Delivering the goods
Having the convenience of picking up food at the grocery store is a luxury many of us take for granted. But whether South Africans are aware of it or not, South African-based company Merlog Foods have been working diligently to successfully deliver food to our tables for over 15 years.
Theirs is a family success story. Founded by father and son Malcolm and Russell Hanger in their living room, the team decided to capitalise on the logistics expertise garnered by Russell when working in the Gabon commodities trade. His work in that field laid the foundation for the inception of Merlog Foods, which at the time was a strictly logistics company. A third Hanger, son Garth, also joined the company, then called Mercantile Logistics. With the addition of good friend Graham Oberholzer, who came aboard as an equal partner to do the maths, the company emerged as a key player in the food logistics field in South Africa, carving out a specialty for food distribution, specifically meat products.
The company continued to amass clients in the food industry, providing turnkey solutions including sourcing produce, shipping, finance management and distribution for its clients. As the business progressed, the company started buying up product themselves and allowing clients to buy minimal quantities—a carton at a time, if necessary—something very rare in an industry that runs on economy of (large) scale.
Merlog Foods became involved in the meat industry initially by working with import companies. “As we started importing meat into South Africa for who didn’t have the import expertise, we found holes in the market,” explains Garth Hanger, Director of Sales. Merlog Foods had access to produce at very competitive prices, and expanded its logistics success to service their own distribution.
The combination of logistical and distribution expertise has been a winning combination for Merlog Foods, now one of the leading produce distributors in the country to both the wholesale and retail markets. Merlog Foods is now a leader in the import and wholesale of frozen and chilled food products. About 80 per cent of their product range is meat, including chicken, mutton, lamb, beef and turkey. The remaining 20 per cent of produce is comprised of vegetables and French fries and value-added products.
Expertise notwithstanding, Hanger gives full credit for Merlog Foods’ success to “our staff. We work in a high pressure environment and have the most unbelievably colourful, dynamic and dedicated staff compliment a company could wish for. Hard work is mixed with a serious amount of fun! I think our very low staff turnover is testament to the belief the staff have in the company and the management have in them.”
Serving nation-wide, Merlog Foods has a strong trading division which trades full containers to every corner of South Africa, and a strong wholesale divisions, situated throughout Johannesburg, Free State, Durban and the Eastern Cape.
With a head office located in Pinetown, Durban, a sales office in Bruma, Johannesburg and a 4,500 ton cold storage facility in Springfield Park, Durban, Merlog Foods have aligned itself with some of the top international brands and have numerous strategic partnerships both with suppliers and customers. Built on butcheries, the business has expanded into top-end retail, foodservice and other wholesalers.
“Our retail division is aimed at top-end retailers in South Africa, and we deliver to all the major chains in the country on a store-to-store basis,” says Hanger. “The other half of our business is trade with wholesale and independent businesses.”
Over 100 brands and lines
Merlog Foods has built a strong business on solid route to market, and a distribution scale atypical to the distribution world. “We operate differently where we don’t have minimum order quantities. You can order one case from us if you want to,” says Hanger. Merlog Foods also offers a basket of products to its clients with over 100 lines and brands. The company’s aim is to build strength on strength, and to continue to focus on what has worked so well to this point: growing the trade division of the business. And despite the incremental growth of the company, Hanger states Merlog Foods maintains the friendly and accessible management policy on which the company was founded, something which clients appreciate. “We hope business with us is a pleasurable experience,” he smiles.