American deal provides lifeline for South African food company

A promotional picture for a selection of Fynbos Fine Foods products.

A promotional picture for a selection of Fynbos Fine Foods products.

In 2010, in the aftermath of the global economic crisis of 2007-09, South African food company Fynbos Fine Foods found itself grappling with declining demand. The crisis severely impacted consumer spending on discretionary items, and the company’s range of gourmet hot sauces and food flavourings was no exception. It nearly led to the collapse of the business. In response, Fynbos had to make tough decisions such as asking its staff to work reduced hours, avoiding layoffs.

During this challenging time, Julian Abramson, the company’s co-founder, attended the SIAL trade show in Paris – one of the world’s largest food industry events – in hopes of securing new clients. It was there that a representative from a major American retail chain discovered Fynbos’s chef salt and habanero sauce. Remarkably, before Julian even returned back to South Africa from the show, Fynbos had received a substantial private label order for approximately 70,000 units from the buyer.

Rozelle Abramson, who took over the company’s reins following her husband’s retirement, recalls the deal provided Fynbos with a lifeline.

The company was then faced with the daunting task of fulfilling such a large order. Sourcing enough glass packaging was a particular challenge. Previously, Fynbos had been accustomed to picking up boxes of glass from its supplier; now, the demand had escalated to pallets. It struggled to persuade the glass supplier to provide the necessary quantities and to lower its prices for such a large order. After extensive negotiation, an agreement was reached. However, when the pallets of glass finally arrived, the Fynbos team had to manually unpack them, as the company, at that stage, could not afford the luxury of a forklift.

“Sometimes you just need to take a fat chance and not think, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to produce this?’ says Rozelle, reflecting on that time.

Today, with over 100 permanent employees, Fynbos continues to supply the American retailer and various other clients globally and within South Africa. Annually, the company produces about 4.4 million units of hot sauces, pestos, chef salts, and jams, with exports comprising roughly 70% of its production. Fynbos has capitalised on the global trend toward healthier foods by offering products free from preservatives, colourants, and additives.

Read our full interview with Rozelle Abramson: How a South African chilli sauce company broke into the American market