The 1970s saw politics starting to impinge on the business. Economic sanctions were imposed on U.S. companies that were doing business in South Africa. As a result, Filper was forced to abandon its small, but vibrant partner.

Hugo Molenaar retires

In 1972 one era came to an end and another began. Hugo Molenaar, the company’s founder, retired and Cor took over the reins as Managing Director. Despite being retired, Hugo remained as Chairman until his passing in 1994.

Factories are built

By the mid-1970s, H.G. Molenaar had acquired extensive experience in a factory building, both greenfield, and turnkey.

Cor Molenaar in Greece during the 1970s

For example, H.G. Molenaar completed six major Greek canning business projects during the height of the sanctions era. Until then, Greece was dotted with many small “kitchen” factories in which fruit was canned with little attention to grading for size, color, or quality. Today Greece is the largest peach grower and second largest canner in the world. (The U.S. is the largest peach canner, with South Africa in third position.)

Behind the Iron Curtain

One day in 1974 Cor was alerted to the fact that tenders for the construction of a peach cannery near Sophia, Bulgaria, would close the following morning at 8:00 am South African time. Cor drafted the tender, dictated it over the telephone, and submitted it with minutes to spare.

H.G. Molenaar won the contract, but execution was difficult. For example, negotiating with a South African government that had many misgivings about communism was not plain sailing. While company personnel were allowed to travel to Bulgaria, they were warned that the lack of diplomatic ties between the two countries would make any assistance impossible should any difficulties arise in that country.

Over the next three months, teams went into Bulgaria four times, and it is with some pride that Cor recalls how the canning factory was built with South African expertise and installed by South Africans. Even the electrical work was largely undertaken by Guus after local tradesmen failed to report for work as planned.A final problem was that the contract required H.G. Molenaar to train the new Bulgarian factory staff for 72 hours worth of continuous production. This in itself was not a problem. However, there were never enough peaches of the right size to run the factory for that length of time. “Fortunately with the help of sales manager Tertius Fourie, we were able to persuade them to change the terms to 24 hours, so that we could fulfill the contract,” Cor recalls.

Guus Molenaar during the construction of the Bulgaria factory in 1974.