DURBAN - Ashraf Kader (35), the owner of Mia’s Food, nationally supplies white flour roti, wholewheat roti, white flour naan and onion-flavoured naan to Shoprite.
Shoprite never used to sell rotis.
So how did Kader convince the mainstream retailer to supply his product and grow his company to the point that it now has a turnover of roughly R450 000 a month?
Kader was only 21 when secured a meeting with Shoