The Full Story

It’s been over 65 years since Essack Ismail and his three sons, a proudly South African family with their roots firmly in Durban, began producing KZN’s most popular sunflower oil.

In 1934, long before Unity Foods Products was established, the company was first called Essack Ismail & Sons Wholesalers which started out as a traditional distributor which sold many items, of which their 205-litre drums of sunflower oil were the most popular.

After working with Unilever and becoming their largest distributor of sunflower oil, Essack Ismail saw an opportunity to become independent from Unilever and embark on a new venture in the edible oils sector in 1971. He created Sealake Industries, located in Sea Cow Lake in Durban, KZN, forging an expanded family business that saw them not only become independent but become the owners of a 50-tonne, state-of-the-art refinery, a crushing plant and a bottling department.

Sealake was so successful that they were able to diversify and grow their offering by opening a candle plant in 1973 for production and distribution. Top of the range Chilling and wrapping machines were purchased as well as storage tanks. To this day, Sunbrite, Sealake’s primary candle brand, is still in production.

In 1979, a fire destroyed the Durban plant and forced the Essack family to move to Pietermaritzburg. However, this was just the seed being planted that would soon become Unity Foods Products. The Essack family overcame the setback and managed to upgrade the plant to include a 150-tonne refinery in 1981 and then a 250-tonne refinery in 1985.

Sealake’s success continued to grow. In 1986, they purchased a soap plant from Italy to manufacture beauty and laundry soaps and by 1992, the demand was so high, they bought more manufacturing equipment from India.

In 1997, the Essack family took their production to even taller heights with a 300-tonne refinery. This meant that more sunflower oil could be produced for both businesses and consumers alike. So, in 2002, Mohamed Rayhaaz Essack (Baboo), the CEO of Sealake, decided that they should expand further to create Unity Foods Products and continues to manufacture a household staple, Helios Triple Refined Sunflower Oil. In 2009 he travelled to Germany and ordered top-class margarine manufacturing equipment. To accommodate the expansion into margarine, additional warehouses and a cold room were built.

Later that year, the family sadly lost one of Sealake’s founders, Abdul Sattar Essack. The family continued to persevere and in 2010, their dream was realized, and Unity Food Products launched their new margarines and spreads.

It is safe to say that Helios has been the number-one selling sunflower oil in KZN for the last 65+ years and has been uplifted by sharing the Helios name in producing margarine. Joining the team to head up this operation was Baboo’s son-in-law, Mahomed Obaid Essack, who has successfully managed the day-to-day operations of the margarine and oil production and continues to do so today.

Mahomed Rayhaaz Escape – CEO
Mahomed Obaid Essack – MD