Sweet taste of success

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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Greg Gordon
Guest Author

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