Q&A with Johan Greeff

Libstar’s Chief Growth Officer tells us about the group’s strategy, positioning and opportunities for growth.

Q: Libstar listed on the JSE in May 2018, and in your words a ‘big small company instantly became a small big company in a highly scrutinized space’. How is the Group responding to this change?

A: We have a three-pronged approach to strategy over the longer term, which is to grow, expand and acquire. Specifically, we aim to grow our product categories; expand our business capabilities and increase our efficiencies; and we want to acquire complementary businesses that will help to address current and future trends in our categories and markets.

Q: What is the most significant strategic development underway within the group currently?

A: We have been setting up category teams with the aim of enhancing the potential for dynamic internal collaboration. In the past, a Libstar category team would go and see one company at a time, but we’ve been setting up steering committees per category comprised of role-players from the underlying businesses. The committees meet quarterly with the relevant companies to explore the opportunities in that category in the longer term. Around the table you have incredible cross-functional expertise – marketing, new product development, sales, manufacturing capability, cost-accounting, etc – and a lot of value is unearthed. This is what we are trying to drive, but without making it an intervention of the centre. We really want to drive entrepreneurial spirit and keep individual accountability, while enabling underlying businesses to get the most out of being part of this group.

Q: Could you describe some of the successful collaborations happening within Libstar currently?

A: There are many. In the perishables category, for example, Denny Mushrooms benefits from the marketing expertise of Lancewood, particularly when it comes to instore marketing strategy. You see a business like Cape Herb and Spice, which mainly exports dry condiments with great success to the US, Canada, Japan and elsewhere, now adding wet condiments produced by other Libstar businesses to its export offering. Wet condiments is an interesting category for us because a handful of Libstar businesses play in this space, producing vinegar, chutney, sauces, dressings, etc, with collaborations on multiple levels helping to boost efficiency and grow the opportunity within that category for the customer. Take chutney, for example – people from all walks of life like chutney, but not everyone can afford to buy a familiar brand like Mrs Balls, which Libstar subsidiary Dickon Hall contract manufactures for Tiger Brands. By producing attractive private label chutney products in addition to well-known chutney brands, we effectively grow the opportunity in chutney for the customer.

Q: What other strategic developments are afoot at Libstar?

A: One of the primary transitional challenges has been: How do we create a Libstar brand story that helps people to understand who we are, and what we stand for? In a decentralized organization such as ours, where the underlying businesses are led by dynamic entrepreneurs, it was essential that our story be the product of a sincere process of co-creation. Working with our CEOs over a span of months we have been able to articulate a value proposition, purpose, and set of values for the Group that all can truly get behind, and from this we have been able to create a new brand story.

Q: What is the Libstar story?

A: The brand’s positioning is articulated by the line, From our home to yours. Many of our underlying businesses started in their founders’ homes, several remain family-owned, and everything we create at Libstar is used in homes. The idea of belonging to – and being part of – a greater family is at the heart of Libstar’s ethos, and this is not something our competitors can claim, so in addition to its authenticity the positioning is distinct in the market. The Libstar purpose is encapsulated by the sentence enriching people’s lives, which clearly signals that we’re a food business but also articulates a common desire to enrich the lives of our employees, the customers we serve and those of the consumers and shoppers. Our six agreed core values are Accountability; Entrepreneurial spirit; Integrity; Passion; Partnerships; and Customer-centricity.

Q: In what other ways does Libstar enable its underlying businesses?

A: Libstar offers support in regard of governance, food safety practices, engineering, IT systems, top level customer relations, industrial relations, legal issues, marketing, and more. We have quarterly board meetings where every single company presents what happened in the quarter before, and what is planned for the quarter ahead, and the Executive team gives input, poses questions – all with the aim of improving each company’s ability to succeed. We work with entrepreneurs, and if we can make it easier for them to be entrepreneurial, opening doors of opportunity and functioning as an extension of their team, then we’re doing our job.

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