Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is wine region’s sweetest spot

Visitors to one of South Australia’s most famous wine regions can add a new experience to the list of must-see destinations with the opening of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

The all-in-one chocolate factory, cellar door, café and ice-creamery at Tanunda has opened to the public in time for the sweetest holiday of the year – Easter.

The $5.5 million facility is the Barossa Valley’s first chocolaterie and cellar door and has created between 20-30 local jobs in hospitality and retail.

Owners Chris and Sandy Day travelled the world sampling the sweet stuff and drawing inspiration from chocolate meccas of Bruges, Florence, Bariloche, and Daintree in Australia before launching their own venture.

Sandy and Chris Day of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

“The world-class Barossa Valley Chocolate Company has been inspired by the very best experiences from across the globe, from Bariloche in Argentina to Napa Valley in the USA and the Chocolate Line in Bruges, Belgium,” Sandy says.

At the centre of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is a mesmerising chocolate wall, inspired by the Venchi Cioccolato e Gelato in Florence.

Over the past year head chocolatier Amy Sajinovic has developed a range of more than 250 chocolate products, taste tested by 2500 South Australians. The range of delectable sweet treats includes milk, dark, white and ruby chocolate. A salted caramel and cider truffle has become a fast favourite, as has a signature truffle infused with Vineyard Road ‘Stan the Man’ wine.

A retail space showcases brightly packaged chocolate blocks, boxes and Easter eggs, while visitors can see the chocolatiers in action through a wide viewing window. An ice creamery serves freshly-made gelato, while the 150-seat Benni’s Café boasts a menu of locally sourced produce to be enjoyed indoors or on the deck overlooking a large water feature and surrounding vineyards.

A number of other food producers in the region are supported through Benni’s Café with produce from Steiny’s Traditional Mettwurst, Barossa Valley Cheese Company, Barossa Valley Cider Company, Apex Bakery, and more.

“As much as possible is sourced from the Barossa,” Chris says. “These are all families doing great things for SA, and together, we can put SA on the map.”

The chocolate and wine pairing experience features five of Vineyard Road’s handcrafted wines.

The Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is the latest addition to the FABAL Group, which also owns Vineyard Road Wines, some of which are made from surrounding vineyards and can be enjoyed at the cellar door. FABAL is also the joint owner of the Vasse Virgin @ Seppeltsfield skincare business.

FABAL Group CEO Chris Day says his and Sandy’s idea to pursue a chocolate venture in the Barossa was inspired by regular family trips to the Margaret River and its famous chocolate company – a destination enjoyed by young families.

The Barossa chocolate venture was also spurred by a need to value-add to their grapegrowing operations and strengthen the value of agritourism in the region.

“As grapegrowers we’ve been through drought and survived, but in 2011 just as we went to pick our grapes, deluges of rain came through and destroyed our crop,” Chris says.

“I said we had to do something to protect ourselves by value-adding to the business … agritourism is a big chunk of our future. By 2013/14 we started working seriously on Barossa Valley Chocolate Company and we started travelling around Australia and internationally to some of the best chocolate making places in the world.”

At the heart of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company is a ‘fun for all’ concept ensuring both young and old can enjoy the visitor experience.

Colour, fun and frivolity are at the heart of the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company.

Sandy, who has a background in graphic design and fashion, was behind the design and feel of the facility, working with local architect Jamie Gladigau of JBG Architects to create an open and sophisticated design.

The chocolate packaging and displays are brightly coloured – a nod to the ‘fun for all’ motto. Large chocolate letters placed in drawers was a concept inspired by the Days’ visit to Bruges in Belgium.

“(In Bruges) I could see all this action in the corner, kids opening drawers with chocolate letters in them, and they were having so much fun,” Sandy says.

“Then last Saturday (at the Barossa Valley Chocolate Company) I saw a family with little children playing a game with the letters, it was lovely to see.”

Visitors can indulge in a specially-curated chocolate and wine pairing experience with Vineyard Road wines in the cellar door. Chocolate making classes will soon be introduced, as will the ability to hold weddings and events.

Local family business Ahrens was involved in the construction as well as electrical company Yates Electrical which installed a 100kW solar system on the roof.

