hand-crafted olive prod­ucts, pre­serves and sauces.

In 1992, the Chalon­ers moved from Cape Town to a 14-hectare farm hug­ging the base of the Stel­len­bosch Moun­tains in the Blaauwk­lip­pen Val­ley. “There was noth­ing here apart from an ex­panse of land over­grown with alien veg­e­ta­tion,” Karen re­calls, telling me about how they worked with a brick­layer to build a tiny cot­tage and barn while they rented a house nearby. “It was daunt­ing, but we were young and reck­less. It was also a labour of love: mark­ing out or­chards, in­stalling ir­ri­gation and tele­phone lines, plant­ing trees, and deal­ing with is­sues like storm wa­ter run-off; but it took just one spec­tac­u­lar sun­set to con­firm we had made the right de­ci­sion.”

After seven years of pa­tience, the farm – which they had by then named Fal­con’s Nest – started to flour­ish with fruit trees bear­ing olives, plums, lemons and Seville or­anges. “The re­al­ity, how­ever, was that we were los­ing most of our prof­its to the mid­dle­man, and this forced us to look at al­ter­na­tive ways of us­ing our har­vests to add value,” Perry re­calls. As an en­tre­pre­neur with a pas­sion for food – Perry owned one of Cape Town’s first sushi restau­rants in Sea Point, Ka­makura – he com­bined his skills and started to make tra­di­tional jams from the fruit, and pro­gressed to mak­ing other prod­ucts like tape­nades.

A great deal of time was spent in the kitchen ex­per­i­ment­ing with un­usual flavour com­bi­na­tions and us­ing herbs

like laven­der and rose­mary, which grew on the farm. “I was in­spired to cre­ate lo­cally man­u­fac­tured, pre­mi­umqual­ity prod­ucts I hoped con­sumers would come to ap­pre­ci­ate as pantry sta­ples,” Perry shares, adding that he was fu­elled by his dis­ap­point­ment with the flavour­less, mass-pro­duced items lin­ing the su­per­mar­ket aisles. “The feed­back from fam­ily and friends was in­valu­able. I fine-tuned the recipes and the re­sponse was over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive and very en­cour­ag­ing.”

Since the of­fi­cial launch of the Chaloner range in 2006, Perry’s ap­proach to flavour pair­ing has re­mained mav­er­ick and con­tem­po­rary. Take, for in­stance, his Olive and Chilli Mar­malade: crafted from an un­usual mix of in­gre­di­ents, this pre­serve is an im­pec­ca­ble fu­sion of the five flavour pro­files – sweet, bit­ter, salty, sour and umami – that form the foun­da­tion of ev­ery recipe.

One re­viewer de­scribes it as an “out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence” when paired with cheese. It is in­deed, scrump­tious, and a cheese­board would be bereft with­out it.

Other best­sellers in­clude their Plum and Onion Pre­serve and the Smoked Gar­lic and Chilli Pickle, which is a recipe de­vel­oped by cel­e­brated chef Ber­tus Bas­son of Over­ture restau­rant at Hid­den Val­ley Wines. “When these prod­ucts have sold out on­line or in supermarkets, we’ve ac­tu­ally had cus­tomers call us anx­iously to ask whether they can stop by the farm to buy them di­rectly from us,” Perry says with a proud chuckle.

From the start, the Chalon­ers made the un­wa­ver­ing de­ci­sion to de­velop their prod­ucts for taste, re­gard­less of price point. As the qual­ity of pro­duce re­lies heav­ily on main­tain­ing healthy soil, the farm fol­lows a bio­dy­namic ap­proach which in­cludes min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion and the use of or­ganic fer­tilis­ers. Ad­di­tion­ally, har­vest­ing takes place when the fruit is at op­ti­mum ma­tu­rity to en­sure the high­est nat­u­ral su­gar con­tent.

“When we have to source be­yond our own pro­duc­tion, we seek out the fresh­est, sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents,” Karen says, ex­plain­ing that they are re­quired to sup­ply cer­tifi­cates of anal­y­sis when buy­ing raw prod­ucts. “We sup­port lo­cal or­ganic farm­ers within the con­fines of the rig­or­ous food safety leg­is­la­tion.”

With olives as one of their sta­ple crops, the Chalon­ers also pro­duce an

ex­cel­lent va­ri­ety of award-win­ning ex­tra-vir­gin olive oils (EVOO). Over the past two decades, the ini­tial half hectare of olive trees has grown to 7 000 and in­cludes nine dif­fer­ent va­ri­etals rang­ing from an in­tense Favolosa to a del­i­cate barnea.

As well as en­joy­ing a Mediter­ranean cli­mate per­fectly suited to cul­ti­vat­ing olives, the farm falls within a tem­per­ate mi­cro-cli­mate re­gion that’s unique to Stel­len­bosch. While this means lower yields, the spin-off ben­e­fit is en­hanced taste. An­other dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture of the farm’s site is its de­com­posed gran­ite soils, which lend the olive oils their di­verse and un­usual flavours.

In 2013, Chaloner’s flag­ship Moun­tain Oil Ex­tra Vir­gin Olive Oil – which is pro­duced from the farm’s first har­vest – won gold at the SA Olive Awards; in 2016, it won gold again and in

2017, sil­ver. In 2015, it was given a spe­cial men­tion at the Sol d’Oro South­ern Hemi­sphere com­pe­ti­tion.

