Being stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere is a scary proposition and some chocolate on hand would certainly provide a little sweet relief. If Alister Haigh, the fourth-gen managing director of family-owned chocolatier Haigh’s, were faced with this situation, his choice would be easy. He would pick his favourite – apricot covered in dark chocolate.
The sweet stuff is no doubt flowing in the 57-year-old Australian’s veins. He has, after all, worked at the family business for almost four decades. He explains that his choice of chocolate is partly based on sentiment relating to his family. “It was invented by my great-grandfather,” he says. But he has not lost sight of commercial considerations and adds: “The apricot chocolate has stood the test of time. It is still one of our best-selling chocolates due to its fantastic blend of dark chocolate and pure apricot.”
Alister’s love for Haigh’s, which makes and sells some of the most upmarket confectionery in Australia, is evident. He tried his hand at farming after finishing school but always had the inclination to join the family business. He jokes that working in the chocolate factory seemed more appealing simply because of a shorter working week, compared with farming, a seven-day job. But when he starts talking about the company’s products, there seems no question he picked the right career.
“We make over 250 different products in a year and try to source Australian or south Australian materials wherever possible,” says Alister, who shares the managing director position with his younger brother Simon.
The company’s idea behind sticking to its Australian roots comes as no surprise. Haigh’s is famous in the country for being the oldest family-owned chocolate-making retailer. It boasts 14 stores across Australia, which Alister thinks is a feather in the company’s cap. There are six stores in Adelaide alone, where Alister’s great-grandfather, Alfred, first set up a shop in 1915. The very first store is now a visitors’ centre, offering free tours to see how Haigh’s chocolates are made.
Demand for Haigh’s output has remained robust, helped no doubt by Australia’s strong economy, and the company’s annual revenues stand at about AUS$40 million (€31.6 million). Haig also has a celebrity following, which includes Australian comedian Barry Humphries – famous for his stage persona Dame Edna Everage – who Alister says is an “avid fan of our chocolate”.
The Haighs are also keen to keep the business in family hands. John Haigh, Alister’s father, is chairman of the board, and two fifth-gens work part-time at the company.
“We would want some next-gens to run the business in the future,” says Alister. “But if they don’t want to, the company will still remain independent. We separate ownership from management, so the next generation will continue to own the business.”