Four years ago J.H. Whittaker & Sons' chocolate was considered the best on the New Zealand market but that wasn't good enough for the Whittaker brothers.

Quality wasn't a problem - consumers rated Whittaker's highly - and the market share was growing well, but new machines would make the Porirua-made chocolate smoother, softer and a superior experience.

"Andrew and Brian said if we are to be world class we have to increase the quality,"
Whittaker's chief marketing manager Philip Poole said.

"Our chocolate has 30 per cent cocoa - higher than competitor brands - and New Zealand milk powder for a very, very good quality but they said we could get the quality even better by changing the method of production slightly and investing in five-roll refiners,"

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The "Rolls Royce of chocolate machinery" were purchased but explaining the change to contented customers presented "a very difficult communication job".

"We spoke to the agency and they came back saying if you want to communicate you have improved, that everything is great and it is world-class chocolate, then there is only one person that can get that across - Nigella Lawson.

"We all thought, that's true, because if you think about Nigella she is . . . I won't go into detail, but she is chocolate."

The British celebrity chef was in Los Angeles where samples were sent and soon she agreed to promote Whittaker's chocolate.

When Whittaker's accountant was told of the engagement "he went white and quite tense and asked what the return on investment would be", Mr Poole said.

"Only an accountant can reduce Nigella to an ROI.

"She has worked exceptionally well for the brand."

Whittaker's marketing managing director Philip Poole says excellence from bean to bar is key to success. Photo/File
Whittaker's marketing managing director Philip Poole says excellence from bean to bar is key to success. Photo/File

She loved New Zealand and shot an advertisement at a Hastings plum orchard and Black Barn market, he said.

"After being fine for weeks, the day we shot it was bucketing down so we had to put a tarpaulin over the whole market. You can't actually see it but she has gumboots on."
A Havelock North resident, he said all products produced in Hawke's Bay were world class "but you need to make sure you have a world-class brand because that is what you are competing against in the export market".

That meant every part of Hawke's Bay had to be world class but last year's diseased water in Havelock North "was not world class".

"If you have the vision of world class Hawke's Bay products being consumed around the world then everything around it has to be world class."

He has been Whittaker's head of marketing since 2002 and speaks highly of owners Andrew and Brian Whittaker, who have guided the business since 1978.

Their grandfather, James Whittaker, worked in the British confectionery industry and, at the age of 14, emigrated to New Zealand in 1890.

He first worked for Cadbury's but by 1896 was making his own chocolate and selling it direct to customers.

At the start of the 20th century he went into partnership with his sons, Ronald and James, based in Wellington close to Vivian St, and moved to Porirua in 1969 where the manufacturing plant's footprint continues to grow.

More than 30 per cent is exported, mainly to Australia, but sales are growing well in China, the Middle East, Canada and ASEAN countries.

Mr Poole has been part of the company's drive for ethical production and make unexpected collaborations with other brands, such as Lewis Road Creamery.

Whittaker's calls itself
Whittaker's calls itself "a bean to bar" business, controlling the chain of production.

Multinational brands spent a lot more than Whittaker's "but size doesn't always count".
Whittaker's has won the Most Trusted Brand award for the last six years and is also a Most-Loved brand.

"I haven't got the 2017 results yet but we are confident."

He said successful brands attracted a community.

"There are two types of consumers: spectators that know about your brand and supporters who will only buy your brand. What you want to do is get a lot of supporters."
The essence of Whittaker's loyalty was quality, he said. Chocolate was an indulgence "and you do not want to be disappointed".

The brothers were also a factor in brand loyalty "because that says family" and it also said New Zealand.

But it was "pathetic" if parochialism was the only reason people purchased Whittaker's.
"We want people to buy our product because they love our chocolate. The fact that we are made in New Zealand is an additional benefit. We express that through Andrew and Brian because that also expresses family and generally family businesses have more passion for the business.

"Certainly Brian and Andrew do. They still get to the factory at 6.30am to 7am every morning with overalls on and trying to have a meeting with them is like herding cats, because they love being involved in the business and know every square inch of the factory."

The company calls itself "a bean to bar" business, controlling the chain of production.

"Everybody in the company understands that if everything we do has to be focused on that world-class prospect. That goes back to the ingredients, machinery and the best people.

"It would probably be cheaper for us to import cocoa liquor because there are companies around the world that do that with massive production so can produce cocoa liquor very cheap. The accountants would love it but what we say as you can never actually guarantee the quality. You can give the specification but you can never actually guarantee the quality. By doing your own roasting, refining you guarantee the quality.

"We always want to be better, not cheaper, which is very, very important."

At outlets a "strong and consistent" visual identity was also important.

"In supermarkets you will see the wall of gold. There might be a little bit of purple next to it, but we ignore that."