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Robberg from then till now, as told by Malcolm Craig

by | Dec 8, 2020 | News, The Robberg Family

The Robberg Fine Foods we all know and love is 41 years old this year. But, as Managing Director Malcolm Craig explains from their busy premises in Plett’s Industrial Area, their rise to the thriving businesses it is now was not an easy one.

Malcolm worked for Louis Ollemans from 1971 till 1979 in the business that was then known as Robberg Fisheries and Butchery. In 1979 he bought the business from Louis, renaming it Robberg Seafoods.

Main Street Plett in the late 1960s viewed from the Post Office with the Robberg Fisheries van visible on the left.

Peter Dodds (father of the current General Manager Blaine Dodds) joined forces with Malcolm in 1980. At this stage they were operating from the Noël Centre in Main Street, but by 1982 they had outgrown the premises and opted to move to the current location in Plett’s Industrial Area where they shared a factory building with three other small businesses… Barracloughs (electrical contractors), Derek’s Marine (boat builder) and Mark Rupert (General Engineering).

A Robberg delivery truck from the 1980s.

In 1983 Peter Dodds left the business to start The Islander Restaurant. He sold his share in the business to his son Blaine who at the time was a skipper on Stentor, one of Robberg’s larger fishing boats.

When the chokka boom of 1985 hit Plett, Malcolm and Blaine jumped onboard and became chokka fishermen themselves, running their own six ski-boats and sourcing from independent boats to pack and freeze for the export market. Much of their catch was sent off to be consumed by the restaurant trade in Italy.

In 1989, however, there was an oversupply of chokka and the market crashed prompting Malcolm and Blaine to move over to catching hake off their ski-boats using handlines.

Stentor was one of the first fishing boats owned by Robberg Seafoods in the early 1980s.

Boats from as far afield as Struisbaai were sending their catch to Robberg for export to Spain. Together with Caladero they were exporting around 2,000 tons of fresh fish per year, airfreighted to Spain, a highly logistical business.

In 2008, with the world financial crash, it was no longer viable to catch for export and the business had to adapt, changing direction towards the distribution network and retail, becoming specialist frozen and chilled food distributors, supplying upwards of 500 hotels and restaurants along the Garden Route.

Along with this change came the addition of meat and poultry and all frozen foods, completing the model that is still in force today.

The Jolly Fisher landy launched boats daily off Central Beach in Plett.

From a humble start of a mere six employees, the Robberg group now provides employment to around 90 Plett locals which in turn sustains around 500 family members each month.

Malcolm and Blaine have been partners in the business for 40 years now, an achievement “longer than most people stay married” they often joke.

With their sons Wayne and Peter-Blaine being appointed directors and taking on more responsibilities in the business, Malcolm and Blaine proudly see them continuing the legacy of Robberg Fine Foods through the half-century milestone and beyond.

Peter Dodds, Blaine Dodds and Malcolm Craig circa 1982

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