An anniversary which represents an important milestone for the whole Gozitan economy and for the national agriculture and commercial sectors since the company is still a leading enterprise in the Maltese agro-industry and in promoting local produce in overseas markets.
In 1916, Ganni Magro of Xewkija who was already an established general provision merchant decided to establish the firm “Magro Brothers” with his three sons as partners.
In the late 1800’s, Gozo depended entirely on its agricultural community and exported most of its produce to its sister island, Malta. As a kumpratur (trader) Gianni bought fresh Gozitan produce and sailed from Mgarr harbour to Valletta, on an arduous journey, to sell its produce to the “pitkala” (provision buyers) on the other side. Ganni l-Ghakrex, as was the family’s nickname, was conscious that business in Gozo was very limited and he always looked beyond the confines of the shores of Gozo and, eventually, even beyond those of Malta. He succeeded to make inroads in the lucrative market of the wholesale and retailing of foodstuffs. He also bartered products that he bought for seeds, animal fodder, and agricultural tools. When he had amassed enough capital, his innate strategy pushed him towards a new venture – he directed his attention to the real estate market, slowly moving up from the agricultural class to that of business and commerce.
Just as the First World War was nearing its end, a large number of wounded soldiers were sent to Gozo to recover. This increased the Gozitan population considerably and thus also the consumption of foodstuffs. It was at this opportune time that Ganni Magro decided to expand further and encouraged his three sons to take over his business venture.
On 30th May 1916, when Ganni turned fifty, he decided to form the firm ‘Magro Brothers’ for his three sons. Magro Brothers came into being as General Merchants and Cattle Breeders. The business steadily and evidently branched into two: imports and exports, becoming more and more export-orientated with the passage of years.
In the twenties, Magro Brothers ventured into yet another field that would eventually become the firm’s main business activity to present times; they started to purchase and trade in fresh tomatoes. This pulpy fruit was already widely used in the local kitchen during the summer months when the crop was at its best, but it was not yet cultivated on a large-scale. They acquired all the available crop of tomatoes and other fresh produce from Gozitan farmers and sold it to ship chandlers at the Valletta Grand Harbour.
By 1934, the three Magro brothers had completely taken over the business from their father and established themselves as leading general merchants and food distributors in Gozo. Young, full of vigour, and completely immersed in business, they decided to expand further. Aware of the copious quantity of milk produced in Gozo at that time as well as of the steep rise in the sale of imported evaporated milk, they decided to take the initiative and set up a plant for the evaporation of milk. The authorities, however, failed to issue the necessary permit to Magro Brothers for the dairy venture to take off.
Their resilience in face of the Government’s refusal was soon to bear fruit. Magro Brothers had by that time taken the decision that they would start processing tomatoes for the production of kunserva, tomato-paste – a totally new venture for their firm. The kunserva was canned in tin containers with a capacity of five and a half pounds (5 pounds 8 ounces), equivalent to 2.5 kg. Grocers would then sell the kunserva by weight and roll it in a grease-proof paper. The Three Hills Brand Kunserva was an immediate success and it was destined to become, in a few years time, a household name in Gozo, in Malta, and even abroad.
The early 40’s, the time of the Second World War, was the worst of times as Malta was facing an acute shortage of all essentials. In Gozo, the countryside people who grew their own vegetables and reared poultry were relatively better off. It was the time of the “Victory Kitchens” and the “ration vouchers” for basic commodities. Magro Brothers were tasked with the distribution and delivery of most of these foodstuffs and ingredients. By 1943 Malta was practically out of the war and life in Gozo started to return to normal. Tomato crops were again on the increase and, by summer 1943, production started to pick up again. The factory, as well as the other export and import ventures of the Firm, were on the road to a full recovery.
In the beginning of the sixties, the three brothers – who were admired and held in high regard by the businessmen of Gozo for sticking together for almost half a century – started to ponder their future. Wigi, turned sixty in 1960, and the years had taken their toil on his health, which made him leave the partnership and his shares in the firm were handed over to Guzepp and Manwel. The first to pass away was the youngest of the three Magro Brothers; Manwel who died on 18 August 1963 at the age of fifty. He was survived by his wife Lilian, his two sons John, who turned eight two days after his father’s demise, Michael, almost seven, and his daughter Anne, who was just five years old. “His untimely death – wrote a newspaper correspondent – was the cause of great sorrow not only for the company of Magro Brothers, that has made a great name for itself, but for the whole of Gozo. It was he who succeeded to create the largest number of jobs in the private sector alleviating the crisis of unemployment in Gozo.”
This signaled the beginning of a new generation in the management of the business of Magro Brothers. They swiftly resolved to modify the Company’s name to reflect the new commercial partnership. On 19 May 1977, they registered Magro Brothers (Foods) Limited as a limited liability Company. John and Michael Magro who had completed their studies at the Malta Polytechnic in accountancy and in business administration, had by then set their mind on a new business model. They decided to focus on their canning business and expand their range of products. Besides the Three Hills Brand which was already formally registered and well respected in the market place, they came up and registered a new brand: Mayor. This brand was needed to give a name for the wide range of food products that were to be launched in the years ahead. From the very beginning, they set themselves the task to offer consumers products with an excellent taste and using good quality ingredients from local growers. Today both brands are category leaders and cover a wide range of grocery products.
In 2005, another food processing company was added to the Group, Savina Creations Limited. Savina is the luxury brand of Magro Brothers specializing in artisan gift products that invoke Maltese and Mediterranean heritage and are presented with exceptional design and taste. The name Savina is borrowed from Pjazza Savina, the square in the heart of Victoria, Gozo, which for centuries was the commercial hub of the island. It was from this square that Magro Brothers conducted their trading activity from the early 1930s to 1977.
In 2010, after extensive market research, FarmFresh Ltd was formed by Magro Brothers to specialize in the processing of fresh dairy products and other farm products; all presented in innovative and convenient packaging expected by modern consumers.
In 2012, another brainchild of Magro Brothers came to fruition. The Magro Food Village was created on the grounds of their Xewkija plant. The Food Village offers a unique walk through the Savina kitchens, the dairy curdling urns and the tomato processing plant. The visit is further enriched by the guided tours and information about the company offered by the well-trained staff. The Village is not only a showcase of the good food produced by the highly motivated workforce of Magro Brothers, but also a gallery of traditional local crafts.
Presently, the day to day management of the companies of Magro Brothers is entrusted to John’s three children, Christian, Nicholas and Joanna, who are now fully immersed in the family business after having completed their tertiary education. A characteristic that recurs constantly in the four generations of the enterprise is the value of honesty entwined with integrity, values that facilitate long-term relationships in business and lead to the good fortune of having at their service a group of employees and collaborators that are second to none.
The 100 years of history encompassed by the accomplished enterprise of Magro Brothers was by no means an easy journey – their success was achieved through effort, skill, courage and innovation.
This is a Gozitan success story that is still evolving.