Food and consumer goods are such a ubiquitous part of modern life that they are typically taken for granted as a commodity that’s simply always there. However, behind the scenes, it takes a lot of vision and hard work to ensure grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and other hospitality operations are amply stocked with the quality products they need to serve their customers.

One such company that is currently supplying over 3,100 local outlets with foods, beverages, and a whole range of other products is Nectar. Founded in 1991, but completely taken over by the Abela family in 1997, this family-run business has grown into one of Malta’s leading local importers and distributors of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), amassing an impressive stable of household name brands in the process, including Nestlé ice cream, Pfanner, Orbit, and PATA, among many others.

Today, the next generation of the Abela family has taken the reins of the company. CEO Roderick Abela, together with brothers Mario and Carlos who are COO and CCO of Nectar respectively, have been instrumental in shepherding the company towards an impressive phase of growth and expansion into new sectors.

“While Nectar has been in business for 31 years, in some ways we are a relative newcomer to the industry. That’s because our closest competitors have all been in operation upwards of 100 years. This meant that when we first entered the FMCG space, the market was already quite saturated, and it wasn’t easy for us to make inroads into this sector. However, this pushed us to take a different approach, which has really set us apart. From the start, we have striven to offer a superior service that’s based on fostering genuine interest in the wants and needs of all our stakeholders, whether they’re our brands, clients, employees, or end-consumers,” Mr Abela explains.

Key to this approach was a decision to provide their brand clients with a more focused service. Whereas other distributors may employ a couple of sales forces to oversee all the company’s products, Nectar began to put in place dedicated teams to handle a select few brands each. This ensured that clients were given more personalised attention with specialised personnel who knew their products inside out.

Nectar CEO Roderick Abela / Photo by Inigo Taylor

The strategy proved to be a winning formula. The company went on to experience a remarkably fast growth, tripling its turnover in the last decade. This has also meant that more international FMCG brands have been keen to partner with Nectar as their regional distributor in the Maltese market.

“Today, we’re proud to employ one of the largest sales teams in Malta, with over 60 full-time sales specialists among our 175-strong workforce. This really allows us to provide a dedicated focus to each brand we represent. When we’re entrusted with a new product, we want to ensure that it not only enters the market, but that it thrives and gains a better presence. Even though we are a B2B business that deals with retail outlets, we also employ an in-house marketing team who continue to find creative ways to make our brands and products more well-known and appealing to end-consumers within the local market,” he says.

Despite Malta’s small size, the local market does pose its own set of challenges to importers and distributors who are dealing with large, international brands.

“In bigger countries like Italy or the UK, where there’s higher market reach potential, the trend is for distributors to be specialised in one type of product, for example confectionery. Malta on the other hand, is much more restricted, so we must diversify into more segments. In our case, we started from confectionery, but today the portfolio has evolved to many other categories, such as fish, groceries, beverages, frozen foods, and so on. But despite the complexity of the situation, we have learned to overcome the challenges in order to become experts at handling such a varied product line.”

Beyond diversifying its product range, Nectar has also made strides within the hotels, restaurants, and catering (HORECA) industry in recent years. In 2012 the company set up a specialised sales force dedicated to its HORECA clients and now services many leading five-star hotels, restaurants, cafés, food kiosks, and the like.

“The HORECA industry requires an entirely different approach when compared to the retail space. Significantly, it’s less focused on brands and more on the quality of service and reliability clients can expect. It’s also a much more demanding industry. This is because hotels and restaurants are reliant on consumption and tourism, so they can never plan and stock for a week ahead or so. Normally you have to react very fast, with deliveries being completed within 24 hours after an order is placed,” Mr Abela explains.

Nectar CEO Roderick Abela / Photo by Inigo Taylor

In addition to supplying HORECA businesses with foods and goods, they also offer ancillary services to help their clients streamline and enhance their operations. Such services range from supplying and maintaining ice-cream dispensing machines to cleaning and descaling fish on behalf of their chef and kitchen team clients.

Just as the HORECA side of Nectar’s operations was really beginning to hit its stride, with the company on course to experience one of its best years of sales ever, the pandemic hit, grinding the entire hospitality industry to a standstill. Despite the uncertainty of the situation, Mr Abela explains that a decision was quickly taken among the Abela family and directors to safeguard all the jobs of Nectar employees. During this period of downtime, they diverted the company’s manpower into putting several projects which had long been gestating in the pipeline into motion.

“We used the disruption the pandemic caused to our business in our favour as best we could. One project we launched, for example, was a range of private label products. Our marketing team developed several new brands which repackaged bulk imported goods in retail friendly packaging, which we supply to consumers within local supermarkets. One such brand is Nettuno, which specialises in fresh and frozen fish and fish products. It’s proven to be a great success and we hope to develop similar brands down the line.”

Now that Malta is steadily emerging from the pandemic, Mr Abela says Nectar is back on track, with business returning to pre-2019 levels. The decision to hold on to its entire workforce has paid dividends, as it meant the company had the manpower in place to adequately service its HORECA clients as soon as demand began to pick up.

Following a period of consolidation and reinvention, the company is now looking to enter a new phase of growth and is investing in its headquarters to increase its storage facilities as well as to add new technology to strengthen its operations. In the past few months, the company has also introduced several new product categories into its portfolio, including a vaster range of detergent products.

We are always looking for ways to enhance our product offering to provide our clients with more value. We’re particularly proud to announce that we are collaborating with wine expert Marco Vella to sell and distribute his portfolio of local and foreign wines. This is a venture which has been on our bucket list for a long time, but we took the time and energy to do it right. We feel we have a commitment to making excellent wine accessible and available to both the average person and the connoisseur alike, and we’re confident that we have the right channels to make this a reality. We foresee a bright future through this collaboration,” Mr Abela concludes.

This feature was first carried in the summer 2022 edition of Business Now magazine, the sister brand to BusinessNow.mt

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