Haigh’s Easter treats in full production

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By David Sly

Haigh’s $15 million investment in its Mile End manufacturing plant has been tested to meet Easter chocolate demand – which has taken effect since January.

The South Australian family-owned company has doubled its production capacity with the installation of Italian state-of-the-art roasting and German blending machines at its expanded Mile End plant. Haigh’s is the only large-scale operation in Australia making its own chocolate couverture from scratch, creating eight different chocolate blends to exacting family recipes – including one special milk chocolate blend for Easter eggs, containing more cocoa butter to make it thinner for running easily around egg moulds.

Each of the distinctive Haigh’s blends comprise cocoa beans from up to four different countries, and the highly efficient new Mile End plant can manufacture up to 20 different batches of chocolate each day.

“The investment in upgrading has been justified because the new operation runs so smoothly in times of peak demand,” says Haigh’s marketing manager Fiona Krawczyk.

Large dark chocolate eggs ready to be packaged for the Easter rush.

The lead into Easter is when Haigh’s unique operation is evident – not just as the only large-scale chocolate manufacturer roasting its own cocoa beans, but also for only selling through its own network of 18 Haigh’s retails stores across Australia.

This whole careful process starts with stringent selection of superior cocoa beans from UTZ certified sustainable farms in Ecuador, Ghana, Venezuela and Grenada. And because Haigh’s aims to only use certified beans, it is encouraging the owners of a plantation in Papua New Guinea, whose beans have formed an integral part of Haigh’s blends for 60 years, to also obtain certification.

This remains important because Haigh’s has made its chocolate from scratch since the company began in 1915, and the volume of beans it uses is substantial – about 10,000kg roasted each week, with its storage warehouse laden with about 1000 tonne of beans.

Individual parcels of beans are roasted at 116C for about 40 minutes, then crushed so the cocoa nibs can be separated from husks (which are recycled for garden mulch). Nibs are ground into a thick, rather gritty paste and mixed with sugar (plus milk powder for milk chocolate).

A Haigh’s employee pans through chocolate.

The resulting slurry is rolled and aerated in a giant, heated churn for a 10-hour conching process, to remove excess moisture, caramelise milk powder and develop flavours. Cocoa butter is added to make a smooth, viscous paste, which is pumped into 10 holding tanks (four for dark chocolate blends, three for milk chocolate, and three single origin blends), from which 20 tonnes of chocolate get transported by tanker each week to Haigh’s chocolate shaping factory at Parkside.

“The Parkside factory is where the magic happens, transforming molten chocolate into the familiar shapes that are so popular,” says Haigh’s new products co-ordinator Robert Fowler, a 30-year employee responsible for creating some of the company’s most beloved individual chocolates, including salted caramel, through to the more daring mango and chilli centre.

While these are standouts among 250 varieties of chocolates produced by Haigh’s, Easter focuses on a different production output, with the first chocolate bilbies and eggs wrapped in tinfoil from early January.

Marking chocolate by hand is a finicky process.

Haigh’s trademark Easter bilbies have introduced a proud Australian tone to the season, and signal an important production milestone for the company. Bilby shapes were the first polycarbonate moulds introduced at Haigh’s 26 years ago that replaced traditional tin moulds.

Hollow Easter chocolate shapes are created when these moulds are attached to a spinning machine filled with molten chocolate as it rotates, then cooled to set the shape. They are then wrapped individually by up to 30 staff, deftly snipping ribbed tinfoil for an elegant finish.

Haigh’s is particularly fussy about its metal foils, choosing a different suite of colours each year, with this year’s being mint, raspberry, gold and mauve (no Easter colour range has ever been repeated). Haigh’s even purchased a rare tinfoil ribbing machine from an Italian manufacturer last year to ensure its preferred foil crimping process.

The Haigh’s ‘Egg-strodinary’ package.

Haigh’s will present new product this Easter, including multi-coloured sugared almonds, which have been modified after several years of trials before being put into full production.

Haigh’s largest chocolate egg weighs an imposing 600g, and the season’s final eggs have been wrapped as late as Easter Thursday.

Easter is such a busy time that it even affects Haigh’s most popular item, Chocolate Speckles. This unique product is made differently to rival choc buttons that are rolled in sugar sprinkles, because Haigh’s drops large dollops of chocolate into trays filled with multi-coloured nonpareils (manufactured by Dollar Sweets in Melbourne). It’s labor-intensive and requires strenuous cleaning of conveyor belts and other work surfaces before another type of chocolates can be produced.

Therefore, speckles production is accelerated through summer before ceasing during January for a three-month focus on Easter chocolate production – which ensures that Haigh’s still produces about 14 million speckles each year.

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