Sweet taste of success

Greg Gordon

How a small chocolate shop in the Western Cape turns its ongoing “problem” of success into a triumph by constantly reinventing itself

Denver Adonis (left) and Danver Windvogel, partners at Huguenot Fine Chocolates

To help kickstart the new South Africa back in the 1990s, a number of foreign governments initiated advancement programmes to empower and assist people from the so-called previously disadvantaged communities – some more imaginative and creative than others.

The Belgians did a great deal in the Franschhoek valley in the Western Cape and perhaps the most creative was the provision of two bursaries for young people to study chocolate-making in Belgium.

The recipients were Danver Windvogel and Denver Adonis who went to Belgium where they studied and qualified as chocolate-makers.

Back home, full of enthusiasm and highly motivated, together with a business partner, they launched Huguenot Fine Chocolates, a company that produces high-end Belgian chocolates.

In those days, fine chocolates were a rarity, most imported, and their immediate “problem” was success. People could not get enough of them and corporates and hotels wanted more.

They operated out of a small chocolaterie, off the main road with one tempering machine and a few moulds.

Their problems were two-fold. The first was equipment but, more significantly, trained staff was simply not available. So they duly bought a second tempering machine from Belgium, somewhat staggered by the cost and the freight charges. And then they turned to solving the skills shortage.

Windvogel and Adonis reasoned that to give people basic skills was not impossible, and accordingly, recruited local school-leavers and began an intensive training programme, gradually upgrading skills and then taking them to the next level.

As an added enhancement, and mindful of their own good fortune, they sponsored two of their staff to go and train in Belgium – with rewarding results.

Then there was packaging and presentation. This now had to form a separate division, and much was gleaned from Belgium, and developed, where possible, with local resources.

When expansion demanded even more new equipment, they knew that a chocolate tempering machine was a fairly basic product and one that could easily be made locally. So, together with a local engineering business and a bit of trial and error, the new baby came into production, and has been followed by several others. It costs about half of the imported version, incurs no freight costs or large carbon footprint for transport and boosts local industry and job creation.

Today, Huguenot Fine Chocolates is the country’s leading black economic empowerment (BEE) producer of fine chocolates. The company employs fourteen people and occupies a prime location on the main road of Franschhoek.

Their production and packaging units serve both the shop and large numbers of corporate clients, resorts, restaurants and retailers.

They are currently awaiting the outcome of the tender to supply South African Airways. As Windvogel explains: “There is a favourable BEE weighting, but quite honestly, we do not have a well-developed sense of entitlement and feel confident to compete at all levels on our own abilities, product and reputation.” 

Future plans

So where to now? Growth and diversification, says Windvogel. Some of this will come about by enhancing the skills of staff, most of whom are employees of long-standing.

“First you teach employees to perform certain tasks. Then you give them responsibilities. Someone working in production has to do weekly assessments of certain stock items and order them in. They have to liaise with the shop to get requirements and then fulfil these. They have to learn telephone skills and good English. Most staff are Afrikaans-speaking, but in many areas, and particularly dealing with tourists, reasonable English is needed.”

Windvogel adds that the small company is sticking its toe into the water as far as exporting is concerned, but that much has to be learned.

“With the exchange rate being what it is, we should be competitive,” he says.

“To stay current, we attend trade shows in Europe, like Salon du Chocolate in Paris and Christmas World in Frankfurt. We communicate regularly with suppliers in Brussels and Antwerp. Flexibility is a great way to keep our business competitive and relevant, even if it means significant change from time to time.”

This article is part of a series sponsored by MTN Business. While the theme for the series has been agreed to by MTN Business, the articles have been independently sourced by the M&G’s supplement’s editorial team and MTN Business has not seen this article prior to publication. The other articles in the series can be found here.

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