19 Mar, 2019
This Surinamese company first opened its doors in 1960, and at the time, Willemsberg founder, Leo Willemsberg imported white sugar. But when Suriname started producing its own sugar, Leo needed to find an alternative import, and opted for shelled peanuts.
By 1980, the next generation of Willemsbergs were at the helm of the company, and keen to start a more creative, entrepreneurial venture.
“My brother said why don’t we produce our own peanut butter; so instead of continuing to import peanuts for other peanut butter producers, we started our own factory,” Leo’s daughter, and Willemsberg Managing Director Susan Tjong A Hung shared.
They started with two varieties, first a creamy version, and then crunchy with chunks of peanuts in it. Next came a hot variety with pepper, and finally, diet versions were added.
Today, there are six varieties of Wippy Peanut Butter. The preservative free nut butter consists of 95% peanuts, is sold in over 1,500 shops and supermarkets across Suriname, and has grown to become a trusted, recognisable brand and a huge favourite with the Surinamese people.
How increased competition spurred exports
As more companies across Suriname started producing peanut butter, Wippy’s market share fell from 65 percent to 35. Whilst working on reclaiming five to 10 percent of the market through increased marketing events, such as supermarket tastings and health and wellness campaigns in schools, they have also turned their attention beyond Suriname’s shores to capture more sales.
“We have an excellent distributor,” Susan said. “They are the sole distributors for Coca Cola in Suriname, and they are doing a great job at pushing the Wippy brand.”
Distributor Fernandes has already taken Wippy into Guyana and is currently working on expanding their presence there.
With assistance from the Women Empowered Through Export (WE-Xport) programme, Willemsberg is now also looking to Europe to boost sales.
WE-Xport provides technical assistance, grant funding and training geared toward preparing women-owned Caribbean businesses for export.
“We had a lot of help from our WE-Xport coach, and this enabled us to export to The Netherlands,” Susan shared. “The coach guided us through the process and researched the documents and other requirements needed to export to and promote our product in Holland.”
Unable to sell in The Netherlands under the name “Wippy” because of its similarity to internationally-known peanut butter brand “Skippy”, the Willemsberg team registered the name “Fosten” – a reference to the traditional way of making peanut butter in Suriname.
With the necessary paperwork done and registration complete, Willemsberg exported their first palettes of over 6,000 jars of Fosten peanut butter to Holland where they are focused on the Surinamese diaspora of approximately 400,000.
Flexibility and teamwork, key to Willemsberg success
The ability to read and respond to market trends has played a crucial role in keeping Willemsberg in business for almost 60 years. But the true credit, says Susan, must be given to her 34 members of staff.
She offered up this nugget for other small business owners.
“Do not be afraid to trust and count on your management team and employees. Give them the opportunity to help, and to express their ideas,” she said. “Invest in your employees, guide, coach and always be honest with them, and you will see that this will reflect positively in your company’s performance.”
Visit the We-Xport booth at Bmex in June 2019 to learn more about the Wippy brand.
Find out more about the Willemsberg story and Wippy Peanut butter at: www.wippypindakaas.com and on Facebook and Instagram @wippypindakaas.