New Biscuit Manufacturers

Fino Biscuits (Fattis & Monis)

During 1976 Monis and Fattis Industries Ltd decided to enter the biscuit industry and established a company called Fino Food Industries Ltd.  They purchased four ovens and these were installed at  their site at Isando, Transvaal.  Monis and Fattis Industries Ltd were primarily flour millers and makers of pasta products, their market share being about 85% of the latter product.

I remember Mr John Moni, whom I came to know well, attending a biscuit conference in Johannesburg with his newly appointed Managing Director of Fino Food Industries and presenting to the members his biscuit marketing plans.   He was disinclined to join the Association but said he wished to let us all know what he was planning to do.  Basically he explained their advertising campaign and he told us that his range of biscuits would be introduced at the prices that he then quoted.   From memory this was about two-thirds of the ruling prices, concentrating on Marie biscuits and a Pro Vita-type biscuit called Thinnies.  Mr Moni had indicated that they had done careful costings and they themselves were satisfied that the prices they were quoting were profitable.  After the two gentlemen left the meeting there was a stunned silence and then manufacturers began to discuss the impossibility of selling biscuits at those prices and still making a profit.

The manufacturers agreed that they would try and hold together but it was understood that if market shares were eroded they would have to fight back in some manner, probably reducing the prices or giving bigger discounts.  It was inevitable that manufacturers would weaken, and they did.

About five years prior to this I had thought that one day some manufacturer might come into the industry to disturb the situation.  I registered a dormant company called Happy Family Ltd and prepared a design for wrappers for Marie biscuits.   The theme was that there were four small ovals on the wrapper that showed a father, mother, son and daughter with smiling faces.  Having prepared printing plates we put this aside in storage.

Now was the time to make use of our earlier preparedness and we decided that we would not reduce the price of our Marie biscuit as was being done by other manufacturers.  Instead we brought onto the market a cheaper quality product called, of course, Happy Family Marie Biscuits.  Instead of displaying our usual address, 14 Brickhill Road, we used a side street along one of our boundaries called Palmer Street, so as to divorce this from our normal market in the minds of the public.   We also decided to make a chocolate Marie biscuit and marketed this with a view to bringing further diversity onto the market.

Photograph on the left : Thinnies - a large round biscuit, about 3 inches (75mm) diameter, a good name. Note the thin elongated letters in "THINNIES".

The Thinnies biscuit did affect our Pro Vita sales.   It was a round biscuit about 8 cm in diameter at a very low price. 

We immediately made a similar biscuit that was square in nature but with well-rounded corners which we called Trims.  It also had a serration down the middle so it could be broken into two pieces.  This was brought on at a price to match Monis’ Thinnies, and although Monis still outsold us we knew that we did dent his sales quite markedly.  We did not reduce the price of our Pro Vita.

Photograph on the right : A competitive line made by Bakers. The background colour was a light blue.

At first our biscuit profits were quite badly affected but gradually the enthusiasm for Monis biscuits waned somewhat. 

The supermarkets were delighted to have an entrant into the biscuit industry who would reduce prices and promoted him heavily.   This was just what they had hoped would happen one day in the biscuit market so closely controlled by all the other manufacturers who were unyielding in giving extra discounts or lowering prices - the reason being that biscuit manufacturers did not work on a very high profit margin.

One day I thought I would have a look around at one of OK Bazaars stores in the Brickhill Road area.  I found that the aisles near the biscuit counters were stacked with boxes of Monis biscuits waiting to be opened, employees were busy packaging the biscuits on the shelves, people were crowding around to take the packets away as a purchase, and the amount of shelf space allocated to all the other biscuit lines apart from Monis Marie and their Thinnies had been reduced considerably.  In fact Monis Marie dominated the whole situation and there was semi-chaos. Our Managing Director in Cape Town told me that he had been pointing out to the various supermarkets that they were following a sales policy that was reducing their profits.  He explained that by selling one packet of Bakers Ltd or Baumann’s high-priced Marie they made a bigger profit than if they sold three packets of Monis Marie.  He also pointed out that many customers were coming into the store, cluttering it up, and making a bee-line for the biscuit counter but buying very little else.  Further, that the amount of other quality biscuits on the shelves had been reduced and there was a smaller choice of these more profitable lines to them.   The stores obviously reviewed the situation and found that they had had their day of excitement with the low-priced Marie.  They started to cut back on their activities and diverted their attention to other marketing aspects.