History

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When Otto Kurt Ditter arrived, alone, at Port Adelaide in 1910 as a young German immigrant, he couldn’t have known he would establish one of South Australia’s most loved food companies.  Through three generations, the Ditters’ name has been synonymous with premium quality dried and glace’ fruit and delicious nutty treats. 

Otto Kurt DitterAt just 20 years of age, Otto Ditter was already a trained horticulturist with varied experience across Europe.  Not afraid to work hard to achieve his goals, he found South Australia an excellent place to fulfill his dreams.  After two months in the smelters of Port Pirie where his brother worked as a metallurgist, he returned to Adelaide and used his language skills to gain employment in a printing firm, later finding work as a teacher in a Lutheran school near Truro.  He quickly established himself in the local German community and became a naturalized Australian in 1914.

Weekends were spent riding his horse to Adelaide to court Miss Clara Remien whom he married on the 15th July 1916, and in that same year, in the midst of World War 1, anti-German sentiment saw Lutheran schools closed.  Out of work, he responded to a newspaper advertisement and was employed to manage the Edwardstown market garden of Mr E F Lipsham of F H Faulding & Co.

Mr Lipsham also had a vegetable and almond stall in the East End Produce Market where Otto received 25% of the profits in exchange for working from 4am to 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. They soon moved the stall to the Adelaide Central Market and in 1918 Mr Lipsham gave the business to Otto who saw an opportunity to increase his existing nut range with peanuts.  Ditters’ had begun.

In fact, Ditters’ were the first to specialise in retailing nuts in South Australia and with the help of a friend, Otto built a nut roasting and shelling machine and had it installed in the Market.  He began importing peanuts from China, and was the first to roast them in his stall.  Within nine months, he was selling 1200lb of roasted peanuts on Fridays and 1000lb on Saturdays.  Locally grown almonds and walnuts were complemented by Riverland dried fruits, with other produce imported from around the world. 

In 1920, a factory was established on South Road, Edwardstown to roast peanuts, and this is believed to be the first commercial nut roasting operation in Australia.  A shop was opened across the road, and it was here that many local residents would bring walnuts and almonds, grown in their own gardens, to sell to Ditters’.  The company still receives calls today from locals keen to sell their nuts by the bucket! 

In those days, the Central Market only offered weekly tenancies to stallholders, and all goods were simply laid out on tables or in boxes.  Otto was keen to improve the display of his products and ensure the growth of his business, and so in 1927, he relocated to a shop at No. 6 Pirie Street where he traded 6 days a week till 10 o’clock each night. 

Mr Ditter had a fine attention to detail; always impeccably dressed and scrupulously honest, his shops were a reflection of the man.  Whilst he sold produce by the pound, he took the best of his stock and presented them in gift pack arrangements, thereby lifting them to the standard of a fine delicacy.  He was the first in South Australia to do this.

From 1931, Ditters’ Nuts could be found at the Royal Adelaide Show, and in 1933 the Pirie Street shop was moved to 114 King William Street (later 116).  During the 1930’s, the factory was expanded to capacity, and the business and reputation of Ditters’ continued to grow.

The second World War brought shortages in stock and labour, and as Otto’s two sons, Gordon and Bill were serving with the Australian Army, his two daughters, Ruth and Frieda were called in to help.  Often, the store had to be closed for an hour each day for restocking, and a large line of customers would form outside, ending around the corner in Pirie Street!  Such were the credentials of Ditters, the Federal Government awarded them the entire South Australian allocation of peanuts, an important replacement source of protein for nursing mothers during rationing. 

 

After the War, customers were keen to send treats to their relations in Europe who were still suffering severe rationing.  Dried and glace fruits and nuts were packaged into wooden crates and a van load of parcels were sent to the post office each week for many years.  These gifts became so famous that on a visit to the Ditters’ factory in 1945, the Duchess of Gloucester ordered three to be sent to Her Majesty, Princess Margaret, c/- Buckingham Palace.

Keen to keep the business a family concern, Otto’s two sons Gordon and Bill and son-in-law Alan Cleveland entered the business upon their return from War duties.

In 1950 a property was purchased at 921 South Road to house a new processing and cold storage facility, and this was completed four years later, allowing the company the capacity to open two more shops in the City.  The first (in 1956) at 52 Gawler Place (later moved to its present location at number 26 Gawler Place), and the second (in 1961) at 45 King William Street. 

During the 1960’s, Ditters’ were at the height of their fame, and if a fruit or nut was available any where in the world, they would stock it, but only if it was the best quality.  Raw, roasted, flavoured, sugared and chocolate-coated peanuts, almonds, brazils, cashews, walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.  Dried, glace and crystallised fruit of every kind.  All were presented and sold to an exacting standard.

When Mr O K Ditter died in May 1967, he left a successful, well loved and respected, market-leading company in the capable hands of his children and grandchildren.

His sons, Gordon, Bill and Alan assumed complementary managerial roles, and the company continued to grow, with more retail stores opened and wholesale trade increased.  In 1969, Mrs Dawn Ditter (wife of Gordon) who found the recipe in an American newspaper introduced the now famous Ditters’ Gourmet Cake to the family.  Mrs Joan Ditter (Bill’s wife) and the factory foreman’s wife, Joyce, initially made the cakes in their home kitchens, but after a few years they couldn’t keep up with demand and production was moved to the factory.  The Gourmet Cake fitted so well into the Ditters’ range as it was essentially a summary of what the Company sold; a rich assortment of dried and glace fruit and nuts, held together with the barest amount of cake mixture.  Over the years, the Gourmet Cake has been exported all around the world, and is still made today, to the original recipe.  Many thousands are produced each year.

Having reached its production capacity once more, and in need of capital injection to take the Company to its next stage, Ditters’ Ltd was sold in 1985 to an old South Australian pastoral company, Bennet and Fisher Ltd.  This saw major changes in the Company’s focus away from retailing and rapidly into wholesaling.  The Company’s seven retail stores were sold to licensees, and in 1993, the store at 26 Gawler Place was sold to Clark Ditter.  

Trouble at Bennet and Fisher ended their ownership in the early 1990’s, and Ditters’ changed hands several times in the ensuing years.  All the retail shops except Clark Ditter’s shop in Gawler Place were closed or changed ownership, and the Company’s whole focus had moved from retail to wholesale trade. 

In 2001, Ditters’ was purchased by Graeme and Lauren Smith, who had five years earlier acquired another iconic South Australian company, Blackeby’s Sweets.  Mr Smith, a Chartered Accountant, with the desire to see the Ditters’ name revived, undertook a complete review of the Company’s business, moving it away from the less profitable wholesale trade in raw product and into value added processing.  Wholesale trade was maintained, but redirected to higher-end  specialty markets, where the Ditters’ name is best suited. The Smith's retain ownership of the Ditters brand to this day.

In 2013, Mr Clark Ditter moved out of the last of the orginal Company stores in Gawler Place, and now owns and operates a retail store in the Unley Shopping Centre, continuing three generations of family involvement in the Company.

Ditters’ cakes can be found right across South Australia and by ordering online, and are still lovingly hand made in our kitchens at Stepney, South Australia.  For many years, our gourmet cakes were presented by Mrs Jaye Walton, formerly of the Adelaide Thai Consulate, as gifts to the Queen of Thailand, who counted them as among her favourite treats!  She is not alone, and many cakes are given each year as presents to loved ones.

August 2016