Venture capital boost for artisan chocolate maker

Pieter de Villiers of DV Chocolate. (Supplied)
Pieter de Villiers of DV Chocolate. (Supplied)

Cape Town - DV Artisan Chocolate of Paarl in the Western Cape is the latest food producer to partner with Invenfin, the venture capital arm of Remgro [JSE:REM].

DV Artisan Chocolate produce chocolate from cocoa beans sourced directly from Africa’s cocoa farmers. It is estimated that Africa grows 70% of the world’s cocoa beans, but produces less than 1% of the world’s chocolate.  

Based at Remgro’s Stellenbosch head-office, Invenfin’s foods division provides financial, marketing and strategic business support to owner-run food and beverage companies showing the potential to increase their local and international footprint through the offering of authentic products, often made with an artisanal approach.

DV Artisan Chocolate operates out of retail and production premises at Spice Route in Paarl and its new production facility at Simondium between Paarl and Franschhoek. It plans to grow its retail footprint following its partnership with Invenfin, which has taken a significant minority share in the company.

Pieter de Villiers, owner and CEO of DV Artisan Chocolate, said the partnership with Invenfin will enable him to build the brand in terms of scale and profile without compromising on the founding principles of originality, purity, quality and heritage.

“I wasn’t interested in an investment that would turn DV Artisan Chocolate into an artificial, mass-produced brand, and I wasn’t willing to budge on the heritage and style of what DV Artisan Chocolate has become known for," said De Villiers.

"I didn’t want a dictating partner – I wanted the right partner that saw the potential of the business, shared our values and could allow us to add scale throughout the operation, which is the major challenge.”

The business had a humble setting in 2009 – a double garage fitted with an old masala grinder, a hairdryer and a recycled washing machine. Today DV Artisan Chocolate has its brand listed in Woolworths stores, and there are talks of DV Artisan Chocolate concept stores to add to its Spice Route shop – developments which will now receive significant support after partnering with Invenfin.

According to De Villiers, Invenfin Foods understood that he wasn’t willing to compromise on the credibility of his brand. He travels regularly in Africa to meet the cocoa farmers from whom he sources the organically-farmed UTZ-certified beans. The investment from Invenfin will allow him to spend even more time in the value-chain, enabling him to get closer to the source of the bean.
“Invenfin brings important skills to the table to support me – their strong governance coupled with extensive knowledge of business strategy, product development, marketing and sales means that I can keep focused on the quality of the product,” said De Villiers.
According to Invenfin executive director Stuart Gast, DV Artisan Chocolate’s authentic offering, passionate owners with true entrepreneurial spirit and the potential of its product in today’s market-place attracted Invenfin to back the chocolatier.
“One of the biggest trends in the confectionary world right now is the bean-to-bar chocolate movement,” said Gast. “This trend sees chocolate manufacturers produce organic, certified, single-origin chocolate bars made from whole beans they have personally sourced directly from the cocoa farmer."

He explained that specialist companies like DV Artisan Chocolate are the kind of food and beverage producers Invenfin wishes to support, not only to unlock the potential of their individual businesses but also to create a worldwide awareness of the spectrum of intimate, original and personally run food and beverages operations in South Africa.

"The significant potential in this space is why Invenfin sees this as an excellent investment opportunity,” said Gast.

Judy Sendzul, head of Invenfin Foods, said De Villiers' dedication to producing the perfect chocolate is present at all stages of production - from sourcing the cocoa beans from six identified growing regions – mostly from Uganda – right up to developing final packaging.

“These bean-to-bar chocolate artisans are changing the way people consume the world’s most popular treat. DV Artisan Chocolate’s ethos represents the values, integrity and commitment to quality that discerning consumers are looking for the world over," said Sendzul.
Michael Jordaan, an Invenfin board member who has also invested in DV Artisan Chocolate through his investment company Montegray Capital, added that South Africa’s boutique food and beverage sector is awash with innovation and originality.

“Consumers are actively seeking out authentic experiences and authentic products, which makes this a good time for food start-ups driven by integrity,” said Jordaan.

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