Nthanyiseni Muvhenzhe has a passion for cooking. It is his passion for people, however, that transformed his sauce business, Kupisa Sauce, into the thriving company it is today.
Born and bred in Limpopo, Muvhenzhe has a background in supply chain management. He had relocated to Gauteng to further his studies in commerce, economics, and business management, but started cooking sauces as a hobby – one that turned into a business in 2018.
“I would cook chilli sauce for my wife and for myself to eat at home. My wife really loves spicy food. Sometimes visitors will come, like my friends and my relatives, and try the chilli sauce and they really enjoyed it.”
Muvhenzhe says he has a passion for agriculture and cooking. The combination of these passions, as well as the enthusiastic feedback he received from his friends and family, is how Kupisa Sauce came into being.
“There were requests: ‘Please, can you make more of the chilli so for us?’, and some of them were even willing to pay for it. That’s when I saw a business opportunity.”
The making of a chilli sauce brand
Made up of indigenous herbs and various other elements, Kupisa Sauce stands out because it contains a special ingredient.
“Of particular importance is the African Bird’s Eye chillies, which I source mainly from Zimbabwe and Malawi. It’s a very special kind of chilli. It tastes good, and it’s a very good product.”
Muvhenzhe says the sauce contains seventeen ingredients, seven of which are herbs he grew up eating in Limpopo. While doing research for the business, he learned that these herbs were not just enjoyed in Limpopo, but actually across the continent.
“We would incorporate them in our dishes so, so if we cook your veggies or meat, we add wild herbs. They are like vegetables basically, but you find them in the wild. They improve the flavour of the food and some of them have medicinal properties.”
A good problem to have
Like with any other small business, Muvhenzhe experienced challenges setting up his operation. He says that his background in supply chain management did not prepare him for a business in the food industry, so he had a lot of learning to do.
“It meant many, many sleepless nights, researching to understand what the legislation is and what the standards are that are required in food businesses. Remember, something that people consume should be of the highest quality and it involves health. You don’t want your customers to have problems when they consume your product.”
Another big challenge Muvhenzhe experienced is the unprecedented demand for his product. He explains that his initial markets were in Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga, but that very soon spread to others.
“Now I’ve got customers as far as Cape Town, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and that means my supply chain needs to meet this demand. I need to be able to move the product there and I have to do it fast.
“It’s a good problem to have when the demand is higher than anticipated. It’s just that now, I have to do things fast.”
A people-centric approach
Of course, passion is one of the primary drivers for Muvhenzhe. That passion, however, is driven by people.
“More than anything, it’s been the people that I’ve met through this journey. It’s been very, very exciting. I meet different people and I learn a lot from them. That’s the most rewarding part of being in this business.”
Muvhenzhe cites the meeting of different people as his primary motivation to keep working, despite any challenges he might face.
“I keep in touch with the bulk of my customers. They send me pictures of bottles of Kupisa in the fridges when they have their braais, their meals, when they’re in restaurants, they take pictures. I love that. That keeps me excited.”
From one entrepreneur to another
Muvhenzhe has the following advice for aspiring agripreneurs:
Do what you love. Do something you’re passionate about because the going will get tough. And if it gets tough, and you are not passionate about it, it will be difficult to hold on.
Business is people
You need to understand that you are not the owner of the business per se. People own the business. The customers own the business, your suppliers own the business, etc. You need to be open-minded in that there’s so much influence from people that will affect your business. You [also] need to be social. You need to be friendly. Obviously, at the end of the day, the onus is on you to make the business a success, but you should understand that it is a people’s business.
You don’t know everything, so you have to learn. You need to be teachable, and you need to ask if you don’t know. You need to get other people to help you if you struggle with something because business is not only selling, it is not only manufacturing, it involves [other aspects like] finance, for example. Where do you learn that, if, like in my case, you are coming from a supply chain background? For me, it’s always been logistics, but now I also have to manage the finances of this business. I need to do the banking for the business. It’s those kinds of things that you might need other people’s advice or help to do.
It is hard work
You need to work hard. You need to put in the hours. You’re going to sleep late. You’re going to wake up early. Your schedule will change. Your weekends may not be for socialising anymore, but rather work.
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