The Seriously Good Chocolate Company owner Jane Stanton (front) and staff (from left) Bridgette Keil, Raphael Rausch, Heather Soper and Lisa Churches display some of the company's produce outside its Invercargill store. Photo by Sally Rae.
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company in Invercargill
stemmed from one woman's attempts to cheer up her hairdresser
by making some chocolate truffles. Now Jane Stanton is
exporting a taste of New Zealand to the world, as business
reporter Sally Rae reports.
Jane Stanton is a seriously determined woman.
She is the founder of the The Seriously Good Chocolate
Company, an Invercargill-based business with its roots in
Hokitika that produces chocolate that can now be found in the
likes of Harrods, arguably the world's most famous department
Despite being originally from Auckland, Ms Stanton could be
described as a typical southern woman, with a refreshingly
matter-of-fact approach to both life and business.
''When adversity comes along, you've just got to carry on,''
And there have been plenty of challenges to overcome,
including, most recently, breast cancer and a hip
But not to succeed was not an option, Ms Stanton (who gave
her age as ''29 plus GST plus a wee bit'') said.
The story of The Seriously Good Chocolate Company began when
Ms Stanton, who was then teaching at Fiordland College in Te
Anau, made some chocolate truffles for the local hairdresser
who was ''a bit down in the dumps''.
The recipe had been handed down from her grandfather, Tik
Heenan, a former mayor and fire chief of Hokitika. Along with
his civic duties, he also owned a book and chocolate shop in
the West Coast town.
The hairdresser started handing the truffles out to her
clients and Ms Stanton started getting phone calls asking her
to make them.
''The joke of it all, I was diabetic,'' she said, laughing.
She started giving test chocolates to her pupils and joked
that she had ''perfectly behaved'' children in her classroom.
Then Ms Stanton had the idea of infusing her truffles with
pinot noir wine. Using a bottle of Gibbston Valley pinot
noir, she made some samples and took them to Gibbston Valley
Winery, where she was met with an enthusiastic response.
She had further developed the wine chocolates over the years
and believed she was the only chocolate-maker in the world
When she moved to Invercargill - which, at that stage, she
thought was at ''the end of the Earth'' - she opened a store
in Windsor, later shifting to her current premises in Spey
Ironically, Weight Watchers' headquarters used to be upstairs
in the building.
''They loved coming down here,'' she said.
The business, which includes a cafe, employs eight staff,
including chocolatier Raphael Rausch.
Originally from Luxembourg, Mr Rausch married a New Zealand
woman and has been in New Zealand six years, working for The
Seriously Good Chocolate Company for four.
A pastry chef and baker by trade, Mr Rausch said the best
part of the job was the creativity involved.
Ms Stanton estimated her chocolate was stocked in about 300
outlets throughout New Zealand.
As well as specialising in wine chocolates, the company was
now doing beer chocolates using the same formula and she was
also working with a tea company.
Seriously Good Chocolate was stocked in duty-free stores
offshore, promoting New Zealand wine to the world through
chocolate, she said.
Exports of Seriously Good Chocolate to China and Hong Kong
were through New Zealand Focus, it was stocked in the
Melbourne Museum - a contract secured through Te Papa which
also stocks the brand - and it was also available at Harrods.
Ms Stanton was also eyeing the likes of Singapore and Dubai
as export destinations.
She said she tried to work ''a little bit outside the
square'' and had a focus on Kiwiana chocolate, using New
Whether it was Bluff oyster chocolate (cinnamon and sauvignon
blanc), muttonbird (caramel and salt) or ''sheep poo''
(freeze dried boysenberries coated in chocolate), she wanted
to ''export New Zealand to the world'' through chocolate.
A very keen cook, Ms Stanton had also launched the The
Seriously Good Food Company, a business she was ''just
quietly growing'', which included the likes of freeze-dried
cheese, chutneys and sauces, and dukka.
A qualified primary school teacher, Ms Stanton said she
''wasn't business savvy at all'' when she started the
She had to learn as she went along and she had made a lot of
mistakes, but the key was to turn them into opportunities.
The first person to get her ''on track'' with what she was
doing was a man she knew only as Ralph, who ran the gourmet
store in Auckland's flagship department store Smith and
''He knew his game, he knew chocolate. There's no-one like
Ralph - nobody's got the knowledge he's got,'' she said.
Whenever she went to Auckland, she took her latest
developments to show him.
She now had an advisory board for her business, which had
been a welcome addition, and she recently finished a
strategic plan for 2014-20.
Every year, the business was growing. But, like any small
business, it was under-capitalised and a decision on whether
to get investors on board would need to be made ''in the next
year or so'', she said.
Ms Stanton was incredibly grateful for the support of the
Southland community, saying the region had backed her ''to
In the last year, a food group had been set up in Southland,
involving various businesses, and they supported each other.
Ms Stanton said she was passionate about promoting Southland,
the region that was now very much home for her.
While there were some disadvantages to being based in the Far
South, the positive aspect was ''you just get on and do'',
It was easier to stay focused and she did not worry about
what competing businesses were doing.
She could also do smaller runs, change the flavours and bring
out new products regularly. Although the South Island did not
have the population of the North Island, businesses in the
South supported each other ''and keep going''.
Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt was supportive of businesses
and her company, while she had even had Prime Minister John
Key making chocolates in the premises.
While the chocolates were all initially made by hand, over
time she had got machinery, including a chocolate cutter,
specially made for the business, and a keg was converted,
showing some true southern ingenuity - to roll the
The premises were small but, over the next year, quite a few
changes would be occurring, she said.
She had been lucky with her staff and it was a close-knit
Ms Stanton's big dream was to be the top gourmet chocolate
company in the southern hemisphere. She also wanted to keep
promoting New Zealand to the world while growing the market
and the appreciation of New Zealand chocolate, and, at the
same time, have fun.
The Seriously Good Chocolate Company was ''going to be here
for a long time'', she said.