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Daring to be different

It’s never a hardship to travel to the Western Cape’s picturesque Swartland, in particular to Riebeek West, where Emma Rowberry’s travels took her this month to chat to Group 35 Foods’ CEO, Heinrich Roos, and sales and marketing manager, Yolanda Jacobs, about their company’s rusks packed in resealable stand-up pouches.    

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 these 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, and the operation survived until wheat price volatility in 2002/3 forced the farmer to find help. Buying wheat at the cooperatives’ high prices, he claimed, was no longer possible.  

In 2003, a number of Swartland farmers were casting around for a more profitable way to dispose of 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. 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.  

Diversifying to grow

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 environmentally-consciously 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. We decided to stick our necks out when it came to packaging our Stone Ground Rusks,’ quips Yolanda Jacobs, Group 35 Food’s sales and marketing manager. ‘Our rusks are packed in distinctive stand-up zipper-sealed pouches supplied by Pouch Dynamics.’

The obvious question is how well can a pouch protect this fragile cargo?

The rusks are packed into the pouches 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. ‘We use only the best quality materials, inks and laminates,’ maintains Allflex’s co-owner, Steven Samuels.

Two barrier films – uncoated and metallised polyester – are used. Both offer protection against moisture, bacteria and oxygen. The third film, a 100µm 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.

The ink is a high-heat resistant food-grade ink supplied by Classic Inks, while the solvent-free adhesive is supplied by Conequipt. Both products are of a high quality and suitable for food packaging.

Delicious and distinctive

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 slow rolling process 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, the life-force of the grain. This oily, flavoursome and nutritious wheat germ 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,’ Heinrich happily notes.

Group 35 Foods has listed with Pick n Pay in the Western Cape (on shelf in November) 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.

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