It’s notoriously onerous for small food players to break onto mainstream retail shelves, but here’s a good news story about a PE start-up that has thrived as part of Pick n Pay’s ‘Pick Local’ project.
Sage Kitchen, the brainchild of husband and wife duo Brenda and Colin, started as a small business in their home kitchen. Today, the business is a supplier to Pick n Pay for their Pick Local range of “products with a difference, that make a difference”.
When Brenda Addison’s employer went into liquidation she took the decision to turn her food hobby and passion of creating small jars of flavour innovations into a business rather than seeking another corporate job.
To her pleasant surprise, her Sage Kitchen ranges of delectable, homemade pestos, relishes and jams were snatched up by hotels in her hometown of Port Elizabeth and she quickly realised she was satisfying a demand she didn’t know even existed.
Within a year, when it became apparent that there was scope to take the business more seriously, her husband, Colin Lyall, left his job in the motor industry to join the business full time to focus on sales.
“We sat down and decided that it would be a case of ‘do it properly or not at all,” says Addison.
Lyall’s first task as co-owner was to find premises and set Sage Kitchen up for food manufacturing. “As we had limited funds, we physically built this ourselves. We hired machines to grind old concrete floors to a food acceptable standard and built drywall partitioning for office space,” says Lyall. During this time, he also continued to build the business’s customer base with sales and marketing. “We traveled to Paris for the SIAL trade show to exhibit our products and successfully secured our first export order. Locally, we appointed agents and continued to build relationships with clients,” says Addison. To further expand their customer base, Addison says they started discussing possible ways to penetrate the retail market in 2016. “By chance, I saw a poster in-store for Pick n Pay’s Boost your Business competition and thought ‘why not give it a shot’.”
Two months later, the couple was shortlisted in the top 60 and a week later, they began an eight-week training course, before making the top 24. “We then quickly realised our business honeymoon was over”, she says. “The level of commitment demonstrated by Pick n Pay was clear, they clearly weren’t paying lip service, and it was made clear no concessions would be made when it came to food safety. “As a food manufacturer, we had to upgrade from HACCP to FSA to meet Pick n Pay’s food standards.” By mid-2016, the couple initiated the FSA audit while also exploring expansion plans. “As volumes continued to increase from our existing markets – and with the expected retail market growth – our need for more and improved equipment grew. We successfully applied for a government grant and our new equipment was installed in 2017. “The new equipment saw our output potential quadruple. This enabled us to grow our business by 30% in the last financial year, which included our first order from Pick n Pay in February 2018.”
Hitting the shelves in March, Sage Kitchen is the first supplier to join Pick n Pay’s Pick Local brand this year, and the fifth since the Pick n Pay Local brand launched last year. Four varieties of Sage Kitchen pesto range – Basil Pesto, Black Olive & Tomato, Roasted Red Pepper & Chilli and Sundried Tomato – were placed in Pick n Pay stores nationwide.
The concept behind the “Pick Local” brand is to support local businesses who are uplifting local communities and creating employment, and Addison and Lyall’s story is proof of that. “Looking back, our turnover for 2009 (when we started the business) is now less than one month’s turnover,” says Addison. “Not only has this enabled us to support ourselves financially, but we are also providing employment opportunities. “We started the business in our home kitchen with no employees. Today, we have a full-time staff complement which we bolster with casual staff when necessary to manage spikes in production. “Going forward, we expect to be able to offer our casual staff full-time employment and train new casual staff for future development,” says Addison. Since going solo, the couple says they feel a great sense of accomplishment. But Addison adds, “we do not see ourselves as entrepreneurs. We see ourselves as hard-working individuals who came from a sheltered corporate background and decided to take a risk born out of circumstance.” Looking ahead, the couple’s dedication to innovation looks set to further grow their current success. “We frequently ply friends and family with blind tastings of our products, and other similar products in the market, to keep focused on producing the best tasting quality possible. “We are also always developing new products as we maintain a constant interest in innovative food flavours.
“This commitment has resulted in our jam range recently being passed by Pick n Pay’s Test Kitchen and earmarked for future development,” concludes Addison. Pick n Pay’s other Pick Local suppliers include:
- Chem-Fresh, locally-made cleaning products.
- Goedgedacht, quality olive oil from the the heart of Riebeek Valley.
- Berry Hill Trading, national supplier for charcoal, firewood and disposable braais.
- Comessa Food Services, delicious flatbreads, rotis and naan.