How did you develop your business idea?
Sweet potatoes are known to have many health benefits and are a good source for vitamin B and vitamin C. They are high in fibre and contain minerals that are necessary for human body, including calcium, iron and selenium.
In 2016, I had the idea of creating a sweet potato yoghurt and began experimenting in my home kitchen. The taste of sweet potatoes is a perfect match with other ingredients such as milk and yoghurt. These ingredients work so well together and they create a harmonious taste. We currently produce three flavors of sweet potato yoghurt – banana, apricot, and strawberry (the most popular). Since 2016, the business has grown, and in 2017, we moved out of the kitchen and into a new factory. Currently, I have three employees who are all young people from local communities.
How did you decide to name the company Kgarose Kgaros?
It was a spur of the moment decision really. I was registering the company and decided, why not include my last name! We have actually just re-branded the product name from Sweet Potato Yoghurt to Pota Yoga and redesigned our packaging to be more impactful. We listen to our customer base and now we also produce a line of vegan-friendly sweet potato drinking yoghurt (with green bottle caps).
How does your business support the local community?
I’ve always wanted to bring positive changes to my rural community, through job creation and supporting the purchase of local products. Sweet potato is a crop farmed locally and I wanted to create a market for local farmers. We have a number of small-scale local farmers who are unable to tap into formal markets. They cannot join farming cooperatives, as the production capacity of the local farmers does not qualify for the cooperatives’ membership. I decided to address this issue and began offering contracts to local farmers to purchase their sweet potatoes. In turn, these farmers could then show their purchasing orders as proof of commitment for production, which is mandatory for them to apply for government support schemes.
Have you had any setbacks in developing your business?
Yes. First, at the ideation stage, I did not have sufficient knowledge of food technology. I remember that, for my first batch of banana flavoured yoghurt, I added fresh bananas to the yoghurt and it all turned black!
Developing the product was a learning process. I met with the Limpopo Agro-Food Technology Station at the University of Limpopo, who provided valuable feedback and advice. With their support, I was able to create a superior product with good shelf life.
In order to create a product with a decent shelf life, I needed to overcome my challenges with fermentation. Even with proper fermentation, the yoghurt did not stop turning black! I learned that we needed stabilizers and preservatives to take the shelf life of the product from 2 hours to 3 weeks. Thankfully, we have overcome these hurdles and have developed a popular, tasty, sweet potato yoghurt drink!
Another challenge we continue to face stems from securing suitable and cost-efficient transportation. The cost of transporting our products to Gauteng province (where Johannesburg, the Capital is located), is high. Currently this places a large financial burden on the business, but our biggest customer market is in Gauteng. We envisage however, that as our business scales up, the cost to ship will decrease as we ship in increasingly larger quantities.
Alternatively, hiring a small truck and directly transporting our products to retail stores in Polokwane could also make the delivery more efficient and less expensive.
How has the Covid-19 Pandemic affected your business?
The main challenge has been the travel restrictions that have stopped delivery of sweet potatoes from the farms. These restrictions have hindered us from delivering our products to retail stores in the same quantities we did before the pandemic began.
Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, our marketing strategy was to meet retailers in person, present our yoghurts, and secure new buyers. Now, with the lockdown ongoing, it has become impossible to do so, as we can only travel between our home and workplace and people are not meeting in person.
What makes the situation even worse is whilst Covid-19 has hindered our normal business operations; our bills haven’t stopped piling up. We still have to pay the rent and electricity expenses, in order to keep the factory in production.
And, there is another issue. As a result of the lockdown, the sweet potatoes we have in stock are spoiling. Because of this, we made the decision to donate 35 crates of sweet potatoes to local orphanages to support those in need. We are happy to give back and support the local community during such difficult time.
What are your plans for Kgarose Kgaros in the future?
Sweet potato is such a versatile vegetable, and yoghurt made of sweet potato is just the beginning for Kgarose Kgaros.
We are planning to expand our range of products. In fact, we are currently conducting a trial to produce sweet potato chips! We are also working on developing sweet potato noodles. Watch this space!
To learn more about Kgarose Kgaros (Pty) Ltd ,click here
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All photos provided courtesy of Edward Kgarose