At Source

At Source Handmade Foods celebrates 10th anniversary

At Source Handmade Foods, a wonderful food industry success story, has been celebrating ten years in business.

Evolving from what was a primarily an agricultural enterprise, it is now one of the three largest processors, packers and distributors of dried tree fruit in South Africa, is the largest supplier of retailers’ house brands of dried fruit, and boasts Marks & Spencer on its ever-expanding list of international retail customers.

At Source recently celebrated its tenth birthday by hosting a dinner for key stakeholders on its Koelfontein farm, Prince Alfred’s Hamletm, just outside Ceres, on Friday 25 May 2012.

Guest speaker, Western Cape provincial Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Gerrit van Rensburg, also earlier that day officially opened the first major expansion to the company’s facilities since 2004.

Handri ConradiThe company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2002. That was also the year that fifth-generation fruit farmer, Frans Conradie handed the reins of the family’s successful farming business, Koelfontein farm, to his son, Handri (left).

At the time, the farm was already renowned for its quality deciduous fruit and Frans had just been named Western Cape Farmer of the Year 2001, leaving behind a legacy of excellence in dried fruit production.

But the business began and ended with primary agricultural production. And Handri believed that it could do so much more; that a tired dried fruit industry could be reawakened by innovation.

He founded At Source with a staff complement of just two – himself and food scientist, Anton Erwee – with the ambition of not only integrating the business further down the value chain, to process, package and distribute the farm’s already famous dried fruit, but also to change the face of the industry by giving consumers a whole new category of dried fruit to enjoy.

Today, At Source is one of the three largest processors, packers and distributors of dried tree fruit in South Africa, capturing an estimated 20-25% share of the formal retail market.

It is also the originator of soft eating dried fruit, an innovation that revolutionised the dried fruit category by expanding the consumer base to convert more people to become dried fruit consumers by offering dried fruit in a non-traditional and more accessible format.

It is primarily due to innovations like these that At Source has become the largest retailer house brand supplier of dried fruit in the country, counting both Pick n Pay and Woolworths as major customers.

It also launched its own brand in 2010 and in the same year started significantly growing its exports to the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East, which up until that point were fairly small contributors to revenue. In 2011, it added Marks & Spencer to its ever-expanding list of international retail customers.

“It has been an eventful and exciting ten years,” says Handri, commenting on his baptism of fire as an entrepreneur. “After our start-up phase we enjoyed an aggressive growth period with an annual compound revenue growth rate of 43% for 5 years (2003 -2008) followed by the worst global recession seen since the 1930s. But while we look back with gratitude – and some disbelief – on what we have accomplished in the past ten years, we are also poised for the exciting new challenges that the future holds. ”

At Source factoryAt Source is already gearing for the next stage of its growth curve, by expanding the existing 4 000 square meter processing and packaging facility by an additional 2 600 square meters (left), and incorporating new, cutting-edge technology that promises to improve efficiency dramatically and increase capacity.

The investment, which is financed by the Industrial Development Corporation, will enable the company to more than double its annual volume throughput and provide 60 new jobs in addition to the 230 positions already created over the last ten years.

Handri expects the next stage in the company’s growth to be generated primarily through exports, as many of the products developed by At Source – such as its flagship soft eating dried fruit, fruit bars, novel fruit and nut combinations and its latest signature dried fruit “flatbar” snack – are still largely confined to the South African market.

He adds too, that the company will also place increased focus on Cecilia’s World, its own premium healthy snack food brand that aims to recapture the childlike wonder of growing up on a farm like Koelfontein and enjoying the irresistible real food represented by the company’s range of dried fruit and nuts.

Cecilia's World“We built our business on being a preferred private label partner to local retailers, and that will remain a cornerstone of our operation, but the time is ripe to expand our horizons and I believe the export market and Cecilia’s World will provide new and exciting opportunities for growth in untapped channels and markets for At Source,” says Handri.

“This will enable us to not only continue building this business to the benefit of all stakeholders, but also to leave behind a legacy that will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.”

At Source Handmade Foods: