Established in 1991 with the aim of importing and distributing quality food and beverages across Malta and Gozo, Nectar Ltd was founded by Charles Abela, along with three partners. Then, in 1997, the Abela family bought over the full shareholding of the company, and today, it is run by the second generation – Charles’ sons Roderick, Mario, and Carlos – who hold the positions of CEO, COO and CCO, respectively.
“My brother Mario and I joined the business in 1997,” explains Roderick, with both holding several different positions as they climbed the ranks, and Mario being more involved in the logistics side of the business whilst Roderick, alongside their father, focused on finance, IT and sales strategy. “Back then, the company was a very small enterprise with less than 20 employees, so we were involved in the day-to-day running of the business, which gave us a lot of valuable experience. As we went along, we sought what was needed to build a more robust structure for the business to grow.”
Some years later, in 2010, their younger brother Carlos joined the ranks after their father passed away, completing the trio of directors at the helm of the company today. “I began in marketing, and a year later we established the food service division. I began taking care of that team, gaining experience, before expanding to other divisions, and today I’m responsible for company-wide sales and marketing,” Carlos smiles.
Since the family’s takeover in 1997, Nectar Ltd has experienced incredible growth. To achieve this, the directors had a clear vision and strategy, the CEO maintains. “We are one of the most recent companies to enter the food business in Malta, and still relatively young as a company, having been around for just 32 years. Most of our competitors of the same size are 100-years plus old. To achieve this growth, we knew we wanted to do things differently – always striving to be more innovative and aggressive, building brands from scratch.”
Their mission succeeded, resulting in the establishment of several great brands over the years. Listing some of the company’s major milestones, Roderick affirms that, between 1997 and 2003, the directors were focused on creating all the structures and systems that would enable them to scale up. Then, in 2003, Nectar relocated to new and centralised premises in Ta’ Qali, which gave them one central location for their logistics operations. That same year, the company made its first acquisition – Sweetsource Ltd, previously a competitor in the same segment which imported and supplied sweet and salty snacks and confectionery products.
“With the acquisition, we experimented with a sales strategy which would become the basis of our future growth,” the CEO explains, referencing their decision to keep the sales teams for Sweetsource and Nectar separate, with the aim of retaining brand focus. “Most people back then asked us why we didn’t merge the teams, but we felt that this would have cannibalised most of the brands. It was a huge learning curve and enabled us to keep replicating this strategy with further acquisitions.” Here, the CEO also mentions Nestle Ice cream, Nettuno as stand-alone fishery, and the distribution of Magro products among the company’s major accolades since then.
In fact, the company has continued to go from strength to strength, with ever more producers entrusting Nectar with their brands several other acquisitions over the years. “In the meantime, we also continued to reinforce our company structure, setting up various supporting departments. Originally, we started out with just logistics and sales, but have since set up a marketing team supporting the brands, as well as HR and IT departments,” says Roderick.
This serves them in good stead for the company’s future – many of which rest on having innovative IT systems in place. “From the outset, we wanted to have innovative systems in place, and this has also enabled us to scale up in the time we have. For example, we use specific business intelligence tools which enable us to make the right decisions at the right time. As a company, we are very agile and are constantly looking to challenge the status quo, so it is important to base our decisions on facts,” the CEO maintains.
Another tool they are proud of and was also necessary to help them scale up is their sales ordering system, which is more than a simple sales collecting tool. “This was completely tailored to our needs and is the fruit of over eight years’ worth of accumulation of ideas. Here, we have managed to create a product that functions like a virtual sales manager accompanying our team, utilising our data to give them key insights, this enabling them to make the right decisions.”
Meanwhile, on the logistics side of things, the warehouse grew as the company grew in turnover, Mario affirms, noting that, “over time, since we ventured into the frozen sector, we needed to build new freezers to accommodate volume, always being mindful to use systems that would best utilise the space. We are now looking into automation and robotics.”
Indeed, Roderick states that it is very important for Nectar to react to market needs, both on the logistics side and sales. “We are always adjusting our model and continue to perfect our role as a food distributor. While outwardly what we do may seem straightforward, there is a complex operation behind it, and it is our mission to keep perfecting it to make ourselves more efficient and consistent,” he smiles.
Aside from their direct function as a food distributor, the CEO continues, the company’s mission is also to make a positive impact on people’s lives through its various roles and functions. “On a broader level, I believe that when we come into this world, for the brief period that we have, we should strive to make people’s lives better,” he attests.
In this respect, Nectar’s family-focused company culture is another factor that makes it unique. “Products and systems can always be replicated, but your soul and your culture as a company can never be copied. It is something we have built throughout the years and continue to work on every day, and it is something that people who join our organisation always remark on. You can’t provide a good service if you don’t have the right environment – it’s like a family, if you have trouble at home, the remainder of your life will suffer.”
Looking ahead at the opportunities on the horizon for Nectar, the CEO says that continuing to fine tune its role as a food distributor brings several opportunities, including mergers and takeovers, for which they are always on the lookout. “We are highly grateful for our customers and their custom over the years – we are constantly seeking to amplify our product range into new categories in order to advance this relationship, both in retail and food service,” he maintains.
Ending our chat with some closing words of advice for aspiring leaders, he shares, “the best opportunities lie outside of your comfort zone. If you always remain in your comfort zone, you won’t achieve much in life. You must constantly push yourself. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Learn from them. Turn every stone that is thrown at you into a building block for your success.”
“We believe that both our family by blood – including our sister who is also a shareholder in the business – and the bigger family we have built through our company culture, is essential to our success. Being strong internally, as the Nectar family, is a key element in facing all the external measures that we face as a business,” the brothers conclude.
This interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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