South Africa: Company uses indigenous roots to make crisps and gluten-free flour

One of Sibocali’s products: sweet potato crisps

We speak to Sibongile Mtsabe, the managing director of Sibocali Traders. The company – based in Durban, South Africa – processes indigenous roots into crisps, gluten-free flour and instant porridge.

1. How did you come up with the idea to start Sibocali Traders?

I enjoy cooking and have an entrepreneurial spirit. One day I wanted to make crispy chips from cassava but couldn’t find any, so I figured I could try using yams. I started testing these and other vegetables; the chips came out beautifully and I began selling them and demand increased.

2. What is your product range?

We have crispy chips, gluten-free flour and instant porridge.

3. Tell us about your raw materials and where you source them.

We use indigenous roots and plants like yams, sweet potatoes, cassava and quinoa. We source our raw materials from subsistence farmers. We do supply some of these farmers with the seedlings, others have their own. Initially, it was on a small scale but we are growing and enrolling more farmers who are planting cocoyam, sweet potato and cassava for us.

We are currently working with the Department of Agriculture to ensure a certain grade and are training the farmers to produce on a commercial scale.

Packaging of flour.

4. Explain the manufacturing process.

We harvest the root vegetables, clean them and dehydrate them to make flour. The crisps are air-fried according to the customer’s preference.

5. Where do you sell your products?

We sell our chips to Manolis Munchies (a snack and healthy foods brand), on social media and we will shortly sell via e-commerce. For now, Manolis Munchies is our most successful channel.

6. Who are your main competitors?

This industry is extremely tough. Online health shops and retailers are just some of our competitors. Potato chip companies have been around for a while and we are new guys with a new product. Around three years ago, some of the major players launched vegetable crisps, like beetroot, in South Africa. Our main competition is with other companies that sell beetroot, pumpkin and sweet potato crisps.

7. What has been the most successful form of marketing?

The South African Department of Trade and Industry organises exhibitions aimed at the food industry and we have been at a few of these shows to showcase our products. We also use social media – Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn – to reach potential customers.

8. What are the biggest challenges to be successful in your industry?

A major challenge is compliance with the world food standards which stipulate specific equipment and a dedicated space to prepare the stock. This space must comply with HACCP guidelines and meet ISO 22000 standards – to be able to supply retailers in South Africa as well as for export – and a consultant has to endorse it. It requires a knowledge of how HACCP works and staff have to be trained to meet the standards. This is all added expense.

9. What mistakes have you made in business?

In the beginning, we weren’t specific about what we wanted from suppliers. We would ask them to plant the seeds and, at harvest time, they would give us all the crops they had; small or big. We had to take it even at a loss because we were not clear with them. We lost money and were not able to maximise our profit. We had to educate our suppliers so that everyone was on the same page at delivery time.

10. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

During the lockdowns as a result of Covid-19, stock in the stores moved slowly and it affected our orders. To counter this, we manufactured instant stiff porridge and sold to some interested parties, just to keep the business afloat.

Sibocali Traders managing director contact information

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