Pioneer buoyant despite bad times

HIGHER food prices boosted headline earnings a share for the six months ended March by 18percent at Pioneer Foods, South Africa's second largest food group.

Pioneer is in transition from a commodity business to a brands business as it seeks to further entrench margins.

Managing director André Hanekom said White Star, the "big business success story" since the merger between Bokomo and Sasko 10 years ago, which created Pioneer, is now a maize meal market leader at a premium price.

Hanekom, pictured, is confident that while consumers may drop some luxury products, they would maintain buying the basic foods.

"Our basket is very well aligned for tough times, says Hanekom.

Brands include Bokomo, Ceres, Liquifruit, Weetbix, Safari and Pepsi.

During the period under review, good volume growth came through in certain areas such as maize. In areas where volume did not come through the group focused on the cost base.

Hanekom said there is much growth potential.

"Though the margin is better and profit went up, it is still below where we want it to be. The margin is not that comparable with other food players in the world."

The "big elephant" is the Competition Commission trial set for the last two weeks in June about allegations of price fixing in the bread division. No provision for a penalty has been raised.