Belgian-born Kees Beyers, the owner of Beyers Chocolates, has been working in the world of pastry since the age of 12 – so it’s fair to say that he’s passionate about chocolate and confectionery! Here he discusses some of the challenges facing the South African industry and Beyers Chocolates, the sustainability initiatives that the company has undertaken, and the advice he would give to his 21-year-old self.

What is your story?

I grew up in Belgium and went to a pastry school from the age of 12. I started working weekends in a pastry shop and did my national service in Belgium before coming to SA. I first worked as a pastry chef in an industrial kitchen and then started my own chocolate company 2 1/2 years later. That was 30 years ago and we are now the largest independent chocolate factory in SA. We employ 350 full time staff and 600 staff in season, which is about 8 months of the year.

Explain who you are to the industry in a couple of sentences

I think I am seen as a reference in the chocolate industry in South Africa.

How is the South African hospitality industry different from those in different countries that you’ve worked in? 

An ongoing challenge is relatively untrained staff, but this is getting better all the time.

What are some of the challenges that Beyers Chocolates is facing at the moment and how are you addressing these challenges?

In our industry it’s the chocolate price and weak rand. We cannot pass the full increase on to the consumer as the economy is quite weak at the moment.

What are some of Beyers Chocolates’ focuses at the moment and going into the New Year?

New product development and new flavours of the world

How do you see Beyers Chocolates fitting into the South African hospitality industry?

We are an important supplier to the hospitality industry, also supplying cocoa and chocolate ingredients to the various restaurants and hotels.

Where do you think its place and brand is, and what makes the company unique in SA?

We have been in the market for the past 30 years and our real competition is all the imports coming into SA. We are unique in the sense that there really aren’t many people doing what we are doing in the country.

How do you engage your brand to the local SA market? Any engaging media initiatives and marketing campaigns that you run?

We run a successful website, Facebook and run regular competitions.

Kees Beyers’ Pop Quiz

What are the company goals for future excellence in the local industry

To keep on improving what we are doing.

Let’s talk Sustainability and the steps you have taken to make a difference here?

We supply a large range of chocolates to Woolworths and all their chocolate is UTZ certified – in South Africa this is a real point of difference. We also have quite a large solar plant supplying a lot of our electricity to the factory.

How do you incentivise and motivate staff as an organisation?

We run internal competitions and also have an employee of the year award. Most of our staff enjoy working for a privately owned company and that I am accessible for every employee.

Trend Prediction for the local industry?

Locally sourced.

If you were going to teach a college course, what course would you teach?

Maths.

What leader or leaders do you look up to and why?

Probably Barack Obama.

What is one truth you believe in that most people disagree with you on?

You are what you are and it will only get worse as you get older

What’s one assumption people make about you that is dead wrong?

That I am conservative.

Who is your mentor/s and what recent challenge/s have you sought their advice for?

I have some “older” business friends that I occasionally turn to for advice.

Tell me about a time when you had to make a tough business decision that supported your company’s purpose, but may have had a negative, short-term financial impact.

That time is right now. We have bought three businesses in our industry in the past two years and it’s tough-going. However, the reward will be there in the end when it all comes together

If you could go back and give your 21-year old self a valuable piece of advice, what would you say?

Don’t be bamboozled by people in high positions or people with degrees.

As you think about your career, who is a team member you had a huge impact on and what are they doing today as a result of your leadership?

We had a lady in Quality Assurance who started with us about 8 years ago and is now becoming a BEE partner in one of our “offshoot” businesses – this will have a huge impact on her life going forward as she is also a single mother

If you could work on solving any problem in the world, what one problem would it be?

Poverty.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I let people be and do it their way but I will step in if I see the wheels are coming off!

What specific mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual activities do you engage in to keep yourself operating at your optimum level?

I am an active member of a running club and run about 50km per week. That keeps me sane.

What are you learning right now?

I am learning to speak Zulu.

Favorite Inspirational Business Quote.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Albert Einstein.

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