South Africa: Entrepreneurs see business opportunities in food industry

Browns Foods produces corn dogs in a variety of flavours.

Browns Foods, founded by Mabel and Wale Akinlabi, produces corn dogs in a variety of flavours.

From fiery chili sauces and hearty plant-based meals to innovative corn dogs and refreshing low-sugar soft drinks, these entrepreneurs are capitalising on diverse opportunities within South Africa’s vibrant food industry.

1. Fynbos Fine Foods: From home kitchen to international distribution

Fynbos Fine Foods started in the kitchen of co-owner Rozelle Abramson in 1997. Today, the company produces a range of hot sauces, pestos, chef salts, and jams that are sold worldwide. One of the first major clients for the company’s new bottled products was the deli chain Melissa’s, which has since closed down. Fynbos eventually also started supplying the Spar grocery chain in South Africa as well as several other outlets. As the orders started getting bigger, production moved out of Rozelle’s kitchen and into a proper facility on the farm. Annually, the company produces about 4.4 million units, with exports comprising roughly 70% of its production.

About 85% of Fynbos’s sales come from private label products. Private label refers to items that Fynbos manufactures but are then sold under another company’s brand. Rozelle strongly believes in the advantages of this approach. “As much as we love our brand, it is vanity,” she asserts. Selling one’s own brand in grocery stores necessitates substantial on-the-ground effort to ensure the product is displayed attractively on the shelves. “You can do it locally but overseas it’s very difficult. It costs an absolute fortune,” she notes. In contrast, supermarkets have a vested interest in promoting their private label brands, which can significantly benefit those products. Read the full article

2. Growing a plant based food empire

Assigning Wally Fry the title of pioneer of plant-based foods in South Africa is well justified. As an early market entrant, the Fry Family Food Co. was founded in 1991, at a time when vegetarianism was largely seen as a fad in South Africa and retailers had little faith in the demand for meat substitute products. How the former KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) farm boy and livestock trader built up the business may not have been commercially conventional, but it certainly proved successful.

In the three decades since, the business has spearheaded the growth of plant-based and meat-free food products in South Africa, making vegan and vegetarian options readily accessible to consumers seeking alternative protein sources. Read the full article

3. Two entrepreneurs introduce corn dogs to South Africa’s major retailers

Mabel and Wale Akinlabi identified a gap in the South African market for corn dogs after serving homemade versions at their daughter’s birthday party in 2019. Recognising the potential for a new product, they founded Browns Foods later that year. Today, the company supplies some of the country’s major retailers.

One of the challenges the company faced in its first year was mastering the correct approach to merchandising. According to Mabel, “It wasn’t even a term we were used to. Naturally, I had assumed that if a retailer buys from you, you simply had to provide the product and they would get it on the shelves and manage it. Boy, was I wrong!” Manufacturers must also consider how their products are presented in stores, including marketing materials, display designs, and discounts. Read the full article

4. South African soft drink brand taps into global health trend

In 2022, the team from South African lower-calorie, lower-sugar soft drink company PURA Beverages travelled to the US to attend two of the top trade shows in the food and beverage sector, their first such visit since the Covid-19 pandemic. The team returned having secured $1 million in orders from just one day at a trade show.

The idea for Pura Beverages emerged while founder Greig Jansen was the CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa in Ethiopia. Jansen, who competes professionally in off-road triathlons, identified a market gap for a drink that offered good flavour options but contained less sugar. At 11.6g per 330ml can, Pura Soda has less than half the sugar of average soft drinks. Read the full article