A proudly owned family business with humble beginnings
The family-owned business, Willowton Oil and Cake Mills, was founded in 1970 by the late DH Moosa together with his brothers Amod and Mohamed and their sons and the sons of their youngest brother Ebrahim who died in an accident in 1967. The company began operations from their premises in Ohrtmann Road, Willowton, Pietermaritzburg.
Initially, the oil mill had been built on the Ohrtmann Road property with the refinery and crushing plant being commissioned in 1970. Three years later the solvent plant was commissioned and, in early 1974, the seed-receiving, rail-siding, seed storage silos and cake dispatch building was completed.
Diversification from oil sets the scene for growth
Willowton’s first diversification from oil came in 1976 when DH Moosa realised that the company was limited to just 4 000 tonnes of ground nuts and 4 000 tonnes of sunflower seed per annum by the Oilseed Control Board. A decision to expand and diversify the company was taken.
On 10 December 1977, a major fire destroyed the solvent extraction plant bringing production to a complete halt. At the time the company was crushing 150 tonnes of seed a day.
A team headed by Ali Akbar on Civil & Mechanical and AK Moosa on Electrical managed the project, which was to rebuild the damaged plant thereby increasing the crushing capacity to 500 tonnes per day. The new plant was completed in record time, being fully operational in seven months and 20 days from the date of the fire. To complement the new plant, conveyors, storage tanks and additional equipment were purchased.
Willowton expands operations to include a candle and soap plant
During this period, a candle plant was purchased in Durban, which became a new addition to the group’s product stable and, on transfer to Pietermaritzburg in 1978, installed an additional line, together with chilling plants and wrapping machines.
In 1978 the second diversification was initiated, which included soap. The main equipment included saponification, spray dryers, plodders and stampers, which were purchased from Europe. A new structure was built to house equipment like storage tanks, raw materials and boiling pans.
After successfully installing and commissioning the soap plant in 1979, the oilseed crushing capacity was increased and the oil refinery capacity required expansion.
In-house boilermakers built the equipment to increase refining capacity from 50 to 90 tonnes of crude oil per day.
An industry-first for South Africa and a lifelong dream realised
In 1981 DH Moosa and his son Akbar travelled to Europe to view new technologies in refining and ordered a 150-tonne per day refinery. The equipment purchased for the physical refining of oil was largely automated and the most cost-efficient plant at the time. In fact, it was the first automatic refining process for South Africa. This necessitated the construction of additional in-house buildings and steel structures. On 4 July 1982 DH Moosa passed away suddenly with his dream of producing margarine left unfulfilled.
This ambition was realised when Willowton launched Romi, its own brand of margarine in 1989. Two glittering events, one in Johannesburg and the other in Durban were hosted for the launch. This significant event signalled Willowton’s entry into one of the most dominated markets in the country and the late DH Moosa’s dream was finally achieved.
Further expansion to the seed-crushing, soap and candle plants continued as a newly designed 500 tonne per day, state-of-the-art, refinery comprising of four floors was built in 1996. A new factory, complete with administration block and laboratory, were also built in the same year.
Willowton’s industrial and brand acquisitions continue
In 1996 a mothballed plant belonging to Epic Oil (A Premier Milling subsidiary) in Isando, Johannesburg was purchased. The plant was upgraded and, in 2003, a new bottling plant and warehouse were commissioned. The Isando plant was expanded in 2009 making it the largest oilseed crushing plant in South Africa at the time. Between 1997 and 2001 Willowton also acquired the Epic Maitland (Cape Town) Oil Refinery and Packing Plant, Epic Aeroton Margarine & Oil Packing Plant, Senwes Viljoenskroon Crushing Plant and Continental Oil Refinery & Packaging Plant in Randfontein.
Following a partnership dissolution, the Willowton Group belonging to the sons of DH Moosa retained the factories in Pietermaritzburg, Isando and Cape Town.
During 2004 Tiger Brands sold to Willowton, the Western Cape-based Cape Oil & Margarine, one of the country’s oldest and largest refiners of edible oils and margarines,
In 2013 the company opened a state-of-the-art rice-packing plant at the Ohrtmann Road manufacturing site, by concluding a Joint Venture with global commodities giant, Louis Dreyfus.
Market leader innovating new technology and service excellence
In order to compete with the leaders in the field, Willowton continues to explore new technologies, systems and training to empower staff members. As a result, Willowton has established itself as the largest expresser of oilseeds and refiners of edible oils in South Africa.
The diversification of products manufactured, which range from candles, soaps, margarine and spreads, rice, baking, confectionery and industrial fats, has allowed the company to become a reputed market leader, synonymous with quality products and the highest standards of excellence.
With the Head Office and flagship plant situated in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Willowton has expanded its operations to incorporate its manufacturing, packaging and distribution capabilities to such an extent that it now has operations in both Isando (Johannesburg) and Maitland (Cape Town).
Through these expansions the Willowton Group is able to provide excellent service and is strategically placed to offer a continuous and nationwide supply of products to all their valued customers, including leading chain stores, supermarkets, wholesalers, retailers, independents and major food manufacturers.