Mrs Garlic’s Taste For Innovation Grew A Family Business Into An Agribusiness

Mrs Garlic’s Taste For Innovation Grew A Family Business Into An Agribusiness

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Located near Krugersdorp on the West Rand, Mrs Garlic is a major supplier of chopped garlic to retailers, manufacturers and the hospitality industry. Founded 30 years ago, by Taki Manolelis, it has diversified from growing, processing and bottling garlic to selling olives, feta cheese, bottled chilli, pizza bases and much more.

Chris Pappas, the current Managing Director, started working for Mrs Garlic under his grandfather’s watchful eye. He was just 10 years old. Over the years, Pappas has seen Mrs Garlic grow from a farm run for fun, into a prosperous agribusiness that employs around 50 people and delivers to customers all over South Africa. Even distributing to neighbouring countries like Namibia and Botswana and selling to big local names like Nando’s and the Rhodes Food Group. 

Related: The 8 Lessons Entrepreneurs Could Learn From Farmers

Here are a few ideas from Chris that helped Mrs Garlic to grow:

Be agile, adapt and strive to thrive 

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Developing a business model suited to your environment is important. Pappas explains: “My grandfather was a keen farmer and wanted to keep growing produce when he first moved to the West Rand from Rhodesia. But his smallholding was in a hail zone and he needed to find a crop that grew beneath the soil. He chose garlic and soon found he had so much that he didn’t know what to do with it.”

Being flexible makes a huge difference when operating in a changing business environment. Any business must be smart enough to anticipate customer needs and then be agile enough to develop the business to meet those requirements and make a profit.

Pappas says, “From day one, the business decisions we made were forward-looking where the business was going and what opportunities could possibly lie ahead”.

Customers are like partners, so listen to them

One of the keys to Mrs Garlic’s success has been listening to customers and adjusting the business to suit their needs.  For example, Taki and his son in law, Evan Pappas, began to sell garlic to local markets and restaurants only to make some spare cash. But when a local restaurant suggested cleaning, crushing and bottling the garlic, the bigger opportunity became clear and Mrs Garlic took off. 

“We treat our customers like partners,” says Pappas. “We check in with them regularly to find out what they want and need. Between our sales force and our delivery team, our customers see a representative from Mrs Garlic nearly every week. Customers know they can pick up the phone and reach someone who understands them.”

Related: See You At The Top: A Guide To Winning At Customer Service

Quality and innovation is the recipe for success

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Mrs Garlic’s growth in its early years came from a relentless focus on a quality product and innovation in production.  Even as prices of garlic climbed, the company focused on delivering a superior product rather than reducing quality to get prices down. This uncompromising approach has kept the trust of clients. Garlic is a foundation ingredient so important to the flavour of so many dishes – no restaurant is willing to compromise. 

Learn your business from the ground up 

By 2002, Taki was ready to retire and Chris Pappas started taking a hands-on role in running the business. “I first started working for the company in school holidays, helping to clean garlic and label bottles,” says Pappas. “So I got to know the company from the ground up.”

Pappas was studying and selling laptop computers at the time he took a full-time role. He soon realised that Mrs Garlic was fast outgrowing its manual processes and very basic accounting software.

Find smart ways to use technology 

Pappas kick-started a drive to modernise production and food quality management. He knew that the business needed a software solution that would enable him to improve financial controls. Importantly, a solution that would provide a solid foundation for compliance, as regulatory and legal standards in South Africa were starting to tighten.

Mrs Garlic also had to integrate and automate business processes from finance, manufacturing and vehicle maintenance to sales. The company chose Sage Evolution to manage all its operational aspects. 

Study trends and then implement them

In addition to modernising business systems, Pappas looked at trends in the food market and saw that food safety was becoming a major issue. Customers in the supply chain were putting food manufacturers under more pressure than ever to ensure that product safety levels were high. 

Mrs Garlic saw food safety as an opportunity to become truly world-class operation. “We decided to make food safety a selling point by having our operation independently audited,” says Pappas.

“Our systems allow every ingredient that goes into our products to be traced. We are also proud to have a shorter shelf life than many other companies like us, for reasons of quality and safety. Sure, we could save money by extending our shelf life, but it’s not worth it. We know our products are always fresh, full of flavour and safe. Our customers know that too.”

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