TUMISANG NDLOVU: In this week’s SME Corner we speak to the owners of YaMama Gemmer, Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi. Mosibudi, let me start with you, tell us about this homemade ginger beer brand, where did it all start?
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: The name YaMama started with our Mother and the ladies in our family who were famous for their gemmer recipe and everybody in the family would call them and say there’s a function and we need you to make the gemmer. She started doing it so often that she came up with the idea to make it into a concentrate because of the convenience when she travels because sometimes she has to travel far and sometimes she’s in a taxi. So carry it as a concentrate was more convenient for her and when she gets to a function she just adds water and it will be ready, as opposed to getting to the function four days before and brew it there, and wait for it to get ready for the function. So when we were doing our catering business we started introducing it into the market and we realised that people are in need of gemmer because the people who used to make it in the past are no longer there, if they are then they are tired or they don’t have time. So we saw the gap in the market and realized that this could actually be commercialised and it could sell. When we introduced it, it was so funny how people would say now I know how to make it but they never made it because there’s no time. So we decided we are going to name it YaMama Gemmer because of our Mother, it’s her recipe, it’s her style of doing it and she passed it down to us, so her legacy lives on through our brand.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Most definitely, for you, Rosemary, take us through why initially you then decided let’s make this into a business because what I hear from Mosibudi you guys have been in business before, you are not first-timers. Taking this brand that is traditional and the claims that everybody can make it, and you’ve turned it into a money-maker.
ROSEMARY PADI: Ja, I guess it’s that recognition of that gap, when people started asking my Mother for it more and more it wasn’t just family now, it was friends, and then when we started taking it to our catering gigs people started asking for it more and more, so the demand just grew. It pointed to the fact that people can’t make it anymore as the Mamas used to do it. The name YaMama also resonates with the fact that everybody knows an aunty or a mother or a grandmother who used to make it, so it just became fitting that people are asking for YaMama Gemmer more and more.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: It’s a very catchy name. Now, Mosibudi, what is it like working as siblings? This is interesting, everything about your business is home grown, what is it like?
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: It goes down to basics, we grew up in a very tight family, we were taught to be friends within ourselves, as siblings, before you could even try to establish relationships outside. So we work well together, we are two different characters and, therefore, we balance each other…
ROSEMARY PADI: We complement each other.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: Rosemary is on the calm side and I’m hyperactive…
ROSEMARY PADI: So she collects the money, I make the sales and she collects the money [laughing].
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: [Laughing] I think with that it makes the running of the business easy, there are certain aspects of the business that Rosemary deals with and there are certain aspects that I deal with. Purely because of, again, our experiences and our characters, Rosemary is from an IT background and she’s more clued up about umbers. I’m from a marketing expert, I just want to see something that is looking good and tastes good and must talk to my people. So there is a balance between the two and we even forget that we are siblings, I would say, hey, please, I will talk to her as if she is not even my older sister. So we complement each other.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: More about the product, Rosemary, is it strictly traditional or are you playing around with new recipes? You explained earlier that there is a concentrated version of it and there’s the ready-to- drink version.
ROSEMARY PADI: It’s strictly traditional right now and traditional means anything, so we can go traditional anywhere, so there are things in the pipeline [laughing]…
TUMISANG NDLOVU: We will wait to hear about those.
ROSEMARY PADI: Just wait and see.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Okay, how has the brand been received then, Mosibudi, as a marketer?
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: It’s amazing how when we initially started we needed to change the perception about gemmer because people have had bad experiences with gemmer, especially if it was not done properly…
TUMISANG NDLOVU: The after effects.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: They will talk about the runny tummies or if it is too strong and they don’t like the aftertaste. Then people moved from making it traditionally to the shortcuts of adding everything and putting it there and hoping that in a couple of days it will mature enough to taste as good…
ROSEMARY PADI: And like magic will be gemmer.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: …which doesn’t work. So people have gone through bad experiences. So what we did is we first needed to change perception in the market before we could sell the idea. So we did our research and asked people what is it that they want out of gemmer and the results that we got were translated into what we have now. So we could have made the product stronger or we could have made it weaker but we needed to find a balance to accommodate everybody because there is a huge population who will say but I want it to be strong and…
ROSEMARY PADI: And then some people find the heat too much.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: Even some people right now say this is too much. So another thing we are looking at is to do another product development, where we introduce the one with the heat. So the product will forever evolve, we’re not going to remain stagnant with what we have now. We obviously listen to our customers and we want to give them the best that they want. So that’s where the brand is right now. So we have the one that is balanced and we are going to be looking at making the one with the heat, and also looking at making other flavours that will complement the current product we have now. So we are in the process of exploring, developing and experimenting.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: It’s a never-ending process. Rosemary, take us through the production and packaging phase, and the distribution of your product, how does all of that work?
ROSEMARY PADI: Obviously the issue was capital, people said why don’t you set up a shop in Pretoria. We are in Joburg. Why don’t you set up a shop in the West Rand, in wherever. But to be able to do that you need lots of money and we are not anywhere near there or at least we haven’t been. So what we did in the beginning is we did all the production, while we were still working my sister and I did all the cooking of it and bottling it but now we produce from a factory and we have employees who work there. We started approaching people and now people come to us, they want to resell it, so that’s how we get our distribution points all around Gauteng and a bit beyond, and then there’s a couple starting up in Polokwane as well. So it’s just setting up with people who are in a similar line of business, for example people who sell scones for their events that we supply the concentrate to, and then with the ready-to- drink we are taking it to restaurants, and we go to markets and events, festivals, that’s where you’ll find us in those places.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Lovely.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: Another thing about the production is that we produce it fresh every week because it doesn’t have any preservatives and, therefore, shelf life becomes shorter. So production happens every single week, you want to have it fresh, you don’t want it to be a couple of days old.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Is that a challenge though?
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: It is, we needed to do our SABS testing to get the shelf life and we got our results, and anything in a plastic bottle would have a shorter shelf life, as opposed to in a glass bottle.
ROSEMARY PADI: If it doesn’t have preservatives, so we insist on not having preservatives and purely because we want to keep it natural and as traditional as possible. The minute you start putting preservatives in it starts having an aftertaste. There are people who like sugar-free products but that means you need to put in preservatives or you’re putting in artificial sweetners, which then loses the whole idea of gemmer or the natural part of it.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Any other challenges, Rosemary, that you have had to face in this journey?
ROSEMARY PADI: [Laughing] A lot, do you have the whole day? It’s really been an interesting journey. Some of the challenges were with the people who we set up to be our distributors, then at some point things are just not happening and you have to terminate those relationships because it becomes too much admin if they don’t order so much.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: But it’s purely because of the current economic situation right now. The Mamzo, who is sitting in her house selling scones, she has so much to buy her stock and then she must pay so much to buy the additional product that will complement [the scones]. So now it’s one of those where she’s going to focus on her business, as opposed to trying to get an additional income because she needs money to have the additional income. So it’s the economic situation that we’re in and another challenge is that it’s a seasonal drink, in June or July when it’s colder people will not necessarily buy it because now they are looking into coffees and teas. Therefore, when you have just signed up someone to be your distributor and they are seeing that rough patch they think I’m not going to make money here. So it’s one of those [situations] where we are saying, what support can we give our distributors in that time and throughout the year. We also sit with mentors in our incubation spaces, where we are also trying to come up with solutions but at the same time as the solutions come to us we need to take them to whoever else we are supporting. So it’s a chain of assistance, I’m getting this knowledge from whoever, now I must pass it on. Even then we sit and guide them and say, listen, you can have a package but now they want to pay later, so they want to pay you after they have sold everything. So it becomes a collection issue and it becomes a cash flow problem for us because we are taking out stock and we are not getting the money immediately, so then we can’t buy our stock.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: What can we expect from you ladies going forward, Rosemary?
ROSEMARY PADI: Oh no, we are not going to tell the competition what we’re coming up with [laughing].
TUMISANG NDLOVU: But can we expect some growth going forward?
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: We’re currently changing the brand, so the current look and feel is going to totally change, and with that we are opening up to make ourselves available for other markets, different markets that we don’t think anyone else in this industry of gemmer has played in. So we’re constantly looking for different markets. Having gemmer at a lifestyle and food market…
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Yes that is so exciting.
MOSIBUDI MAKGATO: It’s one of those that we needed to be there to, again, tap into a different market. It’s not gemmer for weddings and funerals only. It needs to be something that you can drink on a daily basis, to replace other brands that are out there [laughing]. And because of its natural nature it’s something that you can give to your kids with their lunch, it’s something that you can play with, I love the idea of a Slush Puppie using gemmer. So again with it we are going to be playing with different variations of adding things into it, especially at the markets, that will be more exciting.
ROSEMARY PADI: The restaurants are now playing with it with cocktails, so they have it on their cocktail menu.
TUMISANG NDLOVU: Thank you so, so much, ladies, we wish you all the best. That was Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi of YaMama Gemmer in this week’s SME Corner.