They're selling like hotcakes

JOHN ANTHONY
Last updated 08:04 10/12/2012
tdn hot cake stand
ANDY JACKSON
Owners of Van Dyck fine Foods, Inge & Marcel Vercammen at their Bell Block Pancake Factory.

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Since opening in 2000 Van Dyck Fine Foods Ltd has grown from a small pancake manufacturer to an Asian market leader in hotcakes.

The hot plate product plant that manufactures pancakes in a range of diameters, thicknesses and flavours is pursuing a high-growth strategy in Asia.

At the 2012 Westpac Taranaki Chamber of Business Awards last month they won the Primary Industries, Trades, Manufacturing and Engineering Excellence Award and the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship Excellence Award.

It was the second time Van Dyck had entered the awards and second time they had won the Primary Industries, Trades, Manufacturing and Engineering Excellence Award.

Van Dyck commercial director Inge Vercammen said she and her husband Marcel Naenen entered the awards because their bank manager said Asian customers liked to work with award-winning companies.

"We're really concentrating on Asia," Vercammen said.

Van Dyck's vision was to become the largest pancake factory in the Southern Hemisphere, she said.

A big breakthrough came when they secured a significant customer in Singapore last year.

"Ever since then things went up and up and up."

Van Dyck supply blueberry hotcakes to KFC in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and soon India.

It also had long-standing contracts to supply hotcakes to both Thai Airways and Emirates.

Van Dyck has 20 staff as well as six freelance New Zealand sales reps.

It also has a sales rep in Indonesia who spends three weeks at a time visiting a different Asian country each month to find new customers.

"The main thing now is to find more export," Vercammen said.

Van Dyck recently invested $5 million in a production plant development which tripled its capacity. "So we have quite a bit of capacity."

And it may not stop there.

"My husband is thinking of expanding again."

That would be to accommodate a new product in the mix which could result in another $4 million invested at Van Dyck, she said.

"We have a new product in mind which doesn't exist in the world."

The couple opened Van Dyck's at Corbett Rd, New Plymouth, in July 2000.

The Belgian couple said they moved to New Zealand because they foresaw the European economic crisis.

Their journey to get to Taranaki was a long one, full of twists and turns, Vercammen said.

It began when Naenen was presenting his pancake-making machine at a trade show in Germany.

It was there he met Noel Yarrow who suggested the couple stop by his Manaia bakery when they visited New Zealand.

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Yarrow told them he wasn't interested in making pancakes with them but he could help out with freezing the product and facilitating distribution channels, which he did, Vercammen said.

New Plymouth companies gave good feedback on Van Dyck pancake samples.

On that positive note they decided to head back to Belgium and begin the process of emigrating to New Zealand.

"We applied to enter the country as an investor," Vercammen said.

At first they made only pancakes because they didn't realise there were other varieties.

After being told there was a market for hotcakes they began work on developing a tasty recipe.

Van Dyck now makes hotcakes in a variety of flavours and also made to order.

"Whatever people ask it's possible for us to make it."

Their current range includes chocolate chip, blueberry, apple and cinnamon, coconut raisin and strawberry hotcakes.

Corn and capsicum pancakes and corn and sundried tomato pancakes are also part of their range.

They added the popular Russian snack blinis to their range in 2007.

The mini cakes would take a chef too much time to make but Van Dyck can produce 28,000 an hour.

They also started making sweet, plain and gluten-free crepes, exporting them to Australia and distributing throughout New Zealand.

They export one 12 metre container of gluten-free crepes per month to Australia.

"It goes like crazy over there."

- Taranaki Daily News

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