The Kāpiti chocolate factory celebrates its 30th anniversary

Kapiti chocolate factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

Opened in Kāpiti in 1992 and quickly becoming one of the largest chocolate distributors in the country, the Kāpiti chocolate factory came into being after the husband of Featherston’s wife, Lenore Nysse, bought the house a box of decadent chocolates while traveling in Europe.

Inspired by what she ate, Lenore started experimenting, making her own chocolates and testing them on friends and family before selling them in markets.

Originally named Nyco Chocolates, the business started in the 1980s and moved to Kāpiti in 1992, growing to produce chocolate for Deka and Farmers.

“They were distributing and exporting chocolate, operating three shifts a day – it was almost a 24/7 operation,” said Sarah Abaniel, owner of Kāpiti Chocolate Factory.

Sarah Abaniel, owner of the Kāpiti chocolate factory.  Photo / Rosalie Willis
Sarah Abaniel, owner of the Kāpiti chocolate factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

“It was a big deal for a while until the marriage broke up and things fell apart in 2014.”

Between then and now the business went into liquidation, Auckland-based Chocolate Brown bought it and tried to run it remotely for a year, before putting it back on the market.

“Chocolate Brown bought it – they had more of a boutique, handcrafted style of production rather than mass production and they tried to make it work for a while, but it didn’t last long.”

It was Sarah’s husband, James, who then spotted it for sale on Trade Me in 2018.

“He told me ‘there’s a chocolate factory for sale in Kāpiti, we should go and see’. We came on Easter Saturday, had a look, then a few weeks later he told me he had made an offer and they accepted it.

“I think James just thought it would be fun and something a little different.”

Just like that, and to the delight of their two children, Sarah and James buy a chocolate factory.

“Children tell their friends at school that their parents run a chocolate factory and I don’t know if they really believe them, but my son is very greedy, he loves chocolate and finds it excellent.”

Rebranding

Kapiti chocolate factory.  Photo / Rosalie Willis
Kapiti chocolate factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

Taking over the business in 2018, Sarah and James renamed it Kāpiti Chocolate Factory and slowly expanded it after all the upheaval since 2014. This meant closing the shop for several months to focus on growing their business contract . work.

The company’s slow growth was going well until the arrival of Covid-19.

“A lot of our business is making chocolates under contract for companies that sell them to tourists and sell them in souvenir shops. That was a big part of our business, so we had to think about how we were going to ‘pivot’.”

Kāpiti Chocolate Factory took advantage of Covid-19 to increase its own-brand presence, which meant selling chocolate under its own name and increasing its direct-to-consumer online presence.

The chocolate making process at Kāpiti Chocolate Factory.  Photo / Rosalie Willis
The chocolate making process at Kāpiti Chocolate Factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

In September 2020 they also purchased Kako Chocolates which added artisan chocolates and embossed chocolates to their offering. This means companies can have their brand printed directly on the chocolate rather than just printed on the packaging as they do for companies such as Tommy’s Real Estate.

“We can put their brand both on the packaging and directly on the chocolate.”

Contract manufacturing is also a large part of their business, producing chocolate which is used by other food manufacturers in their products, such as Talley’s ice cream or by combining with other food producers such as Dark Horse to make coffee chocolate.

Different from the likes of Whittaker or Wellington Chocolate Factory, the Kāpiti Chocolate Factory buys chocolate rather than doing the bean-to-bar process.

“You won’t see us in supermarkets competing with other brands as we focus more on contract manufacturing and corporate branded products.

“Covid-19 has definitely changed what we do, but we had a massive Easter party and had never seen the store this busy.”

Throughout this change many employees have remained, some working in the factory for over 20 years using the same tried and true recipes.

The chocolate process

The chocolate making process at Kāpiti Chocolate Factory.  Photo / Rosalie Willis
The chocolate making process at Kāpiti Chocolate Factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

The Kāpiti Chocolate Factory organizes demonstrations for groups – particularly popular during school holidays and for groups from local retirement villages. During the demonstration, you will learn about the process chocolate goes through in the factory after being imported from global chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut.

Depending on what chocolate is used for the couverture or standard quality chocolate is used.

“They make the premium couverture chocolate which is really top of the line and that’s what we use for artisan Kako Chocolate. It really is top notch chocolate because of the high percentage of cocoa butter in it. ‘it contains.

“We then buy standard quality for most of our other products, but it also depends on what our customers want.”

Flowing chocolate at the Kāpiti chocolate factory.  Photo / Rosalie Willis
Flowing chocolate at the Kāpiti chocolate factory. Photo / Rosalie Willis

At the chocolate factory, the chocolate is then melted, molded and fillings are added if necessary.

“We buy it, melt it, mold it, and add our own toppings if needed.”

Hundreds of molds are available and the factory can also make custom molds to create unique products.

“Probably the most interesting chocolate we made was an ear we made for a hearing company. We also worked with Tuatara to turn their bottles with the scales into chocolate. Although the product didn’t come out, it was fun to be involved with a project like that, to do something really different.”

This story was first published in the Spring/Summer magazine Celebrating Kāpiti 2022.

This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air

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