Hot on the heels of the coffee revolution, which is flourishing in Cape Town, comes chocolate. And not any old chocolate. There is a bit of a fashion evolving for the organic, healthy, ethical version.

As with most South African food products, the drivers are young dynamic people who have a passion for their subject, an intuitive sense of brand positioning and a keen eye for product marketing.

Quality chocolate comes to the market

I first saw Honest Chocolate at the Neighbourgoods Market, home of all the best food people every Saturday. Even in incredibly hot temperatures it was easy to see that these guys were doing something interesting, so I made my way to their new shop on Wale Street to further investigate.

Clean, simple shopfront

Traditional reclaimed furniture in a contemporary space: a perfect reflection of the brand values

The shop was cool in more ways than the temperature and it is there that you see Antony and Michael handcrafting their chocolates. They use ethically sourced Ecuadorian cacao which is processed raw (unroasted) with no additives, preservatives, or emulsifiers and they use agave nectar instead of sugar. I know this all sounds a bit worthy and for me some of the bars were not to my taste, but the bonbons were truly wonderful squares of chocolate perfection which literally melted in the mouth. This is my way of eating a superfood!

I also liked the small window to the production process where the guys are hand tempering on granite slabs and simultaneously interacting with their customers. There was something very reassuring about that window and I think it benefitted from being small so there was a sense of something special and secret that you could glimpse.

Michael tempering away

Finally I loved the packaging. Yes it was eco friendly – what else do you expect? but it was the design which appealed to me. They were all individually created by selected local artists with the original artwork displayed on the shop walls. It is a relatively easy thing to emulate and really made a big difference.

Love this packaging

Back at the Neighbourgoods Market I discovered my second chocolate fanatic.

Thor Thoroe was a successful Danish entrepreneur with a vision of creating a business that benefits everyone especially the underprivileged but was unable to get the support he needed in Scandinavia. He came to South Africa to source raw material for his Danish ice cream business using the social enterprise model and found the country more in tune and supportive of his work ethic, as well as a gap in the speciality chocolate market. Last year, Thor partnered with chocolatier Antonio Allegra and so CocoaFair was born. They say it is the first organic bean to bar chocolate factory in Africa based on social entrepreneurship.

Factory turned shop

Cleaner turns chocolatier

I spent some time with Thor who is passionate about sharing his vision. He was particularly proud of this lovely lady who had approached them before they opened as she dreamt of having her own chocolate shop – surely a far away dream when you are a single Mum, employed as a domestic cleaner, living in a township. But these guys could relate to her drive and now she is a fully trained integral part of the CocoaFair family, soon to travel back to Thor’s Danish homeland so that she can train his teams over there on a new project he is starting. Ain’t that something?

If you fancy a piece of that, Antonio is starting a few courses so that you too can get your hands on the cocoa and see the whole process through.

From a retail point of view, there are some simple things to learn from here:

  • a passionate leader who creates and holds onto the vision whilst making things happen
  • transparency throughout the production process which is physically demonstrated in the retail environment
  • great product at good value prices
  • good packaging and marketing with some experiential courses thrown in for good luck

So there’s a lot to learn from the chocolate business and I for one am happy to partake in many visits just to make sure I get it. If you are in Cape Town, look them up.

Keeping it open, modern and simple

It still has to taste good for us to come back