A journey through time with Millchem

By Abby Vorster

For four decades, Millchem has been a leader in supplying raw materials, process chemicals, machinery and spares to a multitude of industries. In this special commemorative article, we delve into the company’s inspiring journey and major milestones since inception.

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David, Rodger and Chris Damen (Image: Millchem)

In 1983, Rodger Damen established Millchem after being given an opportunity to start his own business. Rodger had worked for several distribution companies before becoming an entrepreneur, honing his skill in sales and business management, after obtaining his MBA at the University of Witwatersrand.

Although he did not have the financial means at the time, Roger did have a strong entrepreneurial mindset. Burnie Salfas of Millmaster Onyx (USA) saw something remarkable in Rodger’s business acumen and gave him the break he needed to start his own business. Burnie offered Roger his first year of stock on the basis that he would require payment only after the company’s first year of trading – leading to the birth of Millchem. At the time, the company focused on supplying process chemicals and machinery to the textile and container glass industries, which continue to play an important role in the business today.

Diversification and nationwide growth

Encouraged by the versatility of guar gum, Over the next five years, the business expanded its footprint, establishing an office in Durban in 1988 followed by a Cape Town office in 1989. Millchem then became family owned and operated with Chris Damen joining the team in 1995 and David Damen in 1998. The brothers worked together with their father, Rodger and his team of 12 staff members, playing their part in the company’s growth. 

By 2003, the customer base had expanded significantly across South Africa, requiring Millchem to move into new company-owned premises in Durban. Five years later, it went on to build its own premises in Cape Town to sustain more regional growth.

In 2018, the company diversified its product offering into the supply of process chemicals and machinery for the packaging industry with solutions focused primarily on the food and beverage industry. Since then, this division has become one of biggest within Millchem and currently represents several leading international suppliers of packaging machinery and associated technology.

Rodger sadly passed away in January 2022, yet his passion and dedication are still evident within Millchem today. Missed and never to be forgotten, he leaves behind a legacy for Chris, David and the rest of the team to follow in his footsteps. Under Rodger’s guidance, the company’s core values of service excellence and quality were formed many years ago and continue to influence the way in which Millchem builds relationships with its customers and partnerships with its principal suppliers.

Sustainable solutions for personal care

Millchem’s move to supply ingredients and raw materials for the detergency, personal care and cosmetics industries came about in 2003. Its first agency agreements were secured with Stepan and Summit, expanding the range of companies it represents over the years to include Elementis, Ashland/Vincience, Sozio, Indyk, Sequens, Sand Dream, Hallstar, Salvona, Colorclay and Maian. 

Sozio, a pioneer in fine French perfumery, was founded in 1758 in Grasse, France and later became integrated into the Proxis Développement Group. In 2021, the business acquired Synarome, a leading producer of specialties for the fragrance industry. This saw Sozio diversify its activities while returning to its initial focus on fragrance raw materials. The acquisition enhanced Sozio’s perfumers’ palette of premium and iconic ingredients, both natural and synthetic, as well as its specialties, which include Ambrarome and Animalis. Besides gaining access to this new palette, Sozio’s and Synarome’s perfumers collaborate and gain advice from one another on the use of certain raw materials to surprise and innovate. Thanks to its generations of expertise and knowledge, Sozio has become a key player in the perfumery landscape.

Stepan is a leading merchant producer of surfactants, which are key ingredients in shampoos and body wash. It also produces eco-friendly solutions for the personal care market. More than 70% of Stepan’s products offer energy-related savings, bio-renewability or reduced environmental impact. For example, STEPANQUAT Soleil®, a modern hair conditioning agent, is proven to better for hair and the environment. This cationic ingredient based on European sourced, non-GMO sunflower oil addresses modern day challenges. It is readily biodegradable and delivers a similar performance to behentrimonium chloride without any build-up. STEPANQUAT Soleil offers superior conditioning benefits to a variety of hair types.

For customers looking to diversify their personal care portfolio, Stepan offers an easy-to-use sulfate free and mild surfactant blend solution, STEPANBLEND® ASF. This affordable blend consists of a high performing synergistic combination of selected surfactants. It is suitable for a wide range of sustainable rinse-off products such as face/hand wash, shower gel and shampoo.

Sustainability is an operational imperative at Hallstar Beauty. Creating products that make the world safer, more beautiful and adaptable to social and environmental changes requires chemistry expertise and an understanding of how the full product lifecycle impacts communities and people. One of Hallstar’s latest all-natural offerings, the emollient SolaPure™ Glo, is a great example of its deep expertise in photoprotection and clean innovation. This ingredient helps formulators achieve the same or higher sun protection with lower UV filter concentration, less whitening and a cleaner ingredient profile.

Another recent innovation from Hallstar, FILL Oléoactif® activates natural healing pathways to counter-balance signs of skin ageing and restore younger skin architecture. The socially responsible, ecological and sustainable value chain of this lipidic active includes manual harvesting, natural drying of olive leaves and wild picking of myrtle leaves in partnership with AFC, the French association of professionals of wild plants gathering.

A strong and committed team

Millchem has gone from strength to strength over the past 40 years, thanks to the support from its staff, customers and international principals. Today the company employs 42 people across three facilities in South Africa, and supplies raw materials, process chemicals, machinery, spares parts and technical services to customers throughout Southern Africa.

There are many individuals who have played important roles in Millchem’s growth and success over the past four decades, including:

  • Gail Dickson, who joined the company in 1995 as Rodger’s personal assistant and customer liaison
  • Arlene Howroyd, who joined in 2005 as a receptionist and invoice clerk
  • Jaco Marais, who joined in 2010 and now heads up Millchem’s technical team,
    which has become a fundamental part of the business
  • Mark Fergus, who joined in 2011 and oversees Cape Town operations
  • Sagrie Pillay, who joined in 2009 to look after the freight department
  • Michelle Watkins, who joined in 2002 to manage debtors
  • Carika Duyts, who joined in 2015 and now looks after internal sales for the personal care and cosmetics division
  • Rizaam Abrahams, who joined in 2009, starting out in the textile division and now heads up personal care and cosmetics sales in Cape Town.

Millchem has also made a couple more recent appointments to its team with Dewald De Beer heading up finance, Wilme Crause in charge of personal care and cosmetics sales in in Durban and Debbie Botes, who heads up personal care and cosmetics sales in Johannesburg and oversees the sales team as national sales manager.

Looking ahead to the next 40 years, Millchem is optimistic about the future and providing innovative industrial solutions for decades to come and meeting its customers’ needs with the support of its staff and international principals.

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