In 2018, their sin­gle cul­ti­var No­cel­lara Medium EVOO stood out and won gold at the SA Olive Awards – it was one of only 21 gold awards re­ceived out of 81 en­tries, which were all judged by an in­ter­na­tion­ally led panel of pro­fes­sion­als. “We are very proud,” Perry beams. “The drought made 2018 a chal­leng­ing year. Many of the early oils were very as­trin­gent, but the no­cel­lara ben­e­fit­ted from be­ing a late har­vest, so it was less af­fected.”

De­spite the grow­ing suc­cess of their brand – the busi­ness is on a strong growth curve with a 30% in­crease year on year – Perry and Karen be­lieve the av­er­age South African con­sumer still has a way to go in un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the value of lo­cal, ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts. They use EVOO as an ex­am­ple, cit­ing that lo­cally pro­duced oils make up only 40% of the coun­try’s to­tal sales, even though South African EVOO is up there with the best in the world. This might be be­cause the in­ter­na­tional EVOO in­dus­try lacks reg­u­la­tory pan­els and qual­ity con­trol and, along with favourable sub­si­dies, it has been easy to flood the South African mar­ket with cheap, sub-stan­dard im­ported brands that un­der­cut lo­cal pro­duc­ers. “It is so im­por­tant to en­cour­age and ed­u­cate con­sumers to buy lo­cal,” Karen says.

The truth is that many of these prod­ucts mas­querad­ing as EVOO are made in in­dus­trial plants where low­grade, very tired oils, have been chem­i­cally “pol­ished” to scrape through into the ex­tra-vir­gin cat­e­gory with lit­tle of the flavour or health ben­e­fits of the real thing.

Chaloner EVOO is made from olives that are hand-picked to avoid bruis­ing and pressed within 24 hours to re­tain the best flavour. “As an ar­ti­sanal pro­ducer, we pay more at­ten­tion to the de­tail with each in­di­vid­ual batch and we are able to con­trol the en­tire process from tree to bot­tle, to ta­ble. This is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing the qual­ity of a prod­uct,” Karen states.

Re­gard­less of the chal­lenge pre­sented by the lack of con­sumer ed­u­ca­tion, Perry has no mis­giv­ings about room for their busi­ness to flour­ish. “We’re see­ing an in­crease in the num­ber of per­cep­tive cus­tomers who are ac­tively seek­ing out finequal­ity, lo­cally pro­duced, small-batch prod­ucts. It’s an in­ter­na­tional trend and it is grow­ing,” he says. Ma­jor re­tail­ers in the coun­try are climb­ing on board as well, like Check­ers, which was one of the first to stock Chaloner prod­ucts after a prom­i­nent fig­ure at the Sho­prite Group caught wind of the brand and paid the Chalon­ers an im­promptu visit on their farm a few years ago.

Apart from that, their prod­ucts are also avail­able at the pre­mium stores of other ma­jor re­tail­ers, as well as at select delis across the county. What’s more, most flag­ship SU­PER SPARs are show­cas­ing the en­tire range of more than 30 prod­ucts! But that’s not all: Wool­worths stores stock the Olive and Chilli, as well as the Seville Orange, mar­malades along­side the Blue­berry and Rasp­berry, Rasp­berry and Vanilla, and Rhubarb and Gin­ger pre­serves. Chaloner jams can also be found on the ta­bles at Wool­worths Cafés. On­line, the brand has a solid pres­ence on Yup­piechef and Faith­ful-to-Na­ture, and it’s soon to launch on Ama­zon.

On an in­ter­na­tional level, find­ing the right dis­tri­bu­tion part­ners re­mains a chal­lenge; yet, Chaloner prod­ucts have suc­cess­fully made their way to the USA, Canada, Hol­land, Swe­den and the Czech Repub­lic; and con­sis­tent ex­port mar­kets in­clude the United King­dom, South Korea and New Zealand, where the Olive and Chilli, and Seville Orange mar­malades, as well as the Plum and Onion Chut­ney, are the most pop­u­lar prod­ucts; in fact, they were so well re­ceived by some South Kore­ans vis­it­ing the coun­try in 2016 that the group tracked Perry and Karen down at their farm and, in the end, the en­counter re­sulted in reg­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tion to the East Asian coun­try.

It’s been 13 years since the busi­ness’s start and there has, of course, been change. For one thing, the Chalon­ers no longer live in a tiny cot­tage; their French, coun­trystyle home is pic­ture per­fectly nes­tled in a thicket on the farm.

And they no longer work from their kitchen: the man­u­fac­tur­ing of all the prod­ucts, in­clud­ing that of the EVOO, takes place in a smart, scrupu­lously clean pro­duc­tion plant that bor­ders the or­chards and olive groves. “When we built the fac­tory, it seemed we had made a quan­tum leap, but it was just an­other step along the path,” Perry smiles. “This busi­ness is a gen­er­a­tional one and our hope is that our daugh­ter,

Megan, will con­tinue the her­itage.”

PERRY AND KAREN CHALONER

PERRY AND KAREN CHALONER WITH THEIR DAUGH­TER, MEGAN, AND DOG SASSY

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