The scoop on the original queen of South Africa’s froyo scene
Frozen yoghurt is about as hip and hot right now as chart-toppers Kesha and Katy Perry, but long, long before ice cream’s healthier cousin became the coolest kid on the Mzansi block, there was a small local venture that was quietly and consistently swirling out its mark on hearts: the Madonna of the local froyo scene, Marcel’s.
As long-standing and loved as the persistent queen of pop, this premium proudly South African brand has a history that reaches back a full 25 years to 1989, when original owner Marcel van der Merwe took it upon himself to introduce the then-foreign concept of frozen yoghurt to the rainbow nation. It was while he was studying in the US on a tennis scholarship that he came across the creamy dessert and, needless to say, it bowled him right over .So, once he was safely back on Cape shores, he got to work on launching the country’s very first store in his charming hometown of Stellenbosch, so that locals could sample the magic he’d experienced overseas too.
In time, as curious town residents fell head over heels for the velvety treat, one shop became two, then three, then four; Marcel’s slowly spread its love from Stellies to Somerset West to Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs and then eventually right over the ocean to faraway lands like Saudi Arabia. By 2014, it had given birth to over 20 outlets around the nation and 6 overseas, and remarkably, even though many moons and suns have risen and fallen since its inception, it has managed to remain as much of a source of joy and pleasure as it was decades ago.
Today, it’s still synonymous for many with care-free beach holidays, after-school mall visits, lazy summer afternoons, high spirits and smiles; it’s still the binding force over which siblings and best friends connect, the not-so-guilty indulgence that gives a warm buzz to busy moms’ days.
As Jacques van de Haar, the managing director of the company, says, “There’s a very emotional side to enjoying a Marcel’s. Whether you’re happy or sad to begin with, you can have a tub and you will feel good.”
But what is it that makes this brand of frozen yoghurt remain such a hit today despite competition from other fashionable froyo stores that continue to pop up monthly like spring daisies? Well, truth be told, it’s quite simply that the brand has, and always has had, a champion secret recipe, so to keep up with the times, all Marcel’s has had to do is continue doing what it does and focus on its core competencies.
And one of the things it does best is quality. At Marcel’s, there’s no room for watery, powdery textures or diluted tastes; rather, the froyo house is all about a smooth, creamy mouth feel that sings of real dairy and all-natural flavours that are so divinely indulgent they belie the fact that this treat is actually somewhat healthy. To ensure that every swirl is up to scratch, the brand has its own dedicated manufacturing facility and uses full-time flavour specialists who work tirelessly to produce tastes that are good enough to win awards – Marcel’s has pulled in numerous honours at the annual South African Dairy Championships – and to enjoy solo, sans any sort of topping.
“If you want to add something sweet to your soft serve, we have plenty of options at our stores,” says Jacques, whose favourite froyo is a mix of chocolate and mint, “but our frozen yoghurt definitely doesn’t need any enhancement; it’s best enjoyed alone.”
Another aspect of the business that Marcel’s has held tight to in the midst of changing times is its emphasis on personal engagement. While many other soft serve outlets have gone the self-service route, its 24 countrywide stores have kept the focus on warm, one-on-one interactions with customers and a service approach that oozes with passion and enthusiasm. Essentially, the brand matches its premium product with a premium experience that whirls its way into the memory.
Though, of course, while the dessert doyen has remained constant in its offering, it hasn’t just bumbled along the same path blindly for 25 years; it’s innovated continuously along the way too. Over time, Marcel’s has supplemented its most-loved flavours (English Toffee, Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry) with an assortment of more unusual ones, like Cotton Candy, Nougat, Banoffee, Salted Caramel and Lime. Similarly, it’s developed new ways of enjoying the yoghurt – as part of a smoothie, shake or blended Blizzard – and launched a number of novel products that can be bought in supermarkets and devoured at home (more specifically, the 175-mL and 1-L anytime tubs and the chocolate-coated wrapped range).
So, the froyo maven is as intent on looking forward as it is on looking back. Which is precisely why we can expect this pioneering belle of the frozen yoghurt ball to keep spreading happiness and feel-good vibes long after the Keshas and Katy Perrys of the industry have swirled their way into obscurity.
CapeTownMagazine.com Readers’ Special Marcel’s Memories
Considering Marcel’s holds such a cherished place in the minds and hearts of many locals, we thought we’d call on our readers to send through some of their most treasured Marcel’s memories and associations. Here’s a sample of the responses:
- Clara Ilena: When we were still in boarding school, Marcel’s was THE thing to get on the odd occasion that we were allowed to go to the mall to watch a movie.
- Jesamine Jacobs: My first job was at Marcel’s at the V&A Waterfront in 1998…so many awesome memories.
- Shelley-Anne Scarff: Every time my sister and I spend time together, our first port of call is frozen yoghurt from Marcel’s…and it always will be.
- Elmarié Dreyer: I had Marcel’s soft serve for the last time in January before we moved overseas. I would give my front teeth for a tub now.
- Gloria Wessels: My husband has sadly passed away, but Marcel’s was his favourite…he always went for the jumbo.
- Yvette Cilliers: I used to buy the2-for-1 special for my son and I on Thursdays, and I would finish it before getting home. I couldn’t stop!
Tip: Aside from its numerous Western Cape stores, Marcel’s also has a factory shop at Access Park in Kenilworth that stocks its various finished products (anytime tubs and wrapped lollies) for cheaper prices. Similarly, fans can also buy discounted tubs from the brand’s base on Devon Valley Road in Stellenbosch during business hours.