CELEBRATING EASTER CHOCOLATIER STYLE
Belgium-born confectioner Kees Beyers founded Beyers Chocolates in Johannesburg in 1987. Hilary Biller asked him about Easter and all things chocolate.
How does a chocolatier celebrate Easter Sunday with his family?
Just like any other family really! When the kids were small we used to do an Easter hunt, first putting the dogs away then hiding the eggs. And now that they are bigger we decorate their rooms with Easter chocolates.
Having grown up in Belgium, the home of top-quality chocolate, can you recall the first chocolate that made an impact on you?
It was not chocolate per se but actually a local brand of chocolate spread called ’Boerinneke’. I really loved it on white bread as a child.
Was your dream of owning a chocolate factory a bit of a ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ inspiration?
My inspiration came from the five years I spent at a confectionery school in Belgium and initially thought I’d own a confectionery shop but ended up starting a chocolate business because I discovered there was a gap in the confectionery market in SA.
What is the foundation of Beyers chocolates?
At Beyers Chocolates we only use cocoa butter in the making of our chocolates and no substitutes. We don’t use any preservatives and we stick to the original recipes that I learnt in my training in Belgium. Many of our recipes are made in small batches true to the old traditional methods.
What impact has Covid-19 had on the production of Beyers Chocolates?
It has definitely affected us in that we lost all of the airline business to which we were supplying our chocolates, and with that pretty much all the duty-free business. One of our big sellers in dutyfree was our range of Amarula chocolates bought by tourists. It has all but gone for now. And in the hard-hit hospitality sector there were losses but thankfully it is back at 50% of what it used to be.
It is said that the sale of chocolates and confectionery have risen significantly during the pandemic. What is it about chocolate that is so comforting?
Chocolate is an affordable luxury with a feel-good factor about it. All in moderation, though, and as I tell my children, chocolate is a treat and not a meal replacement.
Is there a chocolatier that inspires you?
I think the French chocolate house Michelle Cluizel is very inspirational but even in Europe it’s really expensive. We try to be a mainstream luxury chocolate manufacturer.
In the vast range of Beyers Chocolate Easter treats, what is your favourite?
My favourite would be the Dream Bear Egg, simply because it is different to what is out there and there is an element of surprise in the eggs. Each egg is filled with a smooth flowing caramel centre enclosed in milk chocolate. I remember my children loving it when they were smaller. Beyers Chocolate is now the producer of the iconic Sweetie Pie, a dome of melt-in-the-mouth marshmallow covered in chocolate. This iconic South African brand has been a registered trademark since 1959. It was put up for sale a few years ago and we snapped it up — it is as popular as ever.
Chocolate is added to many products to make it more saleable. How do you feel about the trend to add “chocolate” to hot cross buns?
People always enjoy something new that offers excitement and new flavours. Some ideas work, others don’t. What would life be without a chocolate croissant or the pain au chocolat?
If you could choose just one last chocolate to enjoy what would it be?
It has to be the Beyers toffee caramel with pecan nuts. Probably one of the best chocolates we produce.