Passion and Pickles

Pakco has emerged from some turbulent times as a top quality producer of uniquely South African Indian food. With a vast range of products and a passion for quality ingredients and customer service, it is no surprise that Pakco is doing this well.

Started in 1948 by South African businessman Pakkiri Pillay, Pakco – a food manufacturing company with roots in the Indian communities of South Africa – is now owned by Renaissance Brands (Pty) Limited. However, what’s most striking about this company is the idea that from the very first jar of Indian pickle to the diverse portfolio produced today, Pakco has been able to maintain its distinctive cultural flavour in more ways than one.

The original Indian community in South Africa developed as a result of the British indentured-labour policy implemented 125 years ago; whereby labour from India was brought to South Africa to improve productivity on the cane fields of Durban and its surroundings.  Subsequently, the South African Indian community (despite much adversity) has grown and developed into a major force in all areas of the economy and government.  Pakco is an extension of this community in Verulam.

As well as sticking to its Indian roots regarding the Pakco brand, the culture within the company itself has remained familial and close-knit throughout the 60-odd years since its inception in 1948, something that is challenging to maintain in a larger company structure.

“There is a strong community-feel within the organisation. There is more love in Pakco than in other company I have ever worked for. It is an amazing place to work,” says Gerald King, managing director of Pakco.

With a focus on convenient and tasty meals for more than six decades, Pakco has grown far beyond the original product, Atchar – the oil-based spicy Indian pickle – to become a major food producer in South Africa. The company sells directly into retail, and services all retail and wholesale operations in South Africa.

Pakco has four major manufacturing facilities: pickles and atchars; bottle sauces and wet foods; canned and retort-sachet items like tinned or sachet meats and vegetables; and dry foods, which include packaged powder foods like gravies, jelly, custard, coatings, sauces, soya-meals and spices. The company’s catalogue spans nine different brands and 10 categories in stores, boasting an inventory of 166 unique SKUs.

A Miracle Turnaround

In 2007, Pakco was in trouble. The previous 10 to 15 years had seen the company go through a severe lack of investment and the results were not good.

Pakco had old manufacturing facilities, brands that needed an upgrade and a management team that needed restructuring, including the addition of new resources, to take the company into a new direction of growth.

Events were accelerated because in December of 2007, Pick’n’Pay ran an audit for the food safety of the Pakco facilities and the company failed the assessments. The immediate result was all of Pakco’s products were taken off the shelves of Pick’n’Pay. This is when King was asked to head a special team tasked with getting Pakco’s products back in the stores. The team accomplished their task in record time, succeeding in three months even though the head technologist of Pick’n’Pay anticipated it would take at least nine months.

With the major crisis at hand averted, Pakco went into a serious revitalisation period. The overhaul of Pakco was focused around three critical areas: the management team, food safety and brand rejuvenation. To tackle the management issue, a new board of directors was appointed in July 2008 along with some hand-picked staff to bring fresh ideas to the Pakco team. These key hires included new product specialists who went to work on breathing new life into Pakco’s brands. To address the food safety issue, Pakco completely rebuilt all four of its factories between 2008 and 2010 and the factories are now at a point where they each score above 90 per cent in audits.

After this aggressive restructuring, the company spent 2011 and 2012 working on new product development to show that Pakco still had what it took to innovate and remain competitive. King says a meritocratic structure is now encouraged with a focus on nurturing the best ideas for the well-being of the company, irrespective of whom or where the idea originated from. And the focus on the company’s community culture remains up to this day, but with an added dash of a results-oriented determination.

Caring about the Community

Customer service is a major part of the conversation when it comes to Pakco and its products. Due to its customer-centric focus, the company takes the time to read and consider all the positive and negative feedback that comes in. It seems to be a philosophy embraced by the whole Pakco team, in an effort to stay connected with customers in the market to deliver the best product.

Pakco doesn’t stop at customer involvement either. It works hard to enrich its community as well with a variety of outreach programs. It has paired up with a community radio station, Radio Al Ansaar, where representatives from Pakco can get on air to share great recipes as well as receive helpful feedback about company products.

Future Plans

The company has many big goals for the next few years. Expanding into more markets in Africa and abroad, new product lines and experimental company divisions are all in the future.

King is excited to get involved in the health food market, a plan that is expected to be implemented in 2014.

The other area King is looking to expand Pakco ‘vertically’ is into the agriculture industry. The company is currently exploring ways to purchase farms that would help add more control over the ingredients it uses for its product portfolio.

With big plans for the future and a corporate history of resilience, it is clear that Pakco will be a strong market contender for a long time to come. The company blends passion, product knowledge and unmatched quality to drive sales while also keeping a strong connection with all of its consumers. The deeply held ethos of love and passion in Pakco are what make it so unique and when customers taste the product they can tell how much the employees care.