By: Tebogo Mokwena
Benedict Chere’s company produces various kinds of products made from atchaar, and the whole idea for the company came from a hangover. Chere said he started Babalaz Foods after his family threw a surprise party for his father and they had too much to drink in 2013. The following morning, his late sister who was a qualified confectionery chef, made an atchaar for him that he said cured his hangover and revived him almost immediately. The idea stuck in his head and it was not until 2017 that he took it seriously.
He had previously sold baked goods in his hometown of Polokwane to keep his sisters’ legacy alive, but he stopped and started a few times due to not having enough customers before he gave up altogether. However, he told Vutivi News that it was not until he was broke and in need of extra money that the impulse to start his business emerged. “I had R150 in my pocket which was meant to be my petrol money until I got paid on the fifteenth,” Chere said.
“I took a walk in town and came across a shop selling atchaar in bulk. I bought the atchaar with the R150 and prayed that I would be able to travel to and from work the next day.” Not only was he able to travel, but the atchaar he packaged the previous night sold out before lunchtime. That was when he decided to embark on starting and formalising his business. Chere told Vutivi News that he branded his products and obtained training and certification in mango atchaar processing at the University of Limpopo.
He then researched ingredients, formulated a business plan and knocked on wholesalers’ doors until he was able to start supplying Goseame Wholesalers in Polokwane’s CBD. It was during this leg of the journey that he encountered challenges pertaining to compliance in the agro-processing sector. Chere said in order to remedy the compliance issue, he had his products tested successfully for standardisation. He also obtained food safety and management systems qualifications and was currently working towards owning a facility that met the national standards of quality.
Chere had four employees prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the impact of the lockdown on his business forced him to let them all go. He currently employs promoters on a part-time basis. “My vision is to ensure that we fight for the market share where we target major grocery retailers and export our products because there is interest from countries like Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia,” Chere said. His products include marinade sauce, vegetable atchaar, atchaar biltong and atchaar wors.