Shell companies leading the way

Published Sep 20, 2008

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By Bronwynne Jooste

Hermanus can now officially lay claim to two of the Western Cape's fastest-growing and most innovative export businesses.

Hermanus-based Elezane Industries and Abagold are finalists in the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce's 2008 Exporter of the Year awards.

Elezane Industries exports tons of live snails to Europe each year, while Abagold breeds, harvests and exports perlemoen (abalone) to the East.

Both companies employ hundreds of people in a community where joblessness is a problem.

They worked hard to identify their markets and then made sure they met their growing demands.

Abagold was established in 1995, although the idea was born more than 22 years ago.

Managing director Christo du Plessis said the business was the brainchild of veterinarian Pierre Hugo, who had done experiments to measure how perlemoen could breed in captivity. He also speculated how long wild perlemoen populations could be sustained.

And what started as a side-project in a small fish tank has grown into a multi-million-rand business.

Abagold has its own hatchery in Hermanus's harbour. From the hatchery the perlemoen spend four years in the farm and is then moved to land tanks. Six million litres of fresh sea water is pumped into the tanks each hour.

The perlemoen are then taken to a processing plant from where they are shipped to countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Abagold exported 220 tons last year, seeing a R57 million turnover. Du Plessis said they were aiming to export over 300 tons a year in the next two years.

Marine and Coastal Management is conducting studies to identify sites for a new method of breeding perlemoen, called ranching.

Du Plessis said ranching would mean parts of the coast would be allocated for growing and harvesting baby perlemoen.

"We also want to get into integrated aquaculture. Instead of pumping the sea water back into the sea, we want to use it to grow seaweed which will be used to feed abalone. This will open the door for growing other species like mussels."

But for now, the company feels "honoured" by its nomination.

"We have created a name for ourselves with consistent supply and quality. We are 100% exports, but we don't import any of our materials and we are totally eco-friendly.

"We feel privileged we can contribute in Hermanus by creating jobs."

Like Abagold, Elezane Industries, which trades as the SA Snail Company, is feeding a healthy international demand.

The company partners saw amazing business possibilities for snail exports by harvesting the creatures from local farms.

Hundreds of workers, who can earn around R350 a week, including in off-season, collect the snails.

They are then taken to the factory where they are chilled and go into hibernation, sealing their shells. From there they are exported to tables across Europe, where the brown garden snail is a major delicacy.

Elezane partner Shelldon Breda said the company was proud to be a pioneer in the industry. It's one of the first commercial snail harvesting and exporting companies in the country. It is clearly not afraid to venture into uncharted territory. It is one of the first concerns in South Africa to export live snails by sea.

Elezane is the first wholly black-owned and managed company to be nominated for the Chamber's award.

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