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Picture: SUPPLIED/LIBSTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/LIBSTAR

In the food industry, rather ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. Why? Because buying food is not like buying a car. If someone goes out today to buy a particular brand of honey and doesn’t find it, they’ll purchase a different brand. And you’ve lost that sale forever. 

The food business used to fall under the fast-moving consumer goods industry. Now it’s called consumer packaged goods, but that doesn’t mean anything has slowed down. In fact, the opposite is true. Things are moving faster than ever.

To operate successfully in such a fast-moving environment, a business needs to be agile, with the ability to adapt quickly as trends develop. But it also helps if you can see the future first.

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Trust your gut

Lancewood has a special place in the Libstar family. In 2008, Lancewood was a bankrupt dairy. The banks had literally put padlocks on their doors. Then Libstar took on the Lancewood business and 11 years later Lancewood is the most profitable natural cheesemaker in SA.

If you create a hundred new product ideas, some will probably make it to market and many of those will fail. But if you’re asking the right questions — the what, and then the how — more of those new products will be viable. But you’ve got to be brave enough to act on your beliefs. You have to trust your gut. That’s a lesson I’m still learning — to trust my gut more often. 

“For instance: everyone told us to stay out of the yoghurt category. But why couldn’t we, in SA, create a yoghurt that was better than anything they have overseas?” says Libstar CEO Andries van Rensburg.

“It took us a year, but it’s fair to say that Lancewood now has the best double-cream flavoured yoghurt in SA — it won one of only six Qualite awards handed out at the 2019 Dairy Association Annual Fair —and sugar-free and low-fat, high-protein versions will be launching soon.

Another example of how to connect the dots is Lancewood Sauce Delight. Libstar took fresh cream, which all the dairies have on shelf, and added real cheese, mushrooms or peppercorns to produce three brand-new flavoured white sauces that are, as they say: “so fresh you can only find them in the supermarket fridge”.

Last year, that product sector did not exist. Now Libstar is producing about 30 tonnes of Lancewood Sauce Delight every month.

The many faces of innovation

No one works for me. If people work with me to accomplish a goal, that’s something different. That’s called a team
Daniel Jacobs

A successful strategy doesn’t have to be fancy. Daniel Jacobs, the CEO at Ambassador Foods, is not scared to use what he calls “a bucket and shovel” philosophy. He looks for gaps in the market and then he finds a way to fill them — by any means necessary. Even if it’s by hand. Then, once Ambassador has achieved volume, Jacobs will invest in buying, building or customising equipment.

Ambassador currently packs 54 tonnes of product for Woolworths a week — all of which is based on expanding simple nut production into categories such as cereals, snack bars, confectionery, groceries, and health and wellness. Achieving that kind of product diversity (147 lines in total) is rooted in continual innovation.

Jacobs’ approach to recruitment is also interesting. “No one works for me,” he says. “If people work with me to accomplish a goal, that’s something different. That’s called a team.”

Because Ambassador Foods is based in the small town of White River in Mpumalanga, a place that big-city people might struggle to adapt to, Jacobs recruits students with a rural background from universities such as universities like North-West University.

On average, Ambassador’s office staff are 28 or 29 years old, highly educated (honours or master’s degrees), completely empowered to contribute, and have been with the business for seven or eight years. A goldmine of talent.

Relationships that connect

As the biggest private label manufacturer in SA, Libstar has the significant advantage of having certain business streams within which we — with its partners — can move quickly to bring innovative products to the market. Of course, the company is also lucky to have partners who themselves to be exceptionally innovative.

But there is one final thing that is central to connecting the dots of successful business collaborations and relationships. 

“My mother used to say, ‘my son, you’ve only got one name. If you throw that one name away, you don’t have another name. You’ve been given one name’,” says Van Rensburg.

“I think it’s important to realise that in the trade you only have one name. Yes, Libstar works hard at innovating, but integrity and absolute honesty and openness are at the heart of everything we do. 

“Without these core values, I believe that it would be difficult to stay in business long enough to see much of the future anyway,” he says.

This article was paid for by Libstar.