Love is a substitute for chocolate, said author Miranda Ingram. Master chocolatier Kees Beyers would agree. He was one of the lucky few who was never in any doubt about what life would hold. For bitter or sweet, his world was going to revolve around chocolate, reports Susan Unsworth.
KEES BEYERS’ love affair with the fruit of the cacao plant started when he was around seven and was matched with an early flair for business. In his home village in Antwerp, Belgium, he was peddling sweet treats to friends and family before he hit his teens.
With the exuberance of youth, he headed for South Africa at age 18to visit his sister. Within two days of being in the country, Kees was employed by Marriot Chain (now Air Chefs). During his 18 months there, he couldn’t ignore the gaping hole in the market for high-quality chocolate and his dream took shape.
‘From the age of seven, I imagined owning a chocolate factory,’ he recalls.‘It went beyond the usual childlike desire to be able to eat chocolate every day. I wanted to immerse myself in a world of chocolate, to work with it, deeply understand it and make others appreciate its wonders.’
Kees Beyers opened in 1987 in Bramley View, Johannesburg, when Kees was just 20. He soon outgrew the 40m² building and moved to a 300m² building in Spartan, Kempton Park, where Beyers Chocolates remains to this day. But that first Spartan operation – producing small batches of custom chocolates for airline catering company Air Chefs and certain hotel groups –is today a tiny core of a multi-million rand business and the largest premium-brand chocolate manufacturer in the country.
The current 7 000m² manufacturing facility tempers, pipes, moulds and packages 35 tons of enrobed, truffled and slabbed top-end confections a week.
With 2000m² of this space reserved for packaging and new product development, the company is well placed to generate the 150 innovative products to which Beyers puts its name annually.
The chocolate business is seasonal and the factory operates on a core staff complement of 250. But when the season hits, the Beyers army swells to 550 foreight months of the year.
Currently, the team is in full festive season mode, preparing for the highpoint of the year, when consumers throw kilojoule caution to the wind and indulge.
And it’s not only local chocolate lovers who benefit from the Beyers expertise. Having established a market presence overseas early in its life, the company still exports a sizeable percentage of its production.
‘We keep our eyes on international chocolate trends and are ahead of the curve in many respects,’ he says. Some years ago, Beyers made the decision to build its own brand presence through a packaging revamp.
Gone are the days of the low shelf profile, when the brand was a quiet contender nestled among the more mass-produced brands. Now, the name Beyers issues a strong shout out to shoppers from many types of products contained in eye-catching, modern packs.
To partner it on that journey, Beyers brought integrated agency Stratitude on board.
Taking slabs from drab to fab
One of the first assignments Stratitude was tasked with was to rebrand the Beyers slab range. The new look would coincide with the launch of three new flavours to bolster the established variants of dark, espresso, cookies and cream, and peanut butter.
‘Beyers wanted a complete shift in design to announce the launch of caramel popcorn, apple pie and Turkish delight to the market,’ says Sylvia Schutte, MD of Stratitude. ‘It’s any creative team’s dream.
‘A brand tells a story through its packaging, so we focused on the emotions that people feel when they eat chocolate. For example, the apple pie slab takes one back to grandma’s kitchen, so we wanted to recreate the feeling of comfort and nostalgia with our designs, and this led us down a vintage path.
Then the company added shapes, such as the label, and distinctive treatments, such as a grunge texture. The choice of colour was also essential and striking colours that worked well together won the day, ensuring the design would stand out in the chocolate aisle. The designs are light-hearted and fun, combining quirky illustrative elements with real images of the ingredients found inside the chocolates.
The revamp obviously worked since sales of the new flavours outperformed the rest of the slab range by 48% in a year. The rebranding was then extended to the existing variants.
‘Consumers make impulsive decisions about what they buy, which is why packaging is a vital part of selling chocolate,’ says Kees. ‘The colour, shape and design are the first things that you see on the shelf, making it as essential as the chocolate inside.’
Apart from Beyers-branded products, Kees and the team manufacture some old local favourites – Sweetie Pie, Amarula and Dream Bear, all of which have been given a branding makeover.
The partnership with Stratitude, which is into its third year, has taken Beyers’ products from artworks to heartworks.
The heart has become an integral aspect of the brand philosophy, with its proposition ‘the heart of chocolate’ and the promise that each team member puts his or her heart into producing the best product every day. ‘We believe this is what makes our chocolates memorable and easy for consumers to fall in love with,’ says Kees.
Creating a signature look
All Beyers variants have been given the heart treatment. The high-endChocolatier’s Collection comprisingfour boxes – classic, truffle, cherry, and Turkish delight – now sports a new look, with obvioussuccess, as the range was chosenas the top product (from 36 entries)in the 2017 Food Review/Symrise New Products competition.
‘Our Chocolatier’s Collection has always been a best-seller in the gifting category, but the time was right to modernise the design,’ Kees comments.
Two rich brown base colours, infused with a hint of magenta, were evenly spread to represent the rich and sweet chocolatey goodness packed inside each box, explains Sylvia Schutte. Four very bright and distinct signature colours were carefully selected to mirror each hero ingredient.
‘At the start of this creative journey, we wanted to introduce a brand identifier that Beyers could proudly own and use across more than just the Chocolatier’s Collection,’ Sylvia elaborates. ‘The first step was introducing a signature pattern, made up of the Beyers “B” and a chocolatey swish. This was followed by using chocolate swirls and highlighting the “Handmade in South Africa” Beyers stamp.’
From niche to mainstream
In late 2006, Beyers took its affection for confection to delicious niche heights with the acquisition of two well-known and -loved brands, Yotti’s Turkish Delight and Coach House Nougat.
‘Acquiring these proud heritage brandswasin line with our expansion strategy and ultimate goal of providing retailers with a complete basket of confectionery goods,’ says Kees.
Coach House started out in 1994, using the macadamia nuts grown on the Tzaneen-based farm, to produce brittle slabs and shortbread biscuits.
Yotti’s Turkish Delight uses a traditional recipe to create exquisitely delicate flavours and a low-GI range. All Yotti’s products are preservative-free, vegetarian, Kosher and Halaal.
Under the Beyers banners, both brands have moved from niche to mainstream thanks to the hugely experienced teams and wealth of new product knowledge gained over the past 12 years. ‘We see huge potential for expansion of the ranges and have already started the process,’ Kees enthuses.
Because innovation is embedded in the Beyers culture, customers can look forward to the company annexing even more retail shelf space in the months and years to come. And looking at overseas trends, local consumers could well be feasting on the flavours of tahini, gianduja, lavender and matcha before long.
Beyers is also keeping a watchful eye ongovernment developments to curb the consumption of sugar, which has already resulted in the introduction of a tax for sugar-sweetened beveragesearlier this year.
‘Such taxes are gaining momentum around the world and will motivate confectioners to explore low-sugar and sugar-free products. Expect dark chocolate sales to increase in 2018 and beyond,’ Kees concludes.