29 October 2018

Manna Foods, an international success

Food manufacturer Manna Foods of Wijnegem has seen its export figures grow by almost 500% in the past 5 years. Impressive numbers, and they didn’t happen by chance!

Watch the success story of Manna Foods

A family business of the fourth generation

Manna Foods has been producing cold and hot sauces for the retail market and the food service segment (pita bars, fried food outlets, sandwich shops etc.) since 1935. In addition to its own product line under the Manna brand, the family-owned company runs a private label strategy. With 110 permanent employees and around 15 temps, Manna Foods achieved a turnover of more than 40 million euros last year, including 18 million euros from exports.

Major restructuring moves

Despite its current triumphs at home and abroad, in 2005 the company was heading for bankruptcy. In the years leading up to that point, responses to changing market conditions had been inadequate. A lack of financial resources, the right skills and an open culture stood in the way of growth. "At that time I felt that the moment had come to make the difference. I then got a very free hand from my father and grandfather to restructure the entire company. Things were tough for a few years, but then we succeeded in putting the business back on a financially sound footing," says company director Sylvie Van den Broeck.

Employees make the difference

As soon as solid financial foundations were in place, Sylvie Van den Broeck set out to find the right people to transform Manna Foods from a closed, production-driven company to a market-focused, innovative enterprise. "We appointed a management team with a commercial director, HR director, plant manager and financial manager. We went in search of motivated people with the right skills who were prepared to work hard together to get Manna Foods back on its feet. I'm convinced that employees make the difference. When I look back, I see our people as one of the most crucial success factors. Today, we're a very healthy company with a positive and pragmatic culture". 

"Today, we're a very healthy company with a positive & pragmatic culture".
Sylvie Van den Broeck - CEO Manna Foods

Sylvie Van den Broeck - CEO Manna Foods

Export ensures impressive sales growth

Manna Foods' turnover has risen from 22.5 million euros in 2013 to expected sales of 45 million euros this year. The increase is largely due to the impressive growth in the business's export figures, which have risen by 492% since 2013. By the end of this year, the company expects its export figures to have risen to 23.5 million euros, more than half of the total turnover.

"The focus on exports was a deliberate choice," says Sylvie Van den Broeck. "The Belgian market was already saturated. We were already present in every conceivable market. So for growth, we had to venture abroad. We started with our neighbouring countries because there were opportunities available there even with limited resources. After three years of hard work, we were able to convince Jumbo, the second largest retailer in the Netherlands, to take us on board. We got a foothold fairly quickly in France, in the ethnic food service sector, and we soon had some good customers in Spain and Italy as well".

The sauce manufacturer owed its access to the land of pasta to Expo 2015, the world fair in Milan, where a number of Italian entrepreneurs were impressed by Manna Foods' patented sauce dispenser system. Thanks to the carousel and pump system, portions can be measured accurately. As a result, little sauce is wasted. The concept quickly became the rage in Italy for use with chips.

"The focus on exports was a deliberate choice," says Sylvie Van den Broeck.

Mayonnaise for Africa

"With the experience we had gained in Europe, we then turned to the African market. It has a huge potential because mayonnaise is used there in place of margarine, which is difficult to keep at high temperatures. What's more, the middle class in these countries is developing very rapidly... We've been working for four years now with some agents and independent representatives in various African countries. We're even the market leader with a number of brands in Angola and Mali".

Manna Foods recently took its first steps in Asia as well. Contacts with the first retail customer in Hong Kong went directly through the company's Commercial Director Hans Van de Venster, who visited the market and the customer on site. South America, too, gradually seems to be falling for Manna Foods' divine sauces.

"With the experience we had gained in Europe, we then turned to the African market."

Export success factors

"Our export market success story rests on a number of pillars. First of all, we are very customer oriented and focus on good relationships with all our partners. We support our foreign agents, distributors and representatives to the max. We visit customers along with them, put ourselves in their shoes and give advice on marketing and strategy. Our all-round approach makes it easier to infiltrate the market. This approach places high demands on our people. We would never have made it without their flexibility, positive attitude and sense of initiative".

Limiting payment risk was another important step towards successful exporting. "We paid a heavy price for our experience on that front. We did lose a few containers to start with because of customers who turned out afterwards not to be creditworthy. Thanks to the ING advisors who helped us at every point in our transformation with specific advice and the right financial instruments, we have now solved these problems. The biggest risks are now covered due to a comprehensive internal financial control system, reliable customer screening and efficient credit insurance.

"Flanders Investment & Trade (FIT) was also a great help to us initially. Our presence at a number of international trade shows produced contracts in Panama, Denmark and Romania. They're worth their weight in gold for companies with a desire to expand into foreign markets. And by the way, you can learn a great deal from other export businesses as well. It's important for everybody to share their positive and negative experiences".

"Our all-round approach makes it easier to infiltrate the market."

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