Early Biscuits Manufacturers

The Premier Biscuit Company

A Mr Gain of Gain’s Bakery in Johannesburg built a biscuit factory at 19 Siemert Street in Doornfontein in 1920.  I visited the premises once or twice in later years and noticed that there was a foundation stone on the side.  I was told by my Uncle Albert that the factory was opened by Gain’s wife.   He was not very successful as a biscuit manufacturer and went insolvent.    After a further two years the factory was bought by the Premier Milling Company which was the largest flour milling group in South Africa at that time, owning mills throughout the country.  They changed the name to The Premier Biscuit Company (Pty) Ltd.  

At the time I became involved in the industry the Managing Director was Mr Maurice Posner whom I suspect had a partial ownership in the company.   He was a very astute man, he ran it well and I had to admire his negotiating skills at biscuit conferences.

It was probably Maurice Posner who established the trademark of Three Rings for his biscuit products which became popularly known as ‘Three Rings Biscuits’.  The emblem was three intertwining circles or rings, each of which had one of the following words on it – Purity, Goodness, Flavour.   It can be seen on this old biscuit tin.

Photograph on the left : A No. 14 Tin. The three rings trademark circles are shown clearly.

Biscuit price increases were few and far between.   These were the days before inflation.  Possibly once a year the prices by agreement would be increased by either a farthing or a halfpenny per packet (this would be equivalent to a quarter cent or half a cent in today’s currency).   Changes were made by mutual agreement.  It was impossible for any biscuit manufacturer to raise his prices above others, otherwise he would lose business.

The normal procedure at a Conference would be that someone would raise the question of an increase in the prices.  We would go round in circles discussing this without achieving anything, Mr Posner arguing against any increase.

I believe Mr Posner’s assumed reluctance arose from the fact that in the Transvaal the agreed prices were 1½ pence per pound above the other areas.  His profits therefore were probably generous and I think he had to put himself in a position where he could never be accused of willingly making too high a profit.  

The reason for this difference in pricing goes back to the time when biscuits were imported from Britain and the merchants in Durban priced the biscuits at coastal prices.  To cover the cost of transporting these biscuits to the Transvaal another 1½ pence was added by the Transvaal traders.  It must be remembered that this was before motorcars had been invented and there was no intrusion of biscuits by coastal manufacturers into the Transvaal.

Eventually we would move on to other items and agree to bring up the matter later again in the afternoon.   In the afternoon Mr Posner would say that he had been giving further consideration to the question and had consulted his directors.  The general conclusion was that they felt in the interests of the industry as a whole they should agree to the price increase proposed by the other members.

When I realised that this was the pattern I would usually be the one to make the suggestion after an hour’s discussion that we should leave the matter for a while and could we ask Mr Posner to consider it over the lunch hour so that we could rediscuss it in the afternoon.  Inevitably he would agree to the increase when we re-convened.

In due course the Premier Milling Group was sold to Westons of the UK and of course the Premier Biscuit Company, being a subsidiary, became part of the Weston empire.

At a later stage Mr Tony Bloom followed as Managing Director after the death of his father, Joe Bloom.  He closed the factory down.  It was probably now too small and too confined in a deteriorating part of Johannesburg.  He moved the operation to Springs where the Westons Biscuit Factory already existed and which had become part of the Premier Milling Company’s operation.