Got a good story idea? Nominate a story from your region.
Click here to nominate >>

These inspiring regional stories are made possible by:

Major Partner[logooos_saved id=”5491″]Program Partners

[logooos_saved id=”29687″]


Haigh’s Easter treats in full production

Haigh’s $15 million investment in its Mile End manufacturing plant has been tested to meet Easter chocolate demand – which has taken effect since January.

The South Australian family-owned company has doubled its production capacity with the installation of Italian state-of-the-art roasting and German blending machines at its expanded Mile End plant. Haigh’s is the only large-scale operation in Australia making its own chocolate couverture from scratch, creating eight different chocolate blends to exacting family recipes – including one special milk chocolate blend for Easter eggs, containing more cocoa butter to make it thinner for running easily around egg moulds.

Each of the distinctive Haigh’s blends comprise cocoa beans from up to four different countries, and the highly efficient new Mile End plant can manufacture up to 20 different batches of chocolate each day.

“The investment in upgrading has been justified because the new operation runs so smoothly in times of peak demand,” says Haigh’s marketing manager Fiona Krawczyk.

Large dark chocolate eggs ready to be packaged for the Easter rush.

The lead into Easter is when Haigh’s unique operation is evident – not just as the only large-scale chocolate manufacturer roasting its own cocoa beans, but also for only selling through its own network of 18 Haigh’s retails stores across Australia.

This whole careful process starts with stringent selection of superior cocoa beans from UTZ certified sustainable farms in Ecuador, Ghana, Venezuela and Grenada. And because Haigh’s aims to only use certified beans, it is encouraging the owners of a plantation in Papua New Guinea, whose beans have formed an integral part of Haigh’s blends for 60 years, to also obtain certification.

This remains important because Haigh’s has made its chocolate from scratch since the company began in 1915, and the volume of beans it uses is substantial – about 10,000kg roasted each week, with its storage warehouse laden with about 1000 tonne of beans.

Individual parcels of beans are roasted at 116C for about 40 minutes, then crushed so the cocoa nibs can be separated from husks (which are recycled for garden mulch). Nibs are ground into a thick, rather gritty paste and mixed with sugar (plus milk powder for milk chocolate).

A Haigh’s employee pans through chocolate.

The resulting slurry is rolled and aerated in a giant, heated churn for a 10-hour conching process, to remove excess moisture, caramelise milk powder and develop flavours. Cocoa butter is added to make a smooth, viscous paste, which is pumped into 10 holding tanks (four for dark chocolate blends, three for milk chocolate, and three single origin blends), from which 20 tonnes of chocolate get transported by tanker each week to Haigh’s chocolate shaping factory at Parkside.

“The Parkside factory is where the magic happens, transforming molten chocolate into the familiar shapes that are so popular,” says Haigh’s new products co-ordinator Robert Fowler, a 30-year employee responsible for creating some of the company’s most beloved individual chocolates, including salted caramel, through to the more daring mango and chilli centre.

While these are standouts among 250 varieties of chocolates produced by Haigh’s, Easter focuses on a different production output, with the first chocolate bilbies and eggs wrapped in tinfoil from early January.

Marking chocolate by hand is a finicky process.

Haigh’s trademark Easter bilbies have introduced a proud Australian tone to the season, and signal an important production milestone for the company. Bilby shapes were the first polycarbonate moulds introduced at Haigh’s 26 years ago that replaced traditional tin moulds.

Hollow Easter chocolate shapes are created when these moulds are attached to a spinning machine filled with molten chocolate as it rotates, then cooled to set the shape. They are then wrapped individually by up to 30 staff, deftly snipping ribbed tinfoil for an elegant finish.

Haigh’s is particularly fussy about its metal foils, choosing a different suite of colours each year, with this year’s being mint, raspberry, gold and mauve (no Easter colour range has ever been repeated). Haigh’s even purchased a rare tinfoil ribbing machine from an Italian manufacturer last year to ensure its preferred foil crimping process.

The Haigh’s ‘Egg-strodinary’ package.

Haigh’s will present new product this Easter, including multi-coloured sugared almonds, which have been modified after several years of trials before being put into full production.

Haigh’s largest chocolate egg weighs an imposing 600g, and the season’s final eggs have been wrapped as late as Easter Thursday.

Easter is such a busy time that it even affects Haigh’s most popular item, Chocolate Speckles. This unique product is made differently to rival choc buttons that are rolled in sugar sprinkles, because Haigh’s drops large dollops of chocolate into trays filled with multi-coloured nonpareils (manufactured by Dollar Sweets in Melbourne). It’s labor-intensive and requires strenuous cleaning of conveyor belts and other work surfaces before another type of chocolates can be produced.

