AB Mauri

Not bread alone

Large bread manufacturers require consistency, reliable quality, absolute safety and a lot of expertise in nutritional analysis—and then they have to comply with complex regulation and labelling standards. AB Mauri South Africa ensures they get all that, as John O’Hanlon learns from general manager Marius van der Bank.

If bread is the staff of life, AB Mauri is the branch from which it is fashioned. We all know that bread is made from flour but we know too that it is not as simple as that. Baking for the masses is a huge industry, and even the most basic of loaves contains additives and enhancers to give it the texture and shelf life that it needs. More broadly, there are a host of different kinds of breads, buns and other dough-based products that come under the same technology umbrella.

AB Mauri was created in 2005 out of the consolidated yeast and bakery ingredients businesses that Associated British Foods (ABF) had grown or acquired around the world. The group has its headquarters in the UK and its global subsidiaries deliver the products and ingredients to widely differing markets.

In South Africa, AB Mauri has a production facility at Midrand, between Johannesburg and Pretoria, which also houses its warehouse and test baking facility. The administrative headquarters is located in Pretoria: outsourced warehousing and logistics gives added capacity to the firm whose customers are spread throughout South Africa and SADC countries.

One of AB Mauri’s two divisions—the one in which it leads the world—is yeast technology; however, the South African division does not manufacture or supply yeast, focusing instead on the bakery products side of the business. AB Mauri is an industry leader in the development, formulation and application of technologically advanced bakery systems and functional bread ingredients including bread, cake and doughnut mixes. Another important focus is providing analytical services that help customers comply with food legislation. AB Mauri has been supplying analytical services to the food industry and major food companies in South Africa for the past four years.

On the face of it, premix production is quite a simple operation, admits general manager Marius van der Bank. “It is basically a mixing and blending operation, with the ability to combine any number of additional ingredients the customer might require.” The niche is embedded in the technological ingredients AB Mauri adds to the blends to produce its signature quality products. Bread mixes contain everything needed to make consistent and authentic speciality breads—the customer normally just has to add yeast and water for bread applications, though for cake applications, additional egg and water, milk or fat may be required.

Van der Bank, while agreeing that bread mixes are something of a commodity item in the bakery supply chain, emphasises that customisation is what differentiates AB Mauri from its competition. “If the customer tells me what he wants to achieve with his product—a longer shelf life, high volume, a crispy outside, a nutritional advantage like low GI or low salt etc—we can help him to achieve that. We take those goals and formulate a product especially for that customer, test its performance and then agree the price.”

The sales team is technically trained so that they can spend a significant amount of time at the customer’s bakery discussing requirements with their technical people and really getting to understand their business and what they need to do to satisfy the end customer while enhancing their profitability.

Most of the customers are large-scale industrial bakeries as opposed to the smaller corner shop or in-store bakeries, says van der Bank. (AB Mauri products do penetrate to these users but through larger agents and distributors). For the large automated plants, quality and consistency are essential. AB Mauri has always been able to meet these standards; however, the South African division has just taken a major step that confirms its willingness to subject its processes to the most rigorous verification.

In January this year, SABS (the South African Bureau of Standards) awarded AB Mauri HACCP (hazard analysis critical control point) accreditation. HACCP is the internationally recognised standard for food safety management, focusing on identifying the critical points in a process where food safety problems might occur and putting steps in place to prevent things going wrong. “HACCP accreditation was a real milestone and proves to our customers that we are serious about the quality of our products and take great pride in the products we manufacture. We have now appointed an additional technical sales manager and are actively engaging in the market.”

During 2010, customers will see some important new product launches from AB Mauri, including some innovative enzyme technology. In addition there will be more emphasis on the analytical services that can be offered. The food industry needs a far greater amount of nutritional information than ever before, partly driven by customers’ awareness of healthy eating, but more importantly by national and international labelling standards and the new South African labelling law that will come into force in the near future.

The group’s analytical laboratory at George Weston Technologies in Australia is a world leading facility whose reputation stands high in South Africa, where there is no local equivalent. Its more specialised areas include vitamins, preservatives, pesticide residues, NIR (near infrared technology), salmonella, listeria allergens and shelf-life testing—all under one roof. “We can send out customers’ samples over there and get the analysis back within 10 to 12 working days for standard analysis. For specialised analysis, we advise customers on specific turnaround times. Customers also have access to our LIMS system, where they can track the progress of their samples 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as well as the results. All results are confidential and customers have their own password-protected access for their own account,” says van der Bank. “The analytical side of our business is getting real traction in the market and it is a valuable revenue stream for us too. There are quite a few new developments we are working on to upgrade our service to our customers during the coming year.”

As well as inter-group partnerships, AB Mauri has significant relationships with outside global players like Fortitech, a US-based global leader in the development of custom nutrient premixes for the food and healthcare sectors. AB Mauri is Fortitech’s distributor in South Africa, SADC countries and Mauritius, as well as some other north African countries, where customer awareness is increasing the demand for nutritional supplements and additives, or fortification, as it is called.

A lot of focus is on malnutrition and the improvement of nutrition throughout Africa. Africa is one of the world’s fastest growing markets for nutritional products, second only to Russia; in the baking industry, its application is the fortification of wheat with additional nutrients. Every premix developed is manufactured to the ‘Fortitech Quality Standard’ and receives a seal, representing that the process and manufacturing practices meet or exceed industry standards for safety, efficacy, traceability and transparency.

After a disappointing year in 2009, van der Bank, who came in as a new broom last year, is leading a thorough market re-positioning and is confident of achieving growth, both in terms of revenues and market share. “We don’t see ourselves as simply a supplier of premixes, but rather as a complete product service offering, which includes nutritional analysis and active dialogue with the customer in terms of their supply chain and understanding their cost structures,” he explains.

“We promise we will come up with a complete package based on a global resource from our operations in every part of the world and share that technology and the benefits with our customers,” he concludes.