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Sir Alex Takes Tea In Africa

Grant Rushmere and Richard Bowsher dreamed of building a global Rooibos-based ice tea brand. Investments from Sir Alex Ferguson and Johann Rupert sealed the deal.

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BOS co-founders Grant Rushmere and Richard Bowsher don’t sweat the small stuff. They like to think big. When they launched BOS Brands in 2010, their ambition was to conquer the $70 billion global ice tea market. They are well on the way.

It’s not a modest goal. The two businessmen are taking on some of the world’s biggest beverage houses that currently dominate the market—Coca Cola, Unilever, Nestea, Lipton—with an ice tea based on Rooibos, South Africa’s indigenous herbal tea.

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Their dream became possible when two major investors trusted their vision. Former Manchester United football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was the company’s first major backer, taking a 10% stake in BOS even before it launched the first product.

It was a lucky break. Rushmere, who is friends with the South African wife of Ferguson’s son, Mark, had met the famous football boss several times socially. When Rushmere showed him the BOS prospectus on a trip to London, Ferguson immediately showed interest.

“We have been benefiting from Sir Alex’s amazing leadership capability since then. He brings a great venture capitalist perspective to the company and helps with investor analysis as well as optimizing the business model and cash flow,” says Bowsher.

A year later, venture capital firm Invenfin—the Remgro Group’s investment arm, which is chaired and controlled by well-known South African billionaire Johann Rupert—invested another 20% in BOS.

Rupert, who founded Switzerland-based luxury goods company Richemont that owns top global labels, including Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Montblanc, is the ideal partner to guide BOS in building its brand, says Rushmere.

“They are the ultimate godparents, if you like. They’ve gone out and done it and are very keen to help the next generation, without being pushy,” he says.

The fact that Invenfin approached them, and not the other way around, was a real coup for BOS.

“They are a big picture investor that is looking for global opportunities, headquartered in South Africa. And they have the track record and the war chest to back it,” says Bowsher.

Ferguson and Invenfin didn’t invest lightly. Their moves were carefully calculated.

The ice tea segment, which makes up 12% of the global soft drink market, is growing 8% annually and forecast to grow more than 40% over the next five years.

The idea to take on the global ice tea market with a Rooibos-based product came from Rushmere, who had already developed the Afro Coffee & Tea brand.

“Rooibos’ natural sweetness makes it the ideal carrier for fruit flavors while its healthy, healing properties are increasingly recognized locally and internationally,” he says.

Another unique selling point was to create an authentically African product: the Rooibos plant only grows in a specific region within South Africa and nowhere else in the world.

Richard Bowsher

“There is, for example, a major trend for Asian green teas globally because people want the authenticity. The trend is to move away from generic brands,” says Rushmere.

In 2009, when a friend introduced him to Bowsher, who was farming organic Rooibos in the Cederberg mountains, about 300 kilometers north of Cape Town, the two decided to team up.

Apart from organic tea leaves, Bowsher, who built up an international media company in San Francisco with offices in the US, Tokyo and Britain before returning to South Africa in 2000, brought serious business skills and global experience to the table.

Rushmere, meanwhile, knew the European market well, where he had marketed his Afro Coffee & Tea brand.

“We are quite used to beating Americans and Europeans at their game. We are not intimidated. We see Coca Cola, Unilever and Pepsi as direct competitors,” says Bowsher.

The two entrepreneurs certainly have chutzpah.

“When we launched the product, our goal was, from the start, to become a global beverages company. We have a distinct strategy and execution plan around how to do that,” Bowsher says.

In mid-2010, they went to market with a first range of BOS ice teas—five flavors—in South Africa. The beverage is organic and has no preservatives or colorants. Its contemporary branding made it stand out from other ice teas available.

“We want to show that healthy can be fun,” says Rushmere.

Within the first year, BOS distributed to over 1,200 outlets in South Africa, including major retailers Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar, Makro and Engen shops.

The next step was to launch different packs and sizes. BOS started selling a one-liter value pack in 2012, once they established a foothold in the retail environment, says Rushmere. In mid-2013, a re-sealable 500 milliliter plastic bottle was launched as an on-the-go convenience pack.

In November, BOS will take on the energy drink market by launching a Rooibos-based energy drink in three different flavors, taking on big names like Gatorade and Energade.

The global expansion is well under way too. Earlier this year, BOS started operations in Belgium and the Netherlands, as the first step of the company’s global expansion plan.

Although they are two geographically small countries, the move cannot be underestimated. The Benelux region is a $1 billion ice tea market where a person drinks on average ten liters of the beverage per year. That is massive compared to South Africa, where the average annual consumption per capita is below one liter.

“From there, our strategy is to expand further into Europe; to France, Italy, Germany and Spain, all massive ice tea markets,” says Rushmere.

“After that, we’ll tackle the world’s biggest ice tea markets, the United States, China and Japan.”

If all goes according to plan, South Africans will be able to cool down with a BOS ice tea when walking along the Great Wall of China in 2023.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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