Darling Sweet Celebrates 10th Anniversary

by Tia

In 2013, Frits van Ryneveld, an antique store owner in the small Western Cape town of Darling, came up with the idea of making toffee to sell at the town’s local craft and food market.

For him it was obvious that the most delectable old fashioned handcrafted toffees should be made in Darling, given that one of the key ingredients – butter – was historically linked to the small town. (In 1899 two Swedes, Nils Georg Moller and G. Threnstrom settled in Darling and started the first creamery, making butter that was revered across the country.)

The idea didn’t take long to inspire Van Ryneveld’s partner, Hentie van der Merwe – an artist, lecturer and, as luck would have it, trained chef – to start researching the centuries old art of toffee making, tracking down long-forgotten recipes and experimenting in their kitchen late into the night. All this while still teaching his students at Stellenbosch University the finer points of art and photography during the day.

From the outset, their idea was to produce a range of premium toffees that were handcrafted using traditional methods and with no added artificial colourants, flavourings or preservatives. Furthermore, they wanted to ensure a range of toffee flavours that were unique to Darling and its surrounds, by using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.

In May 2014 Van Ryneveld quit his job and, together with Van der Merwe, converted his old antique shop into a production kitchen. They employed two assistants to help them and started producing their first toffees.

Three flavours were the first to roll off the production line – Tannie Evita’s Classic, Honey & Salt and Sour Fig, and these were packaged up and sold at the local craft and food markets in the area as well as at a few local retail outlets.

It was not long before word-of-mouth grew and the demand for Darling Sweet toffees was such that Van der Merwe resigned from his lecturing position at Stellenbosch University to take on the role of product developer.

Today Darling Sweet employs 32 full time members of staff and produces toffee products in a large stately Edwardian building that once housed Darling’s General Dealer business.

Darling Sweet’s product range has also expanded, and now includes soft caramels and toffee spreads (popular as cake toppings, dessert fillings or for eating with a spoon straight out of the jar!), alongside their ever popular toffees, which now come in 10 different flavours.

To mark Darling Sweet’s 10th anniversary, we sat down with van Ryneveld, chewed on a few remarkably moreish toffees, and asked him a few questions.

What changes have there been at Darling Sweet in the last 10 years?

Since the inception of Darling Sweet the aim of the business was to grow and establish itself as a top quality confectionery company. During this time we have learnt a lot about running a business. Our handcrafted production facility has been significantly streamlined and we have introduced an internationally approved food safety system. Having had its roots in a 24m² production facility, which it quickly outgrew, we moved into a 500m² space and are now in the process of relocating to Evita se Perron which offers us a bigger area in which to continue producing our products. Having said that, over the last decade we have stayed true to our recipes and top quality ingredients are still our priority.

You started with two employees in 2014 – how many do you employ now and what do their roles range from?

Our team has grown to 32 staff members ranging from toffee makers and wrappers to operations and marketing. We have had growth in all our departments and now have a shop team, a packaging team, production, operations and finances.

Now that your customers have had 10 years to try all the flavours and products, what would you say are your best-sellers?

South Africans enjoy traditional flavours like our Tannie Evita’s Classic toffee, liquorice flavours, honey and salt and salted soft caramels, but our range is also aimed at the tourist market and more adventurous palate – boasting a Bird’s Eye Chili and even a Rooibos Chai flavour.

Darling Sweet toffees and caramels are now available globally. Can you give us a list of countries where people can buy your products?

Globally is very flattering, but we have had successful exports and are available in a few countries like Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and UAE.

Tell us about your new packaging designs

Our packaging design has evolved over the years, as we are very much a company focused on gifting. We started off with a craft look but being based in one of the world’s most beautiful flower-rich regions, we have chosen bright colours to complement our range. Our new packaging is vibrant and bold, a colourful celebration of our brand’s journey. The diverse shapes and colours reflect the beautiful diversity for which South Africa is renowned.

You also have a hospitality range.

Our hospitality range has become a big part of our business. Our toffees and soft caramels are perfect for hospitality establishments to use as pillow drops as they not only look and taste great but are also Kosher and Halaal. This month (July) we will be launching an updated look to the packaging.

The company collects Vintage Toffee Tins and displays them in the Darling shop. How many in your collection and what is your favourite/most valuable/oldest?

We started collecting vintage toffee tins when we launched our business, never realising the amount of toffee tins available! They were so much part of our vision, as many people repurposed them for use as lunchboxes, teabag caddies, biscuit tins or even something in which to hold their sewing or needle work items. We currently have over 300 in our collection, some of them donated by customers and others picked up a flea markets or in antique and second hand shops. We even have a customer based in England and one in Australia who has sent us toffee tins from afar! Our favourite is an old shop tin containing toffees from the 1920s!

To mark a decade in the confectionery industry, a little bird told us you have a new product launching in August! Any hints?

Yes, we’re very excited about our new product. As for that hint – it’s something that South Africans have “made their own”!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Our motto at Darling Sweet is “Take your Time”. Not only is this the way our handcrafted products are made, but it is also how our products should be enjoyed – slowly!

For more information on Darling Sweet and its range of products, visit the Darling Sweet website.

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