Early Biscuits Manufacturers

Hays Biscuits

I will start by quoting some written statements from my Uncle Albert Baumann’s memoirs.

“Originally, old man Hay had a bread factory in Durban and eventually opened a biscuit factory in Pietermaritzburg.  With him were two of his sons.  As mentioned before, Len Hay was the one who attended the biscuit conferences.  He was a pleasant man to work with.  Be as it may, their competition affected us somewhat, particularly as they made a good quality biscuit.  It was said that old man Hay used to sit at the end of the oven, smoking his pipe, and watching the biscuits come out of the oven.  Up to a point, he was a very wise man because we all know that the baking of a biscuit is a very important part of the process.  I only met the old man once or twice.  He was a quiet,  steadfast Scotchman.

A few years after old man Hay had died and Len Hay was of indifferent health, much to our surprise we learnt that Hays had sold out to Westons.  This was in 1949.  It was announced in the press that Westons had bought a large piece of property at Star and Garter Flats - suburb of Maritzburg - for the purpose of transferring the existing factory to this new site.  However, not long afterwards, he purchased 40 acres of land in Springs in the Transvaal and transferred the biscuit factory to this site in 1954 instead of the site in Maritzburg.”

I did not ever meet Mr Hay, the father, and only met his son Len Hay on one occasion at a biscuit conference in Durban.  My Uncle Albert Baumann told me that Hay had once made a comment at a conference that one could not make a decent biscuit unless butter was used.   On his return to the factory my uncle decreed that all Bakers biscuits should be made from butter in the future as a standard procedure, but there were of course certain biscuits that required a different form of fat.  In fact the best Cream Crackers one could make would be made using lard.   In about 1944, in deference to religious practices in Durban, it was decided that lard would no longer be permitted onto our premises.

The biscuit brand that was best known throughout South Africa was Pyotts.  Their Marie biscuit was very popular, but the best biscuit in quality was the Marie biscuit made by Hay.

In 1947 a Mr Garfield Weston sent some of his executives from England to South Africa to explore the possibility of entering the biscuit field in our country.   Garfield Weston was referred to as the ‘biscuit king’ but as far as I know he only had one biscuit factory in the United Kingdom.  Most of his factories were bread factories.   Mr Weston and his whole family visited South Africa in 1949 and had discussions with the various biscuit manufacturers.  It was on that visit that he purchased Hays biscuit operation as referred to above, and Mr Hay, who was in bad health, retired from business.

Shortly after buying the large piece of property in a suburb of Maritzburg, Mr Weston visited us in Durban and I remember we had a general discussion (he, my uncle Albert and I) in my uncle Albert Baumann’s office.  During the discussion he asked my uncle whether he was wise in expanding in Maritzburg and was that the best site from the biscuit point of view.  My uncle replied that the Transvaal was the best area to be in because that was the largest biscuit market.  The next thing we heard was that Weston had bought land in Springs, approximately 30 miles east of Johannesburg, and he had moved the Maritzburg factory there.   He installed a Manager to run the factory followed by successive Managers.  None of them could make any headway in the biscuit market to extend market share although each in turn adopted a policy of furtive price cutting or enlarged discounts without success.

Each new manager seemed to think that the secret to higher profits was to cut prices and so get more sales.  This would create a disturbance in the market place.  I had to find a strategy to avoid this happening.  Whenever a new Weston biscuit manager appeared at a Biscuit Conference I would work into the discussions the observation that we all knew from past experience that it does not pay anyone to cut prices or to give extra discounts because no competitor is prepared to lose market share and other biscuit manufacturers would immediately follow suit.   The result was that the originator of the practice would find he had the same market share as before but with a lower profit margin and this was to his great disadvantage when he had to report his financial results.  The message was always absorbed by the new man.  We then found that although there was still some price cutting and discounting it was to a minor extent and then done very secretly.   In this way we maintained stability in the industry.

Weston had bought Hay’s factory in his own name.  When he later bought the Premier Milling group’s extensive organisation, which included the Premier Biscuit Company, he sold Hays out of his name into the Premier Milling Company’s ownership.