Stop Clucking Around With Chicken and Get Our Retailers to Source More Locally

I was in two minds when I read reports today about an insistence that South African chicken must be clearly labeled so that consumers can know they are buying the local stuff and not something that has been imported. While I tend to support the sentiment that we must do all we can to support local businesses, I also believe in free and fair trade (even if it is not yet a reality).   And I am sure than many South Africans are more concerned about price than origin when buying chicken.

However, there is certainly potential to boost local content and to promote local goods where possible and viable.   We have seen several ministers, including President Zuma, stress the importance of securing more locally-made components for the vehicles which are assembled in South Africa, supported by billions of rand in state subsidies. As government plans the successor auto incentive scheme, which will run from 2020, the auto giants should be aware that there is frustration that they are not doing enough to source from local component suppliers, and that penalties may be incurred in future if they do too little.

I was interested when retailer Verimark gave a presentation to analysts at which it said that it, too, hopes to procure more from local producers.   Surely we should now start seeing a better dialogue between companies like Verimark – which appears to get most of its stuff from China – and local manufacturers? Of course, there are some products which the Chinese will always be able to make more cheaply. But how about we bring in the innovators and entrepreneurs and start devising the sort of smart gadgets which Verimark markets, and then producing them from a local base?

With the weak rand, Verimark is trying harder to secure more sales outside South Africa, so any initiative to produce more here would not only reduce imports but could also boost exports as well.

We need innovation, imagination, better dialogue and a strong commitment to reviving South Africa’s manufacturing sector.   Tinkering with the labelling on packs of chicken isn’t going to help much.

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Eating in a Palace of Pretention. Restaurant Mosaic.

I have to admit that I was a little wary about eating in the Mosaic restaurant, or Restaurant Mosaic as it known, as some friends told me of an evening meal there after which they needed to stop by MacDonald’s on the way home, as they were still hungry.   However, one of our finest wine producers La Motte was hosting a media lunch, so I had little to lose by going along.   As it transpired, not even my appetite.

I used my TomTom navigator to get there, as the restaurant is located in the middle of nowhere, and then on a bit.   It is an attractive building, with a brilliant sommelier, and I was hosted by La Motte CEO Hein Koegelenberg, who was full of fascinating anecdotes and info on the wine business.  When he could get a word in.   One of my fellow guests was clearly under the impression that she was hosting the event, constantly interrupted poor Hein, and did little to enhance my mood.

What of the food?   What is the square root of very small?   Go to Mosaic and you will find out.   The first offering was trundled in – a trolley with four types of bread, accompanied by a selection of butters, which were on the table.   But what small slices!   If a modern-day Christ were seeking the best way to feed several thousand people from a few small loaves, without any flashy miracles, he could learn a lot from this restaurant.

The other courses were not quite as small, although it would have taken the cheese selections from every diner at the table to make up just one mouthful.   The langoustine with bisque and risotto was enjoyable, although I found the bisque a bit bland and the risotto overcooked.

Before that, there was a pile of green stuff surrounded by a moat of different green stuff, which tasted OK.   Two dishes from the La Motte guest chef were less enjoyable.  The first was a few shavings of cured meat, which left an unpleasant taste in the mouth, and then there were a few bundles of poultry wrapped in different coverings, which really did nothing to fill or to please me.

The dessert was two types of chocolate, looked wonderful, but tasted a bit underwhelming.

As the service took so long, I was unable to stay for coffee, as the sun was threatening to fade and I needed to head home, but I am sure it was fine.

The wines were enjoyable, but not startling.   I found the La Motte Sauvignon Blanc rather brash, but the sommelier suggested it might benefit from some cellaring.  Maybe they will do so, and then invite me back for another taste?    There were a couple of reds, one of which had lots of gold stickers on the bottle, and the other of which didn’t.   The first was a the Hanneli R 2011.  I found it rather brash, so my preference would have been for some more time in the cellar.  The second was a multi-award winner – the Pierneef Syrah-Viognier 2013 – which I found it rather harsh and heavy.   I am sure it will be spectacular in a few years time.

Bizarrely, we were also served a few French wines, presumably to prove that La Motte is up to world standards.  For me, this backfired spectacularly, as my favourite red was a 2007 Côte-Rôtie from France.   It might not have been as fine as the La Motte reds, but it was well aged, and was the only wine for which I requested a refill.

The final wine we were offered was a straw wine from La Motte, which was magical.   A real delight. (And we had earlier been greeted with a glass or two of reasonable La Motte bubbly.)

Will I continue to drink and enjoy La Motte wines?  Certainly.

Would I ever pay myself for a few nibbles at the Mosaic?   Unlikely.

Final proof of the pretentiousness of the place came with the printed menu material.   A reference was made to dinner, even though we were there for lunch.  One of the poultry parcels was described as a petite tortellini, rather than tortellino.  And there was a reference to mousse de mer – which means nothing, unless it a mousse made out of sea water. It wasn’t.

John Fraser was a guest of La Motte at Restaurant Mosaic.


Tweet of the Day:

Jewish Comedians (@JewishComedians):  The food here is terrible, and the portions are too small. | #Quotes


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Government is MCEPtively Vague on Industrial Support

If there is one thing that businessmen enjoy, even more than long lunches, it is certainty.   Whether it is with their own money, or with funds raised from elsewhere, they are more likely to go ahead with a project if they are sure that its finances are predictable, that any support they are receiving from government will be predictable and will be delivered. 

With this in mind, I attended the media launch of the dti’s latest industrial blueprint, the eighth Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP).  

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies gave an overview of the strategy, and there were some encouraging elements.   A new auto support programme is being drawn up in good time for 2020, when the existing one is due to expire.    It may be that the voice of the auto component sector is to be more closely heard than it was in previous exercises, and the aim is to provide the industry with continuity and certainty about future support.   Tens of billions of rand of taxpayers’ funds are being invested in auto production, so it is good that proper planning seems to be taking place.

There was also a confirmation by Rob Davies that the focus of government incentive support measures will be shifting from wider support schemes to sector-specific ones, such as those for films, auto, clothing, footwear and textiles and so on.

However, once again there was a slightly opaque response to questions about the main incentive scheme for manufacturing, the MCEP, which ran out of money last year and which would have been reignited around now if there had been fresh funds.

In a series of MCEPtively vague responses, Rob Davies and his DG Lionel October (who had erroneously been introduced as DG September) confirmed the shift from wide-ranging programmes to sector-specific ones, said MCEP has been a success, suggested there would be budget lines for MCEP for the next two years (without saying what funds, if any, are available).  He announced that there would be a smaller successor scheme in future which would again be applied across all industries, alongside the growing sector-specific array of grants.

There is logic in government’s approach.  However, I find it strange and irritating that the changes which are being planned have not been clearly outlined, with details such as funding and timing.  I understand that a number of applications were made before MCEP ground to a halt, but never processed, and the companies concerned must be baffled about what is going on.  

Let us hope that the often excellent communications of the dti can be stepped up to ensure that once important changes are decided, they are then communicated.

Government says frequently how important this country’s industrial base is to our growth, employment and exports, and the more detail on how it plans to support this, the better.

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