“Makhamisa” is a Zulu word for the open-mouthed gasp one makes after eating spicy food. With flavors like “Nyana”, “Ncaaa” and “Tjerr”, these relishes are definitely designed to leave you gasping. Founded by Terence Leluma, Makhamisa Foods manufactures sauces, marinades, mayonnaise and salad dressing.
No one can be 100% sure of what they will find when they go to meet their future parents-in-law. In the case of Terence Leluma, sharing a meal with his wife’s father sparked a business idea that continues to grow six years later.
“My father-in-law was the person who actually introduced me to this relish. On the day [we were introduced], I was blown away by how flavourful the vegetable relish was. We had it with braai meat. ”
Leluma, already the co-owner of a pub and electrical construction company at that point, says he started asking his father-in-law questions about the relish while they were eating.
“He told me when he was growing up a young lad, his auntie used to go to the garden in the backyard and pick chili with onions and other vegetables, to be part of the main dish, pap.”
Back then, they could not afford to buy meat for their meals, so the relish was meant to enhance the flavour of the pap, he explains.
As an entrepreneur, Leluma is naturally a risk-taker, and he decided to take a risk on the relish after getting his father-in-law’s permission. His father-in-law also taught him how to make the relish, but issues around the manufacturing of the product became apparent almost instantly.
“I carry a chemistry background, [so I’m familiar with] lab testing and chemistry. I said that, hygienically, I don’t think this will work out, especially when [we] move to large scale. Let’s change the process.”
Their changes ensured that the product meets hygiene and food safety standards, but it also started changing the flavour of the product. Undeterred, Leluma went ahead and developed six samples of the relish for testing.
“We bottled it in a set of naked bottles and labelled them according to the first six letters of the alphabet; A B C D E F. As part of our research, we took the samples for tasting to Bara taxi rank. When people started tasting, we asked ‘which one do you prefer?’ And they chose a specific [flavour].”
Once the flavour was chosen, Leluma started crunching the numbers in terms of packaging and other costs. Initially, he found that the relish was not competitive. “We were going to sell for about 50 or 60 Rand per 250 gram. We were not competitive at all. It’s a beautiful relish, but I don’t think we’ll compete with what’s already in the market.”
It took another six months for the project to resume, this time with the help of a friend. Leluma went to the market to buy vegetables with Jorge Callisto, restaurateur and agripreneur, which lowered the cost of manufacturing. “That really helped us. We managed to cut the manufacturing cost from about R35 to about R15 or R16. And then we were competitive.”
From relishes to sauces
More than a year after he started Makhamisa Foods, Leluma was interviewed on Radio 702. The interview attracted the attention of Famous Brands, a large agro-processing company.
“In January 2017, Famous Brands gave me a call and we started talking [about] potential collaboration and sauce manufacturing. It took almost two years for this discussion to be developed into a solid project, which involved the setting up of our own factory so that we could handle some of the sauces that belong to Famous.”
Right now, 90% of what Makhamisa Foods produce form part of the Famous Brands catalogue. “We are a sauce manufacturing company and we’ve got the capabilities to do relishes, sauces, bastings, marinade, mayonnaise and salad dressings.”
On the Makhamisa Foods website, the brand is described as “loudly African”. Leluma says that there are very few black-owned African sauce brands or Africa-inspired sauces that resonate with African stories. This is why it is so important for the Makhamisa Brand to be loudly African.
“Although it’s a sauce brand, in our view, it’s more about Africans telling African stories – particularly around food, culture and political challenges, and socio-economic challenges that the continent is facing.”
He explains that Makhamisa Foods is a pioneering project through which he hopes to change the African status quo. “We are saying we are going to change the status quo in terms of food security, food development, developing different dishes and cuisines, and also packaging African indigenous knowledge systems that are actually owned by or embedded in our communities, and in different communities across Africa.
“[We want to] commercialise those and put them into the mainstream economy so that those underprivileged communities can form part of the value chain, while continuing to tell their stories. So Makhamisa is like a blank page where every black child who’s passionate about food can actually write their story, and where we share the platform or the space with them.”
Leluma has some advice for agripreneurs who hope to venture into the sauce manufacturing business.
Be deliberate about your time
Make sure that everything you do, when you start, counts. In fact, that will never stop. Everything in business counts and one of those important resources is time. So make sure that you schedule your daily activities appropriately. Make sure that you are able to prioritise, and that you have the courage to actually remove anything that you think is not going to help you, or is not going to add value to your business. Have the courage as well to say no. And make sure that you are disciplined.
Believe in your dream
It is important for young and upcoming entrepreneurs to consider the fact that, when you start, you have to give. [That means] that you have to spend your own money in order to get somewhere. You have to convince bankers that you truly, truly, truly believe in your dream. Show them that you took a risk on yourself and that you spent a couple of thousands here and there.
However, it is quite important for you to record everything that you do with that money. Because if you don’t, then it will be a beautiful story [about how] you spend your own money without any evidence, and that’s not going to be convincing enough to the bank.
Collaborate with other business people
Collaborate. Learn to work together with your colleagues in the same industry, particularly those who complement your business. Share resources if necessary, like office space for instance. Approach those that share a similar vision to yourself and similar interests.
Remember who you are
I’ve seen entrepreneurs venturing into entrepreneurship to become celebrities. An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur. You’re not a celebrity. You’re not an influencer. Social media actually brought a whole lot of challenges to our society, including to entrepreneurship.
Always remember that you are an entrepreneur. You’re a pioneer. You [can] actually come in and make a difference in people’s lives, so don’t be swallowed by the noise on social media. Always focus on your dream.
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