The spice of life
Season To Season is a leading manufacturer of dry savoury, sweet blends and wet sauces. We talk to founder Ronel Venter.
Writer Chris Farnell
Project manager Jason Gilkes
At some point everyone dreams of packing in their day job and going into business for themselves.
But very few people have it in them to actually go ahead and realise that dream. One of those precious few is Ronel Venter.
Season To Season is, as the name suggests, a seasoning company. They make seasoning for the food industry, specialising in savoury flavours and supplying the snack food industry as well as for fast foods, recipe dishes, stocks and spices and more. However, while the company is currently undergoing a meteoric rise, it started as nothing more than a pipe dream.
"I was a sales director at McCormick," the charismatic Venter says. "Then the company got new management and I realised that what I wanted was a smaller more intimate vibe. So I left the company and after about a year and a half I started my own company."
That is how Season To Season came to be. So then comes the instant success story, right? Not quite. "It wasn't like Edison and his lightbulb, there was a long process of trial and error and experimentation," Venter explains. "I found a company close to me that let me have access to their factory after hours. After a year I outgrew them and started my own factory. And after two years I moved to a bigger factory until eventually we moved here."
The moral of the story is clear as far as she is concerned, "It takes 1,000 days to make something work." But throughout those first 1,000 days Venter always knew exactly what she wanted out of Season To Season. "I've always valued my independence," she says. "I wanted to be an independent supplier to the food industry. I knew to do that successfully I would need to have the right business partner. I found Anneke Potgieter who was very good at the development side of things. They were invaluable in helping me get the right tastes and flavours out there."
Every new business has to make a choice about how they're going to target their products. There are two routes - the cheap product or the quality product. It didn't take Venter long to decide which way she wanted Season To Season to point.
"When we wanted to decide which direction the business should go in, we decided the right route was to go with the best flavours, to target those customers who could appreciate quality products, and were able to buy in reasonably large volumes. From the start we wanted to create premium
level brand. We wanted to be something that was affordable, but didn't cut corners on quality just to be cheaper than our competitors."
However, she admits, for her it was never really a choice. "We just don't know how to make a bad flavour!"
These flavours are what Season To Season has built its reputation on. "First and foremost, what we are about is getting really good flavours and flavour combinations that consumers really enjoy. Our quality is consistent and our level of service is exemplary. The brand is built on a three pronged stool of great taste, high quality service and a responsible, knowledgeable team of staff," Venter explains. "When our larger customers give us an order, our turnaround time is extremely fast. We can produce most volumes and flavours; and in only a few days we can produce, depending on the level of input our customers want." The company has been seeing healthy levels of growth, with their latest numbers showing them to be 12 percent up on their previous year.
Season To Season has also started selling more into the wider African continent, providing a tremendous boost to their sales volumes. But of course, it hasn't always been plain sailing. Like many businesses, Season To Season has felt the pinch of the recent economic climate. "We've seen fantastic growth but with the economic climate the way it is we're always looking for new clients," Venter says. "We get a lot of new business through word of mouth, businesses contacting us after they've heard of our reputation. We're also making use of broader channels of communication. Our website is a big draw for new customers, as are our more active methods of attracting business through telesales and providing presentations at conventions and food shows where people can taste our products for themselves."
Season To Season's journey has not just been Venter's journey however. It's also been a journey for all the people who have worked with her over the years to build the company. "Most of our staff has been with us forever," Venter says. "The company is ten years old and a lot of our staff were here from the start. These days we tend to acquire new staff through recruitment agencies, but I also have excellent relationships with a number of professors at universities. They're great for pointing their best students in my direction."
But this is only the start of plans for Season To Season. Venter has big plans for her business. "We would like to grow into Africa," Venter says. "We already export to the UK and Australia, and we're careful to make sure we maintain the balance of food and snacks going over the borders. We put a lot of effort into finding customers that we can build a long term relationship with. Many companies make the mistake of chasing business purely for the sake of chasing, but we see every new customer has an investment, so it's important to find the right ones." Their latest development is the addition of the company's new "Spice Girls" retail brand, which I can tell Venter is particularly excited about.
"We are actually going to go into retail, targeting the more informal trade markets. Our new ranges will include spice blends, spicy chicken, barbecue, curried blends and more. We're really excited about the possibilities this offers us."
I ask Venter what the one thing that she wants readers to take away from this article, and I expect her to reiterate some of the qualities of Season To Season she most wants the brand to be associated with, or to plug one of the many new products that the company is going to be releasing in the future. But she surprises me when she says that what readers should take away from her story is "Persist in what you're doing and believe in it and work hard and you will succeed."
It's a good message to remember.