Therefore, speckles production is accelerated through summer before ceasing during January for a three-month focus on Easter chocolate production – which ensures that Haigh’s still produces about 14 million speckles each year.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

[logooos_saved id=”13411″]

The Polly Waffle is back … and it’ll be made right here in SA

A decade after disappearing from supermarket shelves, the legendary Polly Waffle chocolate bar is back.

Fourth-generation South Australian family business Robern Menz has acquired the long-lost chocolate treat from Swiss confectionery giant Nestlé, which discontinued the Polly Waffle in 2009.

Robern Menz – maker of much-loved Fruchocs – will take ownership of the Polly Waffle brand and trademark as well as the famous recipe.

The Polly Waffle’s history dates back to 1947, when Melbourne-based Hoadley’s Chocolates first made the chocolate-coated wafer and marshmellow bar.

Robern Menz acquired another iconic sweet – the Violet Crumble – from Nestlé in 2018 and rolled the first bar off its production line last October. The addition to the company meant 30 jobs were created and the factory expanded.

Robern Menz CEO Phil Sims says the Polly Waffle has entered into the territory of Australian legend, after production ceased almost 10 years ago.

“There are kids and even young adults out there who don’t really know what a Polly Waffle is and haven’t tasted it before, but there are also many devoted fans who have been campaigning hard for its return,” he says.

“Since taking over the Violet Crumble brand we have been bombarded with two distinct questions, when are you bringing back the bags of Violet Crumble and when are you bringing back Polly Waffle? There is even a Facebook page that has over 55,000 members petitioning to ‘Bring Back The Polly Waffle.’

“As an Australian family-owned business, we have a real affinity for local brands and to have the opportunity to revive them and bring them back into the market is such a privilege. We also love a challenge and are honoured to be the business that gets the chance to try to bring back the Polly Waffle.

“Australia’s food production industry is important to our future economy and sustainability. We believe our role and contribution is keeping as much manufacturing here as possible and creating jobs, and we’ve been doing this for over 150 years.”

When Brand SA News shared news of the Violet Crumble acquisition in 2018, social media users inundated Brand South Australia’s Facebook page, commenting on their desire for the Polly Waffle to return.

“Great news for SA! Now bring back the Polly Waffle,” said Derek Turner, while Sam Gibbs agreed. “Fantastic. I’m also on the POLLY WAFFLE bandwagon too. PLEASE.”

Nestlé business executive officer–confectionery, Chris O’Donnell, says Nestlé is also excited about the Polly Waffle’s return.

“Polly Waffle is one of those iconic brands that despite its absence from market still has a loyal following,” he says.

“We wish Robern Menz the best of luck in bringing it back and giving Australia’s Polly Waffle lovers the opportunity to enjoy it once again.”

Robern Menz is also bringing back the much-loved Violet Crumble 180g bag, featuring bite-sized versions of the chocolate bar, available at a number of national retailers from March 2019.

The Robern Menz factory is located at Glynde in Adelaide’s north eastern suburbs.

Header image is of Robern Menz CEO Phil Sims.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

[logooos_saved id=”13411″]

Sweet export deal for SA-made chocolate icon

The iconic South Australian-made chocolate bar, Violet Crumble, will make its way from Adelaide and into the hands of American chocolate lovers as Robern Menz expands its export plan in the US.

A 20-ft shipping container holding 77,000 of the chocolate honeycomb treats will leave Adelaide for Los Angeles and San Francisco this week, following a deal between Violet Crumble’s maker Robern Menz and distributors British Wholesale Imports last month.

Violet Crumbles have been available in a small number of US outlets including Cost Plus World Market, Wegmans, Stater Brothers and 7 Eleven for more than 20 years, but Robern Menz has a strategic focus to expand internationally.

Inside the Robern Menz factory. Photo by Julian Cebo.

Fourth-generation family business Robern Menz, also the maker of the round chocolate apricot treat Fruchocs, acquired Violet Crumble from Swiss confectionery giant Nestlé earlier this year, bringing ownership of the famous purple and yellow wrapped bar back to Australia for the first time in 46 years.

Robern Menz CEO Phil Sims says the company is “thrilled” to be in a position to manage the expansion of the well known Aussie brand into international markets, including the US.

“The reception around our planned expansion in the US has been really positive; Violet Crumble’s unique taste profile and branding is really resonating with Americans, who want to know how they can buy it locally,” he says.

“It’s so rewarding to see the first shipment leave the factory and make its way into the hands of American consumers and we can’t wait to hear the reaction from many more Americans to something that Australians hold so dear.”

The Violet Crumble is known for its tagline ‘it’s the way it shatters that matters’.

Production of the Violet Crumble in Adelaide began in October, following a $4 million refit and extension of the Robern Menz factory at Glynde in Adelaide’s east.

The factory’s overall output was increased by 37% and 30 additional staff were hired to oversee production and management of the Violet Crumble.

Robern Menz is also celebrating for another reason this week, after becoming the inaugural inductee for the Consumer Award Legend at the SA Food Industry Awards.

The Violet Crumble chocolate bar has been around since 1913 when it was invented by Melbourne man Abel Hoadley.

It was made in Adelaide until 1985 before moving to Melbourne under Nestlé’s ownership.

Header image by Julian Cebo.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

[logooos_saved id=”13411″]

Local produce an inspiration for sweet success

Seasonal produce has that something extra. Extra sweetness, extra crunch, extra flavour.

And when you hand craft it into a delicious filling and cover it in quality chocolate – well, that is something extra special.

Alex Crawford, aka The Sugar Man, is doing just that – creating hand-crafted chocolate bars in the Adelaide Hills with fillings which take inspiration from local, seasonal ingredients.

Think apple pie flavours with crisp Pink Lady apples and pieces of pie crust covered in 34% white chocolate, or a peanut butter filling using locally ground peanuts and a pinch of Murray River pink salt, encased in single origin Ghana milk chocolate.

Alex, who closed his wholesale patisserie business late last year, has always been a lover of local, seasonal food.

However, taking this philosophy to a range of chocolate bars is certainly something new.

Have you seen The Sugar Man? Photo by Meaghan Coles.

Alex is creating new bars each season, being inspired by the produce that is available in the Adelaide Hills and wider areas.

“The Pink Lady apples have been sourced from fourth-generation apple growers in the Adelaide Hills,” he says.

“I have also just released an Espresso Martini flavour using Espressocello from Applewood Distillery at Gumeracha and locally roasted coffee beans from Caffiend in Hahndorf.

“The espresso filling is covered with a Mexique 66% dark chocolate which has bitter and fruity notes. It took a little while to find the right chocolate to cover this one, but now that I have it, the balance is perfect.”

The Sugar Man bars are made to order, so when you buy a bar you can be sure that it was produced in the very recent past.

Depending on the filling, the chocolate bars have a best before date of around two to three months.

The Espresso Martini chocolate made with Espressocello from fellow Hills business Applewood Distillery. Photo by Britt Natolo.

One of the foundation ingredients for the chocolate bars is butter, and Alex sources his from The Dairyman in the Barossa Valley.

“It is superb butter,” Alex says.

“It is churned and handmade in small batches from the cream of grass fed Jersey cows. I am lucky to be surrounded by such talented and hardworking producers who take pride and interest in their work. It makes my job a lot easier.”

Some of the flavours Alex has created so far include Fairy Bread, Coffee and Doughnuts, Sticky Date Pudding and Orange Marmalade on Toast.

The Apple Pie chocolate is made using Pink Lady apples, pie crust and white chocolate. Photo by Britt Natolo.

The marmalade flavour was created using oranges from Alex’s grandmother’s tree, with sourdough bread from Dough bakery.

“It is all about balance of texture and flavours,” Alex says. “The ratios have to be right.”

And just like with all artisan pursuits, there are no shortcuts.

“Chocolate is temperamental,” Alex says.

“It takes time and patience to complete each step, but people are going to buy the product, so it has to be perfect.”

The Sugar Man chocolate bars are available at Fred Eatery, Aldgate, The Smelly Cheese Shop, Adelaide Central Markets and Banana Boys, Mitcham.

An online store and dedicated retail outlet will be appearing soon – stay tuned.

Like this story? Nominate a story from your region.
Click here to nominate >>

These inspiring regional stories are made possible by:

Major Partner[logooos_saved id=”5491″]Program Partners

[logooos_saved id=”29687″]