The Bio-Wheat mill produces stoneground flour, which is healthier than its commercially milled counterpart, as it retains vitamins, fibre, and wheat germ.
Owner Heinie Fourie says that through his business he is creating a legacy for his family and that the mill is helping to employ people in the local community.
The Fouries use biological production methods to ensure healthy soil and crops.
In the 1990s, deregulation of the agricultural markets in South Africa saw the price of wheat tumble from over R1 200/t to below R700/t. Faced with this situation, Chris Fourie and his sons Christo and Heinie, who farm near Caledon in the Overberg, took matters into their own hands and in 1999 bought two second-hand rollers to mill their own wheat.
Since then, Heinie has established himself as the owner of the Bio-Wheat flour brand, which is in growing demand thanks to the nutritional value of its products. He admits, nonetheless, that building the brand and making money from milling is easier said than done, and he sometimes wonders whether it has all been worth the effort.
“The business is only now starting to make financial sense. But I console myself with the thought that I’m building a family legacy and the mill helps to create jobs in the community,” he says.
The greatest challenge for the Fourier was to secure a reliable market for their flour.
“When we started out, the mill produced flour that was perfect for today’s health-conscious market but was far too coarse for its time. Back then, following the huge shift to ultra-refined and processed foods in the 1980s, everyone wanted whiter and finer flour, and the bakers didn’t know how to work with anything else.”
Another problem was that the Fouries’ product was packaged in polypropylene bags, which left a lot of fine flour dust when tossed into a customer’s car boot. This did not sit well with the owners of high-end luxury vehicles.
Failing to capture this market, the Fourier turned their attention to the market for food rations, which many farmers in those days still supplied to their workers. Despite the flour being substantially cheaper and healthier than white flour, farmworkers didn’t want it either.
“They would simply sift the flour to produce white flour, and then feed the separated bran to their pigs,” explains Heinie.
Realising that they had to give the market what it wanted, the Fourier added a millstone to their operation in 2000 to produce a finer product. At the same time, they managed to find a trading partner that agreed to take all their flour. Unfortunately, the partner soon realized that the ovens in its bakeries were calibrated for a specific brand of commercial flour, which meant that the Fouries were once again left without a market.
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