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Deli Spices – 30 years young and showing it!

Deli Spices is celebrating 30 years in business. This article pays tribute to its founder, a remarkable food industry entrepreneur, Fleishmeister, Walter Haller, and the company that has evolved from a one-man business into a highly-respected spice company and the third-largest spice supplier to the meat processing industry in South Africa.

FOODStuff SA editor, Brenda Neall, interviewed Walter’s youngest son, Robin, who, with his two brothers and dad still very much around, has been leading Deli Spices on a turbo-charged growth journey.

Robin Haller 
Robin Haller, MD of Deli Spices.

BN: On first meeting you several years ago, I was struck by the thought that you are a dead ringer for Clark Kent aka Superman! Don’t squirm at my mentioning this, but I rather like the Superman analogy, because Deli Spices’ growth in the past few years has been nothing short of stratospheric, but unlike the retiring Clark Kent, you’re now setting out to let the world know about Deli Spices?

RH: In a very competitive sector, we’ve always preferred to keep a low profile – and fly under the radar, to continue the analogy! But we now believe we have something to shout about and we intend entrenching and further expanding our success. In the past ten years we’ve enjoyed 62% compound growth and while that trajectory is unlikely in our current market, we’re very bullish about our future prospects, on expanding our operations into machinery and food service and we’re on a major investment path to double our production capacity and sales over the next four to five years.
Deli Spices’ genesis from a tiny, start-up operation to where it is today is a story of resilient entrepreneurship. . .

Absolutely. My dad, Walter, was enticed from Germany in 1965 to start the spice arm for Freddy Hirsch. After 11 years there, he moved to Crown Mills and at the age of 46 in 1980 he decided to go on his own in Cape Town – and while risky, he was confident that the networks and knowledge of the meat industry he’d garnered would see him through. He wasn’t wrong, but it was a very tough endeavour that we three sons witnessed first hand growing up. I think this experience has honed our ambitions to make the business a success. We know what it takes!

There is any number of vendors of spices. What was Walter’s recipe that saw Deli Spices flourish?

He’s a brilliant Fleishmeister and is recognised as one of the top meat specialists in SA. This is intellectual property that you simply can’t buy. And he was a stickler, and still is, for quality and the best ingredients. He also established a very loyal following on the Cape Flats, where he went the extra mile to help Indian and Muslim butcheries and this became a great business base.

He’s really a phenomenal man, and he’s not territorial or domineering at all. He’s happily let his three sons come into the business, to make plenty of mistakes and grow and develop it to our vision. He’s now chairman of the group, and remains very hands-on on the technical side of things. He also enjoys travelling and is working hard on extending our reach into Africa.

 Image
Deli Spice’s Epping plant.

Robin, if you had to explain your operations to a complete stranger today, how would you describe Deli Spices?

We’re a family-run group of businesses specialising in herbs, spices, blends, sauces, glazes, marinades, breading, soup bases and convenience foods. We’re a big name in the spice market and the third-biggest spice supplier to the meat processing industry in South Africa. Continuing Walter’s legacy, we remain dedicated to creativity, quality, food safety and service. We’re headquartered in Epping, Cape Town, with a 8 000m2 plant that has state-of-the-art equipment, training facilities, R&D and quality laboratories. We now have a staff of 400 and have expanded our reach nationally and run joint ventures with our distributors in all the major cities.

How do the three Haller brothers split their responsibilities?

Deli Spices directors 
Deli’s senior managment team (l-r): Robin Haller, MD; Thomas Haller, technical director; Jennifer Ricketts, technical product director; Walter Haller, CEO; James Cockburn, operations/financial director.

We bring, thankfully, different but complementary skills and experience to the company. After university, we all trained further and worked in Germany as our apprenticeship. Claus is a food technologist and now looks after our Mane flavours business. Thomas is a mechanical engineer and an astute negotiator and has been invaluable in setting up and fine-tuning our factory. He’s our technical director and now heads up our new food processing machinery division. My job as MD is to take care of general management and marketing.

We also have a excellent technical product director in Jennifer Ricketts – she’s been with us for many years and has learned everything that my father could share. We have a very strong technical/R&D team. And we have a very astute numbers person in James Cockburn, our financial and ops director.

There must have been a set of key milestones that have set Deli Spices up for where it is today? Can you expand on some of those?

Well, we’d have been poor managers not to reap the benefits of SA’s recent boom. But one of the most important has been taking ownership of our distribution channel that in the past we left in the hands of third-party distributors. About 12 years ago we set about doing this, bringing highly-motivated, entrepreneurial owner-managers on board who share our vision and goals. This has added immeasurably to our growth and we have high regard and value for all these partners.

This was particularly important in Gauteng where we had been spectacularly unsuccessful. We took the decision to pump money into making our name in the province, and set up with a dynamic partner, “JC” Herbst, hired a top sales force and established the infrastructure. The rewards have been fantastic. We’ve enjoyed huge growth there, and from nothing have taken a serious chunk of market share.

We’re now truly a national player – and this has opened big doors and made a lot of people take notice of Deli Spices.

Another notable development, among several, was securing the agency for ADM’s soya products a few years ago – and we’re now one of the biggest soya traders in the country. We’ve worked hard selling the benefits of soya concentrates to meat processors – and this is vital in our affordability economy where fresh meat is so desired but largely out of reach of the mass market. Meat, stretched with soya, brings it in reach.

As I’ve said earlier, there are any number of spice vendors. What do you think are Deli’s unique selling points; why choose you?

It’s our focus on quality. We’re German! We are passionate about our brand. We may be slightly more expensive but I think many customers recognise that price is not a defining difference; that if they have quality ingredients they have a better end product which translates into satisfied consumers and higher sales. For instance, natural spices are our core product, which means that our spices improve as they mature and effect a longer end-product shelf life. Many competitors tend to opt for bulking out product with carrying agents flavoured with oleoresins whose flavour dissipates with shelf life and freezing.

Cheap and value are very different concepts. We will never compromise quality or safety, and we push our value proposition. That we are a supplier to an “A list” of large retailers and food companies tells its own story, too.

Deli Spices factoryTalking quality and safety – I see that Deli Spices is now sporting an ISO 22000 certificate in your reception area?

It’s a proud achievement. We’ve been HACCP certified for four years, and last November were awarded our ISO 22000 ticket, and as far as we know, the first spice company to have it.

Food safety, risk management and disaster management strategy are absolute priorities – one small mistake and your whole business can collapse. In our industry, the scenario where one ton of our product could potentially contaminate 100 tons of food in 200 000 packs is too serious and scary to contemplate. We’ve always been meticulous about GMPs, but now there’s growing pressure from both regulators, retailers and the public and everybody has to up their food safety game. Later this year, too, we have the new Consumer Protection Act coming into force that apportions liability right down the supply chain.

I think for many manufacturers in the past buying spices is something of a hate purchase; a necessity, but a small part of overall procurement and thus treated as a commodity where the lowest price was key. That has changed fundamentally. You just can’t get spices from anybody – the supply chain ramifications are simply too grave to procure product that doesn’t come with all the safety documentation behind it.

You’ve referred several times to new things happening at Deli Spices. Let’s first cover your plans to double production capacity in the next few years.

We’re spending millions on expanding our warehousing in both our Goods Receiving and Finished Goods areas – not by increasing their footprint but via the installation of smart racking that utilises the height of the factory. Another major item of capex is in a new blender – and I can’t give you details of this as yet, suffice to say it’s state-of-the-art technology that will allow us to blend faster and also open the door to lots of different applications which will give our new product development a big boost. Further on, we’ll look at increasing capacity on our packing lines. This is a non-stop investment business – you have to be in it for the long-term.

 Deli Spices meat machinery
Deli Spices is now a one-stop meat shop with the launch of DMD Foodtec.

And the new food processing equipment arm, DMD Foodtec?

A a major spice supplier to the meat industry, it was apparent that we could enhance our customer service, and take advantage of good business opportunities, by becoming a one-stop shop for the meat industry. We recently established DMD Foodtec, under Thomas’ management, just down the road in Epping, and it’s now fully operational as an importer of new and second-hand machines primarily from Germany. 

We’re doing this properly – with a showroom, machines in stock, a pilot factory for trials and tests and an engineering service centre. All our equipment is supplied with guaranteed after-sales service and technical back-up. In fact, the idea is not to just sell machines but offer a full service and a total-solution concept from start to finish. Some of the top names we’re representing are Nock, Reich, Mainca, Dorit and Karl Schnell.

Deli Spices clearly prides itself on a creative approach to business – and you’ve now extended this into the home meals replacement (HMR) arena?

 Deli Spices Hot Foods
Superb customer support in the form of a practical and stylish recipe series.

We started our Hot Foods division three years ago. Many retailers know the potential in their delis for HMR products, but it’s also an area of operation that has been hampered by problems of lack of recipe and dish consistency, by recipes that are too long, complex and require too many individual ingredients. We saw the opportunity to develop a range of products for the likes of curries, bredies, pastas and so on that are easy to use, very cost effective and eliminate all these anomalies. They are pure spice products, with no added MSG, colourants or flavourants.

The concept has been a great hit, very warmly welcomed, and we see this as a big part of our business in the future. HMR is the future. We back this up with fantastic support for customers – and, in fact, we now have an in-house design studio to produce very stylish marketing materials such as posters and banners, and its latest project, a truly superb recipe file. You can also see the calibre of its work on all our websites. This is all part and parcel of upping our image, and showcasing Deli Spices as a business and supplier of note.

And a last word?

We’re 30 years young – and showing it!

www.delispices.co.za

www.dmdfoodtec.co.za

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