Nontwenhle Mchunu (35) is South Africa’s first black chocolatier. She shares how she’s educating local chocolate lovers one taste bud at a time. By Kwanele Mathebula Pictures Peter Whitfield
I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was born and raised in a large family in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of family business activity because my parents had various businesses. My mom bought and sold coal, boiler chickens, cattle and furniture. And, the rest of the family businesses included farms, a small abattoir, butchery, supermarket, property and a small petrol station. From a young age, my father encouraged my siblings and I to choose the businesses we wanted to work in after school and during school holidays. Working in the family business inspired me to follow in my parents’ footsteps and become an entrepreneur.
I discovered my love for chocolate unexpectedly. After matriculating in 2001, I worked in the family business, looking after our properties. During this time, I began applying to study nursing overseas because it would have afforded me the opportunity to travel, which I love. I started preparing to go abroad, but my plans were put on hold after the 9/11 bombings in America. Due to this, the travel laws changed which impacted plans. So, I stayed home and continued my duties in the family businesses while working on opening my own business. I then started a company, Ntwezinhle Creations, where I bought chocolate, remoulded and sold it. I later moved to Durban to do a short pastry course at Tsogo Sun Hotel. Here, my passion for chocolate was really ignited.
The making of EzulwiniChocolat. I began researching chocolate and found out that Africa was the largest producer of cocoa. I decided that I wanted to train with the best and then return to the continent to share that knowledge. I went on to train in various parts of the world such as Belgium’s Leatherhead Food International and the Swiss chocolatier Läderach in Switzerland. And, I was exposed to some of the best chocolate in the world. Training included how chocolate is made from bean to bar, the different kinds of chocolate, marketing, packaging, different kinds of origins, processing, how the quality of chocolate is compromised, and what makes expensive and terrible chocolate. With this experience in hand and a more educated understanding of chocolate, I decided to re-launch my company in 2018, under a new name – EzulwiniChocolat. The focus now was on creating premium chocolate.
Running a business is difficult. I struggled to source the suppliers of cocoa because it was only available in very large quantities, which I couldn’t afford. Also, I needed the appropriate facilities and equipment to process the chocolate which wasn’t cheap. I then decided to close EzulwiniChocolat because the logistics of running it became challenging. Because I was still passionate about this space, I investigated how I could still provide Africans with premium chocolate by bringing it into the continent instead of making it from scratch. I started talking to former Lindt SA CEO, Nicholas Theonen. He had a lot of experience in the premium chocolate space in South Africa and had achieved a lot in pioneering that space. With his business expertise in chocolate and my passion, we started a new business.
In 2017, we opened Swiss Divertas Group. Here, we import international chocolate brands to South Africa. Currently, we import Dr Chocolate and Valonia from Turkey, and Valor from Spain. We’re also looking at brands from Switzerland. We want to give local consumers options by educating them about the different kinds of chocolate available. I am excited to give Africans the ability to choose what they like.