Bringing First-Class Standards to Zimbabwe
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Josh Hyland
Lobels Biscuits & Sweets’ prosperous and dynamic history has been a direct result of continuous improvement and monitoring of the latest industry trends in order to shape the future direction of the brand. With more than six decades of manufacturing expertise and an unrivalled local knowledge of Zimbabwean produce, the Company has recently turned its attention to creating engaging and dynamic marketing campaigns to increase customer interaction; taking note of customer feedback and using this information to develop the Lobels brand.
“As a result of new appointments in our marketing division, together with linkages to a very talented advertising house, we feel more connected to our customers and can be more responsive to customer feedback which is a crucial determiner for brand success,” explains David Lecluse, Marketing Manager for Lobels Biscuits & Sweets.
Synonymous with quality, taste and the wide range of products available on wholesaler and supermarket shelves for generations, Lobels is one of the country’s largest and oldest food producers. Since identifying a gap in the market for biscuit manufacturing approximately 50 years ago, to complement its already booming bread manufacturing business, the Company ceased bread production at the turn of the century to focus on developing the confectionery arm of the business.
Supported by passionate branding, and a value-for-money product made from the finest ingredients, Lobels Biscuits & Sweets has now turned its attention to consolidating ahead of a 2017 capital expenditure (capex) plan to expand in existing export markets, as well as penetrate new ones.
Lobels has not only been taking note of confectionery trends in sub-Saharan Africa, but the Company has identified synergies with other international markets outside of the continent where Lecluse says the Lobels brand can “compete with its superior, consistent and competitively-priced quality product range”.
“Provided we have the ability to transport efficiently at a reasonable cost then we can look at further export opportunities that will benefit the Company. Of course, we have to make sure that our product is right for the market in question: moving to healthier ingredients and creating specific products for these markets are just two considerations,” he highlights.
“Our new wire-cut cookie range aimed at the growing middle-class in Southern Africa is an example of our diversification success.”
From its head office, manufacturing unit and main distribution depot located in Bulawayo, Lobels currently exports to Zambia, South Africa, Botswana, Angola and the UK, with local distribution handled by the Company’s own fleet. Having identified Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius as welcome additions to this export market portfolio as part of the capex plan, Lecluse is confident that this can be achieved once capacities at the factory are enhanced.
He notes: “The only thing holding us back from reaching these new export markets is our production capacities, and we are continually re-evaluating this in order to carry on growing. We have undergone a significant plant capital expansion already in 2014, with another planned expansion next year to further improve product quality and our efficiencies which will allow us to continue on our growth path.
“Furthermore, investment in our distribution fleet, ancillary equipment and other essentials is ongoing.”
By leveraging the latest European standards, technologies and machinery – including the installation of new ovens, creamers and wrappers from Europe – Lobels has ensured that when it comes to biscuits and sweets, the brand stands head and shoulders above the competition and catches the customer’s eye.
“Customer feedback from these activities is invaluable as it tells us that we are doing things right,” he says. “The use of highly skilled, experienced bakery consultants from Europe, combined with a raw and wrapping material supplier base, who have access to latest advances in technology and international baking trends, has set us apart from local competition and made a positive impact on sales in our export markets as well as locally,” he adds.
Openness and honesty
As a customer-centric Company, Lobels places emphasis on attention to detail when dealing with clients; ensuring that constant communication is filtered throughout all levels of the organisation. With an almost entirely Zimbabwean team, the Company is driven to making sure that its workforce meets the stringent training requirements that match European standards.
“Zimbabwean people are naturally resilient and resourceful, hardworking and a pleasure to work with. There is an inherent community spirit in the workplace which, ultimately, results in the achievement of our goals. Our employees undergo continual training through the use of consultants and seminars - both on-site and external - and we make sure to encourage diligence and creativity which results in a solid work ethic and first-class standards,” affirms Lecluse
Building long-term business partnerships based on honesty and openness is another aspect of the business that Lobels is proud of; particularly locally, where the Company has recently focused on strengthening its ties to help the local economy grow in the current challenging climate.
“Achieving the maximum potential out of our mutual partnerships will see us retain these relationships – both locally and internationally - for the long-term, and will help spread the Lobels name and bolster our reputation in Africa,” he says.
“Furthermore, to further engrain ourselves locally, we participate in corporate social responsibility activities. Adopting the naturally community-spirited philosophies of Zimbabwe, we continually give back to the underprivileged. It is a real pleasure assisting those who need it most and importantly the customers that support us know that we are involved in such activities,” Lecluse further details.
With next year’s capex plan promising to increase capacities and open new export opportunities, Lecluse is confident that the long-term growth of the Lobels name is secure.
“The installation and launch of our fifth automatic biscuit oven, in conjunction with several new lines will create the spare capacity needed to enable us to actively pursue export prospects in the immediate geographies. In addition, consideration is being given to the development of a manufacturing unit north of the equator to ensure we can penetrate a larger proportion of Africa,” he comments.
Lecluse concludes: “Our marketing emphasis and brand strategy will further support our internal investments and show the customer just how proud we are of the Lobels brand name and where we are headed in the future.”