All Joy in them tomatoes

All Joy in them tomatoes

2005-10-05 00:00

SOME PEOPLE are born entrepreneurs and some are forced into entrepreneurship. In the case of 41-year-old Marci Pather, chairman of All Joy, it was a bit of both. At 11 he?d already tried his hand at business, helping his dad sell tomatoes from two stalls at Durban?s market. When his dad died, the 14-year-old took it upon himself to help look after his mom and two younger brothers and continued running the stalls after school.

But the real starting point of his entrepreneurial endeavours came a year later, when he sold the two stands for R6 000. ?From then I had to ? and soon learnt to ? seize every possible opportunity to make money and held various jobs while still at school and while studying at ML Sultan Technikon,? says Pather, one of the finalists in the emerging entrepreneurs? category in the SA chapter of this year?s Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur, organised in association with Rand Merchant Bank.

?I chose food technology because the then brand new discipline offered many opportunities. I realised that I had to get a practical qualification that would allow me to make money quickly while knowing my subject,? says Pather.

?In those early years I was, among others, involved in developing a ?hamburger with a crunch? for Wimpy that involved growing cucumbers off season on a Free State asparagus farm. I worked there for two months and, it being the mid-Eighties, I had to get permission from the authorities for every night I had to stay (during the apartheid years, Indian South Africans weren?t allowed to overnight in the Free State).

?Those highly politicised times brought with it its own advantages, teaching me the discipline of things such as conducting meetings through my involvement in the then UDF.?

In 1986, while earning the princely sum of R700/month, Pather and a friend, Graeme Wilson, raised R35 000 to establish Gramas Foods in Durban. ?There I was, at 21, with the ?important? title of manufacturing director while Graeme handled sales. I stopped at nothing and went to see Koo (Langeberg) ? then by far the biggest supplier of canned and bottled foods ? with a proposal to do so-called catering packaging for them. I got the contract. That meant we had to expand our 200 sq m factory.?

After a third partner joined, Gramas was sold to Crown National, now a Bidvest subsidiary, in March 1987. Pather, who received R25 000 from the deal, had to sign a restraint of trade order that prohibited him from setting up a similar business within a 50km radius of Durban.

So he moved to Johannesburg, where he was offered a management position at Trimpak. However, that August he started All Joy Foods with Reg Jana, after they collectively raised R135 000, operating from a factory in Newtown, Johannesburg, and supplying Trimpak in bulk and to supermarkets.

Ironically, in the light of Pather?s earliest exposure to business as a tomato stall keeper, the first product was All Joy Tomato Sauce. Since then Pather?s strategy of manufacturing recognisable brands has paid off. The company now has turnover of R220m in a R1bn market.

In 1990 Pather?s partners had had enough of the exposure to the risk involved in developing new products. That resulted in Pather having to repay a R187 000 working capital loan ? initially within 48 hours. ?Lots of negotiating and many headaches later led to All Joy?s incorporation into a factory on a farm at Tarlton, near Krugersdorp. But that resulted in the owners of Farm Foods receiving 85% of All Joy?s equity. I was still the MD and, with Tony Gonsalves of Farm Foods, negotiated a R1,5m loan from the Bank of Lisbon.?

By 1992, All Joy Tomato Sauce was sold in every major food chain in SA and over the next four years, various other products were developed and launched.

In 1998 Pather decided to list the company on the JSE?s venture capital market ?as a means to measure performance rather than to raise cash?. The next year the company acquired Molope Gold Band and, in 2000, All Joy launched a pasta sauce.

The latest acquisitions (Ehlobo Foods and Retailer Brands) were met with scepticism by some market commentators ? though the market reacted very positively, which soon saw the price of the now AltX-listed company more than double from 70c/share.

But Pather is positive that Retailer Brands, acquired for R36m, adds bulk, a professional, experienced management team and diversified manufacturing capability for the group that will further boost capacity, which already sits at 70t/day.

Pather?s convinced that Alastair Ruiters, former Trade & Industry director-general, and Rafique Bagus (Ehlobo Foods), will be instrumental in acquiring contracts using their knowledge of the fast-moving consumer goods industry to enable facilities to run 24/7/365.