A Limpopo-based entrepreneur is setting a new trend after discovering an untapped gap in the yoghurt market. Since inventing his unconventional sweet potato drinkable yoghurt, Edward Kgarose (30) has won numerous awards and travelled abroad to introduce it to international markets.
Call it coincidence or pure luck, but the inspiration for his innovative treat was sparked in his mother’s kitchen. “Mother was busy cooking sweet potato and I was eating yoghurt. Then I asked myself, what if it is possible for me to produce a yoghurt with this sweet potato?” Kgarose says.
Today he runs an agribusiness called Kgarose Kgaros, launched in 2016 and producing sweet potato drinking yoghurt. The root vegetable is used as the main ingredient to which either banana, strawberry or apricot flavours are added. The innovative drinking yoghurt also come in a vegan friendly option.
After completing his marketing management qualification in 2011, Kgarose struggled to find work and was unemployed for four years.
“Not finding work took its toll on me, but I stopped feeling sorry for myself. If you want to be somewhere, sometimes you must get things done yourself and not wait for handouts,” he says.
Kgarose’s entrepreneurial spirit was stimulated in 2015 while attending one of many business summits in his area. He recalls hearing that same thing in almost every summit, that there is a need for entrepreneurs and youth interest in agro-processing.
“One day I thought, no man, why are these people always complaining that there’s no youth in agro-processing? It seems like there is an opportunity for me here,” Kgarose says.
Kgarose heeds the call
And although, to some, the idea of making a yoghurt beverage out of sweet potato might have seemed silly and far-out at the time, Kgarose couldn’t care less. He bought ingredients the following day and started experimenting with tastes and textures until he came up with what he thought was a winning banana flavour.
“I was happy with my yoghurt invention and made plans to take it to an agricultural exhibition in Limpopo. I bought 50 300g containers for the yoghurt and stored it in the fridge.”
A nasty surprise awaited Kgarose on the morning of the exhibition.
“I opened the fridge and the drinking yoghurt had turned black. I thought hayi man, what is this now? I tried shaking one hoping that it would go away, but no success. So, I decided to simply remove the blackish layer on top,” he explains.
Already thirty minutes late, Kgarose rushed to the exhibition. When he opened the cooler box, his dairy beverage had turned black for the second time.
“Then there was an announcement about all the exhibitors, and the speaker mentioned my product. People rushed to my stand, out of curiosity. I told them that I was out of stock, meanwhile the cooler box was full of drinking yoghurt. I thought to myself, there’s no way that I’m going to sell this black yoghurt!” he laughs.
The aspiring sweet potato entrepreneur returned home, disappointed that he could not sell his invention. But when you’re as determined as this forward thinker, nothing will keep you down.
In October 2015, after the exhibition Kgarose made a new batch of his banana flavoured sweet potato drinking yoghurt and approached the Limpopo Agro-food Technology Station (LATS), to get his recipe tested. The station is based at the University of Limpopo.
When he arrived there, the drinking yoghurt turned black again. Personnel informed him that he was not supposed to add fresh banana to the drinking yoghurt, but instead flavourants.
“Mna, I didn’t know that mos, I thought that’s what all these other companies do. Buy fresh fruit and then mix it into their products.”
The lab offered its services to help develop Kgarose Kgaros Sweet Potato Drinking Yoghurt from scratch and it was then tested to ensure that it was safe for human consumption. During this time, LATS took him through a free two-day course where Kgarose was lectured on food handling and manufacturing practices, preservatives and measurements.
“I opened the fridge and the drinking yoghurt had turned black. I thought hayi man, what is this now?”
The managing director of the LATS, prof Maboko Mphosi, says that they are always willing to assist entrepreneurs who come up with innovative ideas.
“One of our objectives is to help SMMEs (Small Micro Medium Enterprises) turn primary agricultural products into commodities that meet market requirements. We assisted Kgarose because we saw a lot of innovation in his product and it also had the potential to meet nutritional demands,” Mphosi explains.
Three months later Kgarose had a drinking yoghurt that he was satisfied with and started selling, using money he had saved up and received from his mother. For about two months the entrepreneur sold his yoghurt beverage from home to local retail stores, until he started operating from a mini factory in Polokwane and employed two people.
From root vegetable to dairy product
Kgarose says the process is quite straightforward. First the agripreneur and his team thoroughly cleans the sweet potatoes. Then the vegetables are cooked, left for cooling and the skins are peeled off.
Kgarose says that people are always left confused by how he can take a root vegetable and turn it into a dairy beverage. “It’s easy really, we take it through the normal yoghurt making process,” he says.
“After prepping the sweet potato, I blend it until it develops into a thin liquid. Instead of using just milk (the way it’s traditionally done), i add 10% animal milk and for the the vegan range i add 10% plant based milk. The cultures are then added and it goes through a fermentation process of about five to six hours. People don’t always get it, but the sweet potato liquid is the base of my Kgarose Kgaros Sweet Potato Drinking Yoghurt.”
Once the fermentation process is complete, the flavours are added. Thereafter the drinking yoghurt is poured into bottles and transported to their various markets.
With his drinking yoghurt, Kgarose has successfully identify a gap in an established yoghurt market by offer consumers a healthier choice for drinking yoghurt.
Kgarose says he discovered that sweet potatoes are a low sugar vegetable, a good blood regulator and high in fibre, vitamins and calcium. “I use sweet potatoes as the main ingredients because I wanted a healthy and unique product. Sweet potatoes also have a neutral flavour and blend easily with the flavours we add to the drinking yoghurt,” Kgarose adds.
In 2017, he took part in an award-winning magazine show that celebrates and promotes young, successful South African entrepreneurs, SABC 1 Making Moves.
“There were 10 entrepreneurs competing for the R50 000 prize money. It was an honour to be announced the winner. That day I walked away with R50 000 and proof that all it takes is to believe in yourself and work with what you have.”
Kgarose also received a cash injection of R70 000 from the Shoprite Hustle competition as the Limpopo province winner. He says that the financial support has helped his business greatly. The funds have enabled Kgarose to buy small equipment to produce 500 units of 385g of yoghurt per day, and invest in branding for bottling and packaging.
Kgarose was also rewarded for his innovation in the agro-processing category at the 2019 #YAFF (Youth in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) awards.
Prof Mphosi says the team at LATS believe in Kgarose’s dairy beverage. “We are quite optimistic about his enterprise and product and believe that it has a dynamic future market.”
For now, the entrepreneur says that he is happy with the strides his company has made, and he dreams of Kgarose Kgaros Sweet Potato Drinking Yoghurt being stocked in major outlets. “I have already exhibited it in China, Egypt and Tanzania. I look forward to introducing it to more markets around the world.”