Dillon Lindhorst of Adelaide, Eastern Cape, reinvented himself from butcher store employee to the managing director of one of the biggest venison deboning and processing businesses in South Africa. Starting out with 500kg of venison per week, he now processes 100t of carcasses a week.
DILLON LINDHORST WAS OFFERED a job by his father in the well-known local family butchery in Adelaide after leaving school. During his free time, he got involved in the growing game culling industry in the areas surrounding Adelaide – Fort Beaufort and Bedford – first for the love of hunting and then as a business venture involving the processing and marketing of venison.
By 2002, Dillon had rented a premises in Adelaide, built a 2,4m x 2,4m x 3m coldroom and three chest freezers, hired a few employees and was handling about 500kg of venison a week, marketing it in Port Elizabeth.
He remembers the informal nature of his fledgling business back then. “My overheads were low at the time – I only had one vehicle to transport venison, so my friends brought their vehicles and shot game for free. They had a lot to do with where I am today,” he explains.
Soon the business had developed to such a degree, major expansions were needed. In 2003, Dillon rented a larger premises, employed a full-time manager, more staff and took on his half-brother, East London-based businessperson Warren Raath, as a 50% partner in Game Zone as his business was now called.
Diversifying and refining Game Zone
Dillon says today Game Zone is one of the biggest venison deboning facilities and processors with a registered abattoir. It employs between 220 and 350 staff, depending on requirements, and debones up to 100t of carcasses in a five- to six-day week, with two shifts a day. Game Zone has cleverly adapted to the seasonality of the game industry. ”Despite our game intake having quadrupled, to achieve our targets we had to include beef because game can’t be sourced throughout the year. We used to work with about 50% venison and 50% beef, but now it is more 40% and 60%.” The increase in meat volumes has led to the need for a new off-site deboning plant and Dillon’s target is to process 200t of carcasses there in a five-day week by next year.
Game is sourced between March, August and September, with beef all year round, from as far afield as Namibia and Botswana. The company’s particular focus is on kudu, wildebeest, warthog, blesbok and springbok.
The personal attention given to their client base is crucial. “I built Game Zone on personal relationships,” he explains. He also firmly believes in adapting to the latest health and hygiene standards to ensure quality products and to enhance Game Zone’s competitiveness. “Some smaller guys don’t want to spend money on hygiene, because they can’t see the return. But it certainly pays. We’re implementing HACCP as all the chain groups are going this route. If we don’t comply, we’ll have to sell to the butcher on the corner, which in many ways is a dying trade.”
Marketing and distribution
Game Zone products have been split into two brands namely Doobys and Winterberg. Doobys is Dillon’s childhood nickname and includes dried meat products like biltong and drywors, while the Winterberg range includes products from smoked springbok carpaccio and beef patties to kudu loin and warthog shank. Both brands are distributed by a fleet of vehicles to Spar, Checkers and wholesalers such as Fercon International (Pty) Ltd. The Eastern Cape remains an important market – there’s a major depot in Port Elizabeth complete with sales manager and a full-time sales representative for the former Transkei.
Game Zone has always actively promoted venison by donating it to restaurants, encouraging direct contact with consumers. “Warthog is the most underrated venison you can get,” says Dillon. “But I had two major problems when marketing it – the character Pumba from the movie The Lion King and the way a warthog’s face looks. Kids would think of Pumba, while the animal’s face is not the best face to picture when you’re eating,” he laughs.
Dillon has always believed in utilising the fifth quarter effectively. “I work from the nose to the tail and I sell everything.” Organs go to meat processors, bones to a bone meal factory, skins are tanned and marketed along with head and full body mounts. Skulls and horns are sold across the country to feed the local and international tourist market, while a growing local traditional healer market also demands certain products like tails. A Game Zone “showroom” is being renovated in Adelaide to showcase all these products.- Mike Burgess
Contact Game Zone on (046) 684 1533 or 084 506 3178. |fw