How The Greyvenstein Family Founded Ouma Rusks & Simba

Ouma Rusks is one the most recognized brand in South Africa, it was launched 84 years ago by the Greyvenstein family. Now for the most part, many great ideas are born out of necessity and the humble beginnings of Ouma Rusks is no different.

The history of Ouma Rusks began in 1939 in the small Eastern Cape town of Molteno, where the effects of the Great Depression were brought many people to their knees.

During this time, a certain Elizabeth Ann Greyvenstein, popularly known as Ouma Nannie, and her friends, attended a church meeting where ways in which to help mission work were discussed. At the end of the meeting, each of the women were given a half-a-crown coin and told to multiply it using their talents, as in the Gospel.

Ouma Nannie used the money to buy ingredients to make rusks from an old family recipe she got from her husband’s cousin, Emmarentia. Typical of any cook, Emmarentia apparently gave the recipe away on the condition that it did not go further, but of course that didn’t happen.

On the next church bazaars, Ouma’s first batch of rusks sold out within minutes and on top of that, more orders came pouring in. Word spread out quickly and the demand for Ouma’s rusks continued to grow.

The Greyvensteins knew that to expand their business they would have to grow beyond Molteno. Ouma’s husband, fondly known as Thys Beskuitjies, owned the first Ford dealership in Molteno, and it was his son Leon who began the marketing of the rusks across dirt roads to neighbouring districts with a Ford vehicle. Everywhere he went, his mother’s rusks proved to be as popular as in Molteno.

Upon his return to Molteno, he converted the modest farm barn to a rudimentary rusk factory by using an old car engine for a rusk dryer and also built a number of clay ovens.

When the business started, the rusks were sold under the name of Uitspan, which was later changed to Outspan, and as the rusk empire grew much larger in the country, it was rebranded to Ouma Rusks as many people know it today.

When the business needed to expand in 1941, the Greyvenstein family approached recently launched Industrial Development Corporation for a loan, they were given 3000 Rands. The previous made-up factory was transformed into a proper factory employing hundreds of South Africans.

Disastrously, the factory burnt down in 1952, but a bigger, better factory was built in due course. From the ashes arose a new, larger and more efficient factory where new product lines were developed.

After the family successfully created and marketed Ouma Rusks, it turned out Ouma’s company had a problem that many other businesses could only be envious of, they were sitting with large capital reserves but had little to no idea of how to expand.

So in 1952, Ouma decided to send her three sons overseas for a change of scenery and no doubt to sniff out some big ideas. There, they attended popular food fairs in search of any ideas that the company could apply to their growth strategy.

It was in Germany that her son Leon, saw and tasted for the first time, a snack that had become widely popular in Britain and across Europe called a ‘crisp’. Quite by happy, chance encounter, in the subsequent days, he then met with a man by the name of Herman Lay.

Turns out, Herman laid the foundations for what was soon to be the extension of the Greyvensteyn empire. Leon and Herman entered into discussions and exchanged some important information that Leon then brought home to South Africa. On their return, the sons filled Ouma in on their findings and she was thrilled with the idea brought to her by Leon, of marketing the ‘crisp’ under a new brand.

But one thing remained, what to call it?, After some thought and no doubt a few taste tests, ‘SIMBA Chips’ was the name chosen. The name SIMBA means ‘Lion’ in Swahili, which was the lingua franca spoken on the farms of the Cape by men who came down from East Africa at the time.

It was in 1957 that the brand SIMBA, the king of snacks, was then launched into the South Africa market and besides the potato chip being a new snack, the novelty that SIMBA Chips introduced were the first flavoured chips.

Until then, in Europe and the United States, crisps only had one flavor, they were being hand-salted by the buyer. The original SIMBA Chip flavours were Cheese & Onion, Tomato Sauce and Salt & Vinegar. Needless to say, the product and the brand took off and within no time, the original factory in Isando were producing packets of chips, going through tons of first-class potatoes and had set up a distribution network to ensure that the chips would be delivered to the stores.

Today, SIMBA the lion is one of South Africa’s most recognisable icons, the tagline, “Roarrrs with Flavour”, rings in people’s ears subconsciously when we see him or taste a new flavour.

Simba chips were and still are a treat and appear in lunchboxes countrywide. The brand accumulated the largest market share with the development and introduction of other related brands namely: NikNaks, Ghost Pops, Doritos and Lay’s.

In the brand’s 66 year history and with a 67% value share in the local chip market. Since the brand’s introduction to market by the Greyvenstyn Family in 1957, it has had a few owners, Fedfood bought the company in 1977, then Foodcorp in 1992 and the company is now owned by PepsiCo who acquired the brand in 1999.

Similarly to the Ouma Rusks brand, the Greyvenstein family sold the business to Fedfood in 1970 and over the years, the brand has had a number of corporate owners including the current one, RCL Foods. While new flavors and varieties might have been added over the years, the recipe itself has never changed.

In 2013, due to deteriorating roads, electricity & water supply, the town of Molteno nearly lost Ouma Rusks along with its 250+ jobs because then owner, FoodCorp, considered moving the factory to Gauteng in Randfontein, however for the sake of Molteno, the CEO decided it was best for the factory to remain in the Eastern Cape after having fruitful discussions with electricity supplier, Eskom, as well as the Municipality.

The Rusk factory was once again given a face-lift, Foodcorp added a 46 million rands investment to build a new factory which was the biggest investment ever made in Molteno at that time.

From the humble beginnings of 30 British pennies, Ouma’s rusk empire has emerged as one of Mzansi’s most popular food brands. The vision of a remarkable woman and her husband’s enterprise laid the foundation for what was described in 1970 as a multi million rand group employing close on 1500 people of fifteen nationalities in six factories.

The Greyvenstein family have shown that no company is successful without hardwork and an effective management to stimulate the growth of the business. These elements were critical components behind the success story of Ouma Rusks, and, Simba.

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