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From Left To Right The Directors Of Crispy Investments Leon Baartman, June Jantjies, Nickey Baron, Junette Vegotine, Kallie Jantjies (back) Mariaan Van Rooi, Donovan De Klerk, Hennie Bla

The hot transformation project that started with a cooler

Today the Crispy Group is a formidable player in fruit farming based in the hub of Ceres in the Witzenberg district. This is all because of the visionary thinking of the Dutoit Group more than two dozen years ago, helping to correct a misapprehension.

When establishing a new business in fruit farming, the logical thought would be, to begin with, arable land and build up from there all the way to producing good harvests and then progressing into the value chain, ending up with world-class cooling facilities. Sometimes turning logic on its head makes even better business sense. That is exactly what the Dutoit Group and their transformation partner, Crispy Investments did when they started establishing the group.

“Two things were pertinent in our business life just before the turn of the last century. We wanted to get involved in transforming agriculture to an inclusive state and we had a need for a cooling facility,” Gys du Toit Senior and executive director of the Group starts explaining.

Should you start an agricultural transformation project by establishing a new farm, the waiting period for a positive cash flow takes quite some years. Not to mention the size of the land representing an economical unit. The Crispy Group got going on a mere 8 ha property purchased with funding from Land Redistribution and Development (LRAD), with the construction of the cooling system that began on 25 September 2002. The first fruit was stored on 14 February 2003, making this a profit-driven, low-risk enterprise with a simplistic management structure. Crispy Coolers were capable of paying dividends to its shareholders in year one. With 22 cold rooms available, the fruit industry in the Witzenberg area took to this facility like an Eskimo to ice. Crispy is capable of storing 32 000 crates in these rooms. This enabled the Dutoit Group and Crispy to start focusing on the farming side of the business.

“Just one year later in 2004, we established Crispy Farming when we purchased the first two farms, and a year later in 2005 the profit from the cooling facility aided us to up our farm tally to a total of five,” explains Kallie Jantjies, chairman of Crispy Investments. The five farms were later on restructured into three units: Klein Pruise, Coshla and Vreeland.

Crispy Coolers and Crispy Farming then combined and became the Crispy Group with the Dutoit Libland division focusing on facilitating access to black leaders and entrepreneurs to join the commercial agriculture sector) owning 49%  and Crispy Investments 51% (with 173 shareholders and nine directors). To be eligible to become a shareholder, you must be older than 18 and be permanently employed on any one of the Dutoit Group’s farms. Today Crispy farms with apples, nectarines and pears. Their flagship fruit, Forelle pears, is in huge demand on the international market.

Although the Dutoit Group co-owns the Crispy Group, the management lies in the hands of the shareholders, with the Dutoit Group supplying a mentor and three production managers. A perfectly balanced structure ensures empowerment and growing farming to include South Africans from different walks of life. “We are fortunate and must not be impatient. This is a great opportunity coming from the Dutoit Group, and of course, we would love to buy all the shares eventually, but for now, we still need them and their years of expertise in the fruit industry,” Kallie continues. Asking the rest of the directors of Crispy how they feel about this development, the answers are somewhat emotional. “I mean I became an owner of something. There are not many people who can say that,” says Donovan de Klerk.

“I started working at Dutoit in December 2004 and three months later Crispy Farming happened and I was part of it. Unbelievable! Especially all the training we received.” Nickey Baron. “The farms we purchased were bankrupt farms, but look at them now. The expertise the Dutoit Group brings makes us confident. Every year there has been a dividend so far. Something that was not there before.” Hennie Blaauw.

“I’ve been working for the Dutoit Group for more than 30 years. With the opening of the cooling facility in 2005, I saw for the first time all the people working for this fantastic group. And I was part of it.” Junette Vergotine. “It took me a long time to get where I am now. I couldn’t even go to the opening of the cooling facility in 2003 as I was engaged on the farm then. But as we went on, every year’s dividend was a plus for me, for my family.” Leonard Baartman.

“Becoming a shareholder in Crispy is the best thing that could have happened to me. I learn something new every day.” Mariaan van Rooi. “I’ve been part of the Dutoit group for 25 years. But I’ve lived on Kromfontein farm all my life. And becoming a shareholder and director of Crispy Investments is the most important thing ever!” June Jantjies.

It all already began in 1998, long before “transformation” and “score sheets” were buzzwords. It took the management of the Dutoit Group five years to convince the role players that this was a plan for the future. “We knew the land was a big issue that was only going to get bigger. We were also fully aware that land was not divided correctly and wanted to do something about it. Today, 20 years down the line, we keep on sharing,” Du Toit concludes.

We stand together, is the slogan of the Crispy Group. And that they do. Indeed.

Caption: From left to right the directors of Crispy Investments – Leon Baartman, June Jantjies, Nickey Baron, Junette Vegotine, Kallie Jantjies (back) Mariaan van Rooi, Donovan de Klerk, Hennie Blaauw.

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