For Babe Sophie Masuge, founder of BSMS Chili House, cooking has always been a passion. It took the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic for her to push her business in the right direction.
Hailing from Rustenburg in North West, Masuge has always had a passion for cooking. She started her cooking business in 2006, where she catered for weddings, big events, and obtained cooking tenders.
“I love cooking all the time, but I always had this thing in my mind that I wanted to start this [chilli business].”
Masuge highlights 2020 as the year that changed her perspective on how to run her business. She had been working full-time between running it, but the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic made her reassess her business outlook.
“While in that situation of those deep lockdowns, that’s where now I said ‘no, let me push what I [want to do]’. [Many] businesses were born in 2020, because as much it was a bad year, it was maybe a time for people to sit down and think. We are living in a very fast world where we always have things in our minds, and we usually put them to the side.”
Before 2020, she was just “pushing the profit”, Masuge admits. She was just chasing her next contract or event, and did not think seriously about building or expanding her business.
“I was cooking, I was tendering. They pay me, tomorrow, I have to do this again. Pushing the profit [means] you will never be a business. You will always push, but it will never be a business. But I feel now I’m at the right place at the right time, doing what I’ve been longing to do, and also building a legacy.”
The journey into manufacturing chilli sauce
Masuge approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) for help to take her business to the next level. When she started making her chilli sauce, she sold them to her friends and family at first.
“When the lockdown was slowly opening up, I was giving it to my friends, my family, and extended family members to try, and everyone said ‘wow, it’s wonderful’. And then I went to SEDA. I explained what I want to do and that I already had a brand and everything.”
Masuge also took her product for the relevant certifications and testings, ensuring the safety of her customers.
“We took the product for testing with the SABS. Now it has a nutritional and microbiological analysis report, so if you turn the bottle around when you buy the chilli, you can see the report is there. It shows your total sodium intake in the bottle, and whatever that you need to know about that report. And the shelf life is one year.”
Under BSMS Chili House, Masuge makes her harissa chilli paste, chilli garlic oil, hot pineapple chilli sauce, and chilli salt. With help from SEDA, she is currently having a proper business plan mapped out, one she can present to potential funders.
Though she is focusing on brand building at the moment, Masuge says funding and access to market are the two primary challenges holding back her business plans.
A lack of infrastructure halting market access
Currently, the BSMS Chili House headquarters are in Masuge’s kitchen.
“We’re having the challenge of accessing the market because we do not have a facility that complies with the health regulations of our country. To give you an example; when you go to Pick n Pay, they will ask you, ‘Do you have a facility that complies with HACCP?’.”
HACCP, or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, is an international certification that helps food manufacturers identify potential food safety hazards.
“If you don’t have a facility that complies with the standards of HACCP, they can’t help you. I’m talking about a factory or building that complies with those regulations.”
Masuge says her lack of a bigger facility also limits how much product she can make, especially as she lacks commercial-grade equipment. For example, her food processor can only make about 1.5 litres of product a day, which means that if she makes 100 bottles, it takes a month.
“In the first week of the month, I will be doing, for instance, harissa paste. Next week, I will be doing my hot pineapple chilli sauce. The week after, I will be doing my chilli garlic sauce. My equipment isn’t meant for commercial use, so when it tells me that it’s tired, I have to listen to it and then put it aside.”
The lack of facility and access to market is why Masuge is happy with the SEDA intervention.
“The good thing is that SEDA has been on my side. They have assisted me a lot.”
Some advice for aspiring agripreneurs
Masuge explains her biggest motivation is the building of legacy, something she says she did not really understand when she first started the business as a caterer.
“I understand business better than before. There are so many things now that I never thought of when I was doing the catering, and now I’m motivated by what I’m doing. I’m motivated by the brand that I’m building and the legacy.”
Legacy, she says, is not just something she is building for her family. She wants to contribute to the economic legacies of black women in the country,
“I have seen our people. We are working, but it’s like we’ve got a bucket that doesn’t have a base. And you put water inside that bucket, but that bucket cannot get filled up because the water is flowing out again. I think it’s the time that we as black women, we must make sure that the bucket that we are holding has a base, and that we are filling it with water and we see it coming to the brim of the bucket.”
Masuge has the following advice for agripreneurs:
Give yourself time
Normally, people use the word “hustle”. But when you do things and you’re not doing them in the right way, you will never ever get anywhere. So we have to give ourselves time.
Do things the right way
We need to follow the right route. At exhibitions, I’ve seen people doing good things, but the laws of the country, the regulations, are not being followed. It’s important that we know the right route to follow.
Don’t just chase profits
Let us not push profit, because then you think you have made it but you haven’t made it. Every time when that profit finishes, you have to go back. But if you have passion for what you are doing, that thing wakes you up. It means you have to do something to do, it means you will get your brand out there. And then you will make your profit after that.
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