Meeting with a Chocolatier

We recently discovered the 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. With the use of an old masala grinder, hairdryer, and recycled washing machine, De Villiers would grind, melt and roast the personally sourced cocoa beans to form the first single-origin De Villiers Chocolate bars that would ultimately end up on the shelves of Woolworths outlets across the nation.

It was an 18-month journey from hobbyist to full-time chocolatier. The De Villiers single-origin chocolates were first sold at farmer’s markets, where the brand began to gain a loyal following. As De Villiers’s 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, De Villiers’s business has grown from a small stall in 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.

The secret to his success? Well, it’s not difficult to support the product when you know the full story behind it – although, it also helps that all of the De Villiers products are delicious. While sourcing the cocoa beans himself, De Villiers came to realise that cocoa beans 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 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.”

Every aspect of the business focuses on locally and ethically sourced products. The artwork on the wrappers on 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 cone to cappuccino, are also made by local hands in the kitchen of their café.

While the De Villiers brand continues to push 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.

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