Ex-CEOs sign up for Real Foods healthy growth

Sunday Times - - Business News - By ADELE SHEVEL

● For­mer Fa­mous Brands Group CEO Kevin Hed­der­wick and Antony Ball, the co­founder and ex-CEO of pri­vate eq­uity com­pany Brait, have joined the board of Real Foods, a pri­vate com­pany fo­cused on nat­u­ral food that owns brands such as Kauai.

These two for­mer listed-com­pany heavy­weights join Real Foods CEO Dean Kowarski, who has a back­ground in cor­po­rate fi­nance and was in­volved with the un­bundling of Fed­sure’s health di­vi­sion.

Hed­der­wick has joined the Real Foods board as group strate­gic di­rec­tor and Ball as a di­rec­tor.

Real Foods is fo­cused on nat­u­ral food, health and well­ness. It also owns Nu Health Food Café, Kohu and Highveld Honey, the largest honey sup­plier in SA.

Kowarski said the com­pany was fo­cused on achiev­ing strong or­ganic growth and had an ac­quis­i­tive growth strat­egy. The busi­ness was grow­ing well or­gan­i­cally, con­trary to the ex­pe­ri­ence of many of food and re­tail groups. “Our ex­ist­ing busi­ness has done dou­ble-digit growth across all the busi­nesses.”

Real Foods is per­form­ing due dili­gence on a num­ber of po­ten­tial ac­qui­si­tions.

“There are some good deals but they’re hard to come by. These busi­nesses tend to be owned by strong en­trepreneurs with a pas­sion for their busi­ness,” Kowarski said.

“Kevin believes that the growth of the nat­u­ral foods sec­tor is ex­cep­tional and that Real Foods is best po­si­tioned to take ad­van­tage of this growth.”

Hed­der­wick turned Steers Hold­ings, with a mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of R105m in 2005, when he joined, into the R14bn Fa­mous Brands group be­fore he left in 2015.

Last year he briefly joined ex-Bid­vest CEO Brian Joffe’s Long4Life as COO.

Kowarski said Ball was known as a pi­o­neer­ing pri­vate eq­uity prac­ti­tioner and as one of the most as­tute and re­spected in­vestors in SA. Dur­ing his ten­ure at Brait, the com­pany suc­cess­fully raised four funds, listed on the JSE and com­pleted trans­ac­tions in­clud­ing the pur­chase of Pep­kor and NetOne.

Ball left Brait in 2011 to pur­sue other op­por­tu­ni­ties and is the chair­man of Value Cap­i­tal Part­ners, where he sits on the board of PPC and Al­tron.

He has in­vested in a num­ber of other pri­vate com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Real Foods through Illovo Ltd.

Kowarski said the nat­u­ral food move­ment was the fu­ture of food, and com­pared its growth po­ten­tial with the tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies of 20 years ago. “Nat­u­ral foods are still in their in­fancy in SA.

“Real Foods is well cap­i­talised and we have over 160 stores,” he said, adding that it also re­cently in­tro­duced a range of Kauai re­tail prod­ucts to Check­ers stores.

“We want to be a dom­i­nant player in the nat­u­ral food space. We’re not in the com­modi­tised, low-mar­gin space. We’re in the qual­ity branded but ac­ces­si­ble space.”

Kowarski said that be­ing an un­listed com­pany meant it didn’t have to re­turn money to in­vestors un­der an im­me­di­ate time hori­zon. “We want to grow the busi­ness, and a list­ing may be on the ta­ble, or a trade sale, or we may just con­tinue to grow.”

Kowarski said that as an un­listed com­pany, “we can make quick de­ci­sions and don’t have to an­swer to a whole range of stake­hold­ers. We make mis­takes, but we get things right more than we get them wrong. I don’t think we’d have achieved this kind of growth in a large cor­po­rate com­pany.”

Real Foods was founded by Kowarski in 2013 and part­nered with Gen­e­sis Cap­i­tal Part­ners in 2014.

Our ex­ist­ing busi­ness has done dou­bledigit growth

From left, Dean Kowarski, Kevin Hed­der­wick and Antony Ball.

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