Arriving on the marketplace at the right time with a new product is crucial to its success – the annals of marketing history are littered with products that were either before their time or came onto an already saturated marketplace. One South African ingredients specialist appears to have the balance just right as it rides a wave of healthy-eating interest on its domestic market and eyes shipments to the UK. Produce Business UK talks to marketing consultant Marianne van der Laarse
Simply Garlic started out seven years ago to process garlic and offer its dehydrated product to South African retailers with variations such as garlic and ginger.
This business was achieving steady growth when its founder Gerard van der Laarse noticed there was growing demand for another ingredient – sundried tomatoes – and so Simply Sundried was born.
Marketing consultant to the company Marianne van der Laarse takes up the story: “There are companies that were doing sundried tomatoes on a seasonal basis. These are fresh market suppliers that would sun-dry their surplus tomatoes. But we saw an opportunity to have year-round supplies. We found a grower in the Limpopo province that could grow and dry the product specifically for us. The demand has grown such that we are now outgrowing that supplier and are signing a new agreement with the ZZ2 Group.”
Having consistent, 12-month availability and long product shelf life as well as good seafreight links is what is setting Simply Sundried apart and now giving the company an opportunity on export markets, especially those with a growing restaurant culture such as the UK.
“Unlike the [products of] other producers of sundried tomatoes in Europe and the US, our product is not seasonal and its appearance is very good with a deep red colour that is appealing to the restaurant trade – particularly for use on pizzas,” explains Marianne. “The tomatoes are dried on nets in the sun and are also covered with nets to keep out insects. This works very well in the Limpopo province where the temperatures are very high and there is not a lot of rain.
“The varieties our growers use are geared towards the fresh market, but after we carried out trials, we realised there are some [varieties] that have a very high solids content, dry very well and do not lose any of their flavour. This is one of the major benefits of working with such an organisation that gives us access to large volumes.”
This also means that the producer is not just drying surplus volumes for Simply Sundried but drying freshly picked produce specifically for the innovative company’s burgeoning customer base. Simply supplies two of the largest retailers in South Africa; Shoprite and Checkers, but also smaller retailers and the catering market through distributors.
New products, new markets
For its next step forward, Simply Sundried is trialing cocktail tomatoes and believes there is market potential for a snack product. “Sundried cocktail tomatoes make the perfect healthy-eating snack and open the door for new products to enter the snack category and not just the ingredients category,” says Marianne.
Simply Sundried is also riding a wave of interest in healthy eating in its native South Africa thanks to its natural production processes. “We are seeing an increase in healthy ingredients,” says Marianne. “Usually in South Africa we pick up on trends from the US and the UK a few years later, but we are there now with the interest in healthy ingredients.” Marianne says there is a definite customer segment that is focused on buying healthy products and moving away from processed foods.
“The advantage for Simply Sundried is that ours is a natural product and the process is just drying – it does not change the original composition of the tomatoes and we do not add oil or any other ingredients.”
Simply Sundried exhibited at the London Produce Show and Conference at the Grosvenor House Hotel on June 3-5. “The London Produce Show is a good opportunity for us to get feedback from the marketplace about what the buyers want,” says Marianne.