Darling Sweet, one of South Africa\’s premier toffee manufacturers started in the Western Cape town of Darling only four years ago and has already become a household name and a firm favourite with local and international sweet-toothed fans. The company\’s rise has been fairly meteoric and we sat down with founders and confectioners Hentie van der Merwe and Frits van Ryneveld for a nostalgic looks at the past five years …
Tell us what you were doing five years ago?
Hentie: I was head of Fine Arts at Stellenbosch University’s Visual Arts Department.
Frits: I had an antique shop in Darling, but also was a full-time medical rep for a generic pharmaceutical company. And five years ago I hadn’t met Hentie yet!
How did Darling Sweet start? Can you remember the day four years ago when you were inspired to start Darling Sweet
H: Soon after having met in 2013, Frits mentioned that he wanted to find someone to provide him with toffee to sell in his antique shop. I suggested we find a local toffee manufacturer to supply us with toffees that we put our own label on. There really was only one supplier to approach and, after our initial meeting, they advised that they were too busy and would not be able to supply us. So I decided to design a recipe for Frits since, in addition to art, cooking and food has always been a passion of mine. Frits was away at the time so I set about making toffee which kept me busy all weekend. By the time I had fetched him at the airport I had more or less worked out the recipe for our classic toffee, and so I wrapped the final batch in tissue paper, put a big bow on it and gave it to him when he came through the airport gates. And so Darling Sweet was born!
F: Real traditional toffees are something that reminds me of a happy childhood. On the confectionery scene so much has changed over the years and real honest handcrafted products had become something of the past. But since the early 90s, quite a few handcrafted confectionery companies have started producing nougat, fudge, chocolate and a soft toffee. But not the real traditional hard toffee that I knew from my childhood.
Where did the recipe come from?
H & F: We did a lot of research – looking at traditional recipes, old recipe books, the internet and of course the university library. We even asked our moms! After much trial and error, we found the one that produced a toffee that was not only delicious but also robust enough to be produced on an industrial scale!
What did the first day of Darling Sweet manufacturing look like?
H: It was Monday, 14 July 2014, and the university was still on their mid-term break. We had spent 10 days converting Frits’ 24m2 antique shop into a confectionery kitchen and that day we interviewed and employed our first two members of staff and I set about training them in the art of toffee making on our one gas cooker. We made a single batch that day while Frits painted doors and carried in furniture needed and got the area ready. The whole village was very supportive, but thought we were crazy! We had a lot of people popping in to see what we were up to.
Who came up with the name?
H: We were having dinner at friends and one of the guests suggested we call it Darling Sweet, and we both instantly liked it and decided that Darling Sweet it is. ‘Sweet’ has a nice ring to it and also allows us to not limit ourselves to toffees only.
How did Tannie Evita come to lend her name to your classic toffee?
F: Pieter-Dirk Uys is a hugely supportive man and contacted me one day and said ‘Why not a toffee for the tannie?’ We were very excited with the idea and decided to change our Classic Toffee to Tannie Evita’s Classic Toffee. Thus paying tribute to South Africa’s most famous white woman and for the work she has done for our country. We also donate money to The Darling Trust which she set up and are actively involved in it. We manage the Evita’s Crafters group, which is an initiative for job creation and empowerment for women in our community, and Hentie is also an active trustee and recently arranged the Charity Dinner with Tannie Evita that raised a lot of money.
What inspires the different flavours?
H: Initially our idea was to develop a series of flavours inspired by the Swartland, hence our Honey & Salt toffee flavour, seeing as Darling is surrounded by seven salt pans. Also, honey and the sour fig plant being typical of this area. However we soon decided that there are classic toffee flavour favourites that we just had to do like our Liquorice and Mint flavours which are very popular.
Any that didn\’t work out?
F: Due to the difficulty and labour intensiveness we discontinued our Sour Fig Toffee. We also had an Orange & Pomegranate flavour but we were not happy with the pomegranate aril in the toffee, so we changed it to Orange & Cranberry. Our two wines flavours – Red Wine & Chocolate and Ormonde Wines Toffees have been discontinued since our whole range is now Kosher and Halal. But watch this space, there are new flavours coming soon!
Where do you see yourselves in five year’s time?
H & F: We want to keep growing the brand and entrenching our footprint nationally and internationally. We plan to explore the export market after our successful initial export to the US. We also have plans to add other confectionery to our toffee range, the first of which we are about to launch. It\’s very exciting and a real turning point in our company’s history. One of our other main aims is job creation and career development and building a sustainable business creating opportunities for our rural community.
How are you going to celebrate your 4th birthday?
H & F: With the launch of our new range of confectionery at the shop on Sunday, August 12, which will be unveiled by our patron saint, Tannie Evita. We have also invited supporters from our local community, all our staff and their partners as well as companies who have supported us along the way. We will also being paying tribute to Women\’s Day as 20 of our 23 permanent staff members are women. There will be wine, snacks, cake, a few short speeches and of course lots of toffee and …