Surface Wilmar to inject US$24m in Olivine plant upgrade

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TINASHE MAKICHI 

The country’s biggest cooking oil manufacturer, Surface Wilmar has put in place a revival plan for Olivine Industries, which will result in a US$24 million upgrade of the Birmingham Harare plant.

Olivine’s plants in Birmingham and Willowvale were shut down after the production process became inefficient due to obsolete equipment some of which dates back to the 1960s.

Olivine started off as a small family‐owned business in Nyazura before a move to Harare. In 1931, Olivine purchased premises in Birmingham Road, where the company is now situated. The first plant installed was for crushing groundnuts and producing cooking oil. The company started off by selling oil and then ventured into making soap. The first soap produced was the famous Big Ben bar.

In 1958, Buttercup margarine came on board and the company started supplying in bulk to the baking industry. Eight years later, Olivine broke fresh ground by being the first to produce cotton seed oil which helped to satisfy the then oil hungry market.

Until 2015, Olivine Industries had been battling financial challenges where it had borrowings and payables in excess of $34 million against current assets of $21 million, $17,2 million being inventory. This paved the way for an entry of a new investor, Surface Wilmar Private Limited which acquired 49,3 percent previously owned by AICO Africa, now Cottco Holdings.

Production of Olivine brands is currently being done off the Surface Wilmar plant in Chitungwiza. Surface also produces Pure Drop cooking oil.

“We are going to put in US$24 million towards upgrading the Birmingham facility into a world class plant. It’s a process that we are looking at going forward and this proposed investment shows the commitment that we have in this market,” said Surface Wilmar chief executive Sylvester Mangani.