The Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference, held at Spier in the Western Cape recently, delegates heard from innovators in the food scene, describing what they are doing to challenge convention and put their creations on the map to appeal to a range of local and international visitors. 

Wandile Mabaso, a Soweto-born, French-inspired Chef, explained how he, after returning home in 2017 after almost 10 years spent abroad, established his own restaurant in Johannesburg called ‘The SA Culinary Club’. He described it as “a first of its kind in Johannesburg, offering an experiential form of dining in a creative culinary space where contemporary fine dining is re-invented by combining elements of art, live music, food education and guest/chef interaction in a bare open kitchen.”

Mabaso said: “The only way to compete on a tourism level is to offer something totally new, authentic to here. International foodies want to experience unique South African food experiences. “Creativity is not only about ingredients, but also concepts.  It’s not necessarily tangible, but should always send a message.” 

Dr Donovan Kirkwood, an ecologist and biodiversity conservation specialist; and Chef and Foraging Specialist Kobus van der Merwe, who with his local and seasonal focus has developed a cuisine and restaurant experience that embodies and evokes the West Coast, described the unique but fragile biodiversity of the Western Cape and how it was to be utilised.  Despite risks, they believe that there’s massive opportunity for the food industry, if exercised in a controlled, sustainable manner. 

Dr Serge Raemaekers, a specialist in marine biology who has developed a unique value chain and digital app, Abalobi, that facilitates bringing freshly caught fish to Cape Town’s top restaurants, offering traceability, highlighting the source and every step and person in the supply chain.

Raemaekers explained: “Its purpose is to reboot the system and innovate, and promote that we need to eat with the eco-system, according to season and the migration of species, amongst other factors.  To achieve sustainable seafood, we need to achieve sustainable fishing communities.  Furthermore, we believe the price of fish products must be determined by the cost of fishing.”

A panel discussion on ‘innovation that impacts the customer experience’ followed, with David Sadie of David & Nadia Wines in the Swartland describing how, with the help of others in the region, he’s turning an old, dilapidated urban space in the town of Malmesbury into Bill & Co., a collective to offer visitors a wine shop as centrepiece, a venue for events, a bakery and butchery, coffee shop, bistro and more. 

Xania van der Merwe of the Paarl and Wellington wine routes, mentioned the importance of managing customer expectations; while Carla Malherbe, who heads up the hospitality division of DGB, showed how the company’s Brampton wine brand has brought its ethos to life by creating exceptional experiences with wine via its wine studio in the centre of Stellenbosch.   

Damien Joubert-Winn, Sales Manager of Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch, maintained that “innovation is all about challenging the norm, adapting and appealing to an ever-changing landscape. The job of the host is to create memories and, to do so, we need to offer what our consumers consider memorable.” He cautioned against innovation that’s not relevant to your brand message. 

Pearl Oliver-Mbumba, a Sommelier at the One&Only Hotel, highlighted the ‘experience economy’, and  how she and her fellow wine staff innovate by creating and exceeding guests’ expectation via unexpected services such as wine farm visits and unusual experiences.

Online story-teller Chris Joubert, and Communications Strategist, Spicer de Villiers, discussed ways in which social media could be effectively used to bring brands to life, while Jimmy Eichelgruen, Delta Air Lines’ Director of Sales in Africa, the Middle East and India, described how to build customer loyalty by continuously investing in operations. 

Next year, The Business of Wine & Food Tourism Conference will take place at Spier near Stellenbosch on September 17. The annual get-together is convened by seasoned tourism specialist, Margi Biggs.

For more information, click here.