Group 35

The Swartland’s Group 35 Foods dares to be different

Riebeek West, in the heart of the Western Cape’s picturesque Swartland, is home to a new food enterprise, Group 35 Foods, that has taken the step from agribusiness into FMCG food manufacture. Its new rusk range, made with olde-worlde stone-ground flour and very differently packaged in resealable stand-up pouches, has just hit the shelves.

Daring to be different, Group 35 Foods took the bold decision to package its home-made hand-packed rusks in resealable stand-up pouches to differentiate its products on shelf. However, it’s not just the packaging that’s different – the flour in these rusks is made using the age-old method of stone-ground milling.

Back in 1999, a Tulbagh farmer fulfilled his dream of erecting a small stone flour mill to use the old-fashioned method of grinding wheat between two stone wheels, to retain and integrate the wheat germ oil to ensure its integrity, quality, flavour and nutritional value. Before long, with the help of 10 employees, he’d built up a small business milling two tons of stone-ground flour a day.

Thus was Oude Tol Meulens born. Profitable for a handful of years, in 2002/3 wheat price volatility forced the farmer to find help. It arrived in the form of a group of Swartland farmers who were casting around for a more profitable way to sell their wheat. They bought into Oude Tol Meulens and a year later commissioned a larger roller mill in Riebeek West (in addition to the existing stone mill) that in 2005 began rolling out refined (white) flour.

Group 35
Celebrating the launch of Swartland’s Stone Ground Rusks are Group 35 Foods’ chairman and deputy chairman,
Truter de Kock and Michiel Smuts.

Very soon, Oude Tol Meulens was producing more roller-milled flour than could be hand packed by the mill’s 10 employees. During the next five years, with rapid market growth, Oude Tol Meulens employed an additional 60 people to produce its stone-ground and roller-milled flour and in 2010 the 35 farmer shareholders changed the name to Group 35 Foods.

At this point, with capacity reached in roller-milled flour, the shareholders naturally asked ‘What next?’

Realising that to grow the business they needed to diversify, their thoughts returned to the original vision of producing stone-ground flour. For this purpose, wheat is harvested by one shareholder who uses biological farming methods. Working with nature to balance the soil, this farming method produces top-class wheat kernels while protecting natural resources.

‘Oude Tol Meulens always produced stone-ground flour, alongside roller-milled flour, but it wasn’t actively marketed,’ points out Heinrich Roos, Group 35 Foods’ CEO.

Group 35 Foods’ range now includes a number of brands, such as Best Bake Flour, Best Choice biscuits, sugar and all-purpose flour, Laduma maize products, and Stone Ground Flour and Rusks.

‘Using a traditional family recipe for rusks made from our stone-ground flour, we have a natural add-on to our flour market. And we decided to stick our necks out when it came to packaging our Stone Ground Rusks,’ says Yolanda Jacobs, Group 35 Food’s sales and marketing manager.

Currently three rusk variants comprise the Swartland Stone Ground range – Buttermilk, Muesli and All Bran – with more to follow shortly.

The rusks are delicious and distinctive thanks to the milling that grinds down the wheat kernel. Nothing is added and nothing is taken away.

In its whole state, grain contains a natural balance of starch, protein, vitamins and fibre. Wheat has many oils and essential B and E vitamins that are concentrated in the wheat germ. Oily, flavoursome and nutritious, it cannot be removed during the stone-milling process, giving the flour its characteristic nutty flavour.

‘The end product has a better water absorbency than roller-milled flour and offers a low GI with better digestion qualities,’ Jacobs comments.

The distinctive stand-up zipper-sealed pouches, supplied by Pouch Dynamics, are packed by hand – five in a row and four high – to ensure they don’t move or break within the pack. The outer cartons, which hold 12 filled pouches, are also carefully packed to ensure the product doesn’t crush. Sealing the deal is a zip lock for consumer convenience and product freshness.

The striking packaging design is courtesy of Sublime Design in Durbanville, while Allflex Packaging prints the pouch material on a nine-colour Flexotecnica press using rapid-drying liquid ink and photopolymer stereos supplied by Raised Image.

Technically talking, the pouch material incorporates two barrier films – uncoated and metallised polyester. Both offer protection against moisture, bacteria and oxygen. The third film, a 100ìm clear LDPE, offers even more protection but its main purpose is to make the construction sealable for pouch making and to provide rigidity so that the pouch stands firmly upright.

Group 35 Foods has listed with Pick n Pay in the Western Cape (on shelf in this month) and aims to supply nationally soon. Its products are also stocked by the larger independent Spar stores.

Now in the process of HACCP accreditation, the company has further exciting expansion plans, but always maintaining a focus on traditionally-made products for the Swartland Stone Ground range.

First published in PACKAGiNG & Print Media Magazine, Issue Ten 2012, and adapted for FOODStuff SA.