Former teacher of Economics at Fiordland College, Jane Stanton, started The Seriously Good Chocolate Company in Te Anau. Interestingly enough, Stanton is diabetic, but this certainly hasn’t stopped her from developing delicious chocolate creations. The company also crafts other inventive products such as their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-flavoured Salt & Pepper range variants, which placed second at the 2016 NZ Food Awards in the Artisan category. We sat with Jane to discuss what prompted her to launch the business.

What is your company background, how did you start the business?
“I started the Company in Te Anau where I was teaching at Fiordland College. I made some chocolates too for Maggie – the Famous Hairdresser of Te Anau – she handed them out to clients who then started ringing me to buy them. Teaching Economics at the time, I thought that it was a possible business idea. Note: I am a diabetic making chocolates. In my head, I loved to bake and cook to compensate for not being able to eat a lot of foods.
I started in a small way and was going to call the company Fiordland Moments, but those who tried some samples of my Pinot Noir Chocolates with Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir were saying ‘These are seriously good’, hence the Seriously Good Chocolate Company was formed.
I went to Gibbston Valley Winery and told them I could make them authentic wine chocolates. Some fourteen years later, we have developed the Wine range to include Pinot Noir wine and now grape skins - a first in the world. Also, we are making other products with the skins to include Salt and Peppers, Smoothie Powder, Chutney Chocolate Pate and Pinot Noir Chocolate Sauce. We are also doing a combined meat rub to tenderise meat and great for barbeques and, as a fun thing, Pinot Noir Savory Chocolate Bombs to add to the range "because we can " for your casserole in the winter months. I think the reason I get into other things in the food line is because I work with a food group that we are developing in Southland to promote Southland New Zealand products around the world, and I get carried away. My grandfather was the mayor and fire chief of Hokitika and the recipe was handed down through the generations. He had a book and chocolate store in Hokitika in his day, and I have even designed a chocolate box around him. Family say I have his same bloody-mindedness and determination (not sure if that a good thing or not), but we are still growing, learning and developing the company, so maybe they are right.
I get out of bed in the morning and say to myself, “Let’s go to work do the business, and most of all enjoy what I do.”

What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?
“With the concept of promoting Southland and New Zealand to the world, we split up our ranges into the following categories: New Zealand Wine, Beer and Kiwiana. This does not include events or occasions such as Christmas. But our story is all about the wine, beer and Kiwiana-infused chocolates. We were the first to make the L&P Bar and develop a lot of the Kiwiana flavours that others are now making on a far larger commercial scale. We pride ourselves in flavour design – using the real thing, working with back country cuisine to do this. We have picked a place in the market working with wineries, beer and tourist outlets. The branding and chocolate development is ever-evolving, and our goal is to be the Gourmet Chocolate Company in the Pacific. Some may say, ‘Why did I not set up in a main centre, then?’, but again, it was all about incorporating the energy and integrity of Rural New Zealand, the people and our town. It may sound cheesy, but it’s not. To work the hours I do to overcome distance barriers, you need to have the Pride and simply be happy where you live, and I am proud to call myself a Southlander now (that does not roll her Rs).”

Has there been any recent company news?
“We have several new product launches in the pipeline. For Christmas, we launched a chocolate brittle range, one of which infusing with Pinot Noir Grape Skins. We have also developed a special drinking chocolate making kit. We came second in the Artisan award in 2016 with our Pinot Noir Salt and Pepper, which was very exciting.”

What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?
“I have many dreams and plans for the business. We are looking with expansion due to new chocolate contracts for 2017. My dream is still five years away and we are working toward it, and we will be The Seriously Good Chocolate Company and a proud New Zealand brand.”

Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?
“Products are currently stocked in department stores, gift stores, Whitcoulls, Nosh Acquisitions, Smith & Caughey's, Ballentynes and H&J Smith, to name a few. Additionally, wineries such as Wooing Tree, Sileni, Gibbston Valley Winery, Constellation, Speights Brewery and Duty-Free stores throughout New Zealand, even as far as Scott Base. After all, we are the most Southern chocolate company in the world.”

Did you expect to win a prize at the NZ Food Awards? How do you think it will affect your business strategy?
“No, we didn’t expect to win a prize. I was very humbled, but at the same time proud for my team to be acknowledged. This will enhance our business strategy to give us the confidence to keep developing new concepts, especially in the wine range as this is the backbone of the company, our history. Also, it is nice to be recognised for what we do. We are now rethinking some of our strategies and realising we have the ability for innovative design and products. I just need to work with my board to ensure we have the right strategies in place for growth.”