SA’s leading food marketer

Dating back to the legendary trading ships of the Dutch East India Company, which established an outpost on the southwestern tip of South Africa as early as 1652; its fertile soils have given the country a reputation as an exporter of excellent quality foods for centuries.

Food exporter and importer Berfin is strategically placed between historic wine lands and beautiful orchards close to Cape Town, continuing a proud tradition as a leading food marketer.

Global reach

The company currently operates in 42 countries spanning South East Asia, the European Union, Australasia, the U.S. and Canada, South America, the Middle East, as well as other countries in Africa. When it was first founded in 1995, just after South Africa’s first independent elections, its first markets were European.
Grant McGregor, managing director at Berfin, says: “It was identified that there was a need for a company to take South African grocery products overseas to different markets. In the U.K. we were in supermarket chains like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. We work with distributors through the big name grocery stores, but we also supply many smaller supermarkets, and the local Mom and Pop shops.”

Drawing on the well-established international connections of the Afrifresh/Sunpride group, Berfin has established a close relationship with local manufacturers, wholesalers, supermarkets and other retail outlets, thereby ensuring that the company stays in touch with the latest trends in exported and imported food lines. Its grocery range covers milk products, various cooking sauces, salad dressings, condiments, fruit juices, canned vegetables and fruit, wines in red, white, rose and sparkling, jams, preserves, chutney, biscuits, and baking flour.

Local market supply

All of these products are sourced from local markets. Brand names include: Ina Paarman’s bottled dressings, cooking sauces, marinades, pasta sauces, spices and baking mixes; Mrs. Ball’s Chutney (a South African tradition for over 100 years); Sunripe’s whole kernel and cream style sweet corn, and baked beans; Willow Falls’ red and white wines; Aloe Juice and Parmalat Juices in a variety of fruit flavours; Mighty Nice’s chocolate, vanilla and toffee milk; Macnellis’ non-alcoholic sparkling cider; Eureka Flour’s range of whole meal, rye, brown, white and cake flour; Mantelli’s sugar-free biscuits in chocolate chip and pecan, apricot and almond, and wildberry and almond; Orley Foods baking products; and Mac mackerel in tomato or chili sauce.

The imported products include: Braai Friend’s non-stick BBQ and grilling spray; A Taste of Thai’s coconut milk, rice noodles, curry pastes, and sauces; and Skippy peanut butter in creamy and chunky.

Plans for the future

The company’s current focus is expansion across its own home continent. Shipping out of the ports of Cape Town and Durban, Berfin is catering to customers in both West and East Africa, in countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Angola. “The African market is a big focus for us at the moment,” says McGregor. “We feel that, being based in Cape Town, we are ideally situated in terms of shipping and we are constantly developing new grocery products for various customers.”

There is no better time to be a growing business in South Africa. Hosting the World Cup in 2010 brought a lot of media attention and international visitors to the country. McGregor says: “A lot of people [started] realizing that South Africa was a very high quality producer of food products. Our tourist numbers have increased and a lot more people are going back to their countries with South African food products in mind.”

On the continent there has also been a lot of work done by various African governments to encourage local business. “It is a lot easier for South Africa to trade with other African countries than it was before,” adds McGregor. “A lot of the trade restrictions have been lowered or lifted, and it is a little easier getting products to market.”

The company manufactures its products in 25 different factories with an extensive network of co-packers all around the country. In its warehouse there are 20 employees. “In-house, we have our own food technology department, we do all our own product design, we do all our own photography of food products,” explains McGregor. “We are very well integrated to conceptualize a product and take that product through to final market.”

Berfin also sells private label products to customers. “We will develop products for customers that are tailor-made to their requirements, so they might be different formulations or different forms of packaging.”

The food company also strives to keep its products clean, which means free of excessive preservatives. Formulated with the consumer’s health in mind, all of the products come from non-genetically modified sources. Berfin also adheres to international food laws and standards. It is accredited with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and meets the equivalent requirements in the U.K., Japan and Australia. McGregor adds: “We tick a lot of boxes when it comes to the health departments and ingredients for those countries.”

The company also offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to doing mixed container loads. It has the ability and the facilities to label all its products in different languages. For instance, in Africa, products can be labeled in Portuguese, French and Arabic. Most of its range is also Halal-certified, which is very important for customers in North Africa and the Middle East. “We have the facilities to conform to different markets,” says McGregor. “We have the flexibility to work with the customer and to give them the service they require, instead of being restrictive.”

A frequent visitor to international food trade shows, Berfin exhibits South African products as well as selecting the best of what the rest of the world has to offer for import to its local markets. These trade shows allow the company to showcase in a variety of countries, which has included Foodex Japan, Food Hotel Asia, Sial Paris, Anuga Cologne, Fancy Food New York and Ghana Food Accra.

McGregor adds: “They have been very beneficial in being face-to-face with our customers, and showcasing our new products. We are going to be at Golf Food in Dubai, exhibiting from February 26 to the March 2. Customers can come have a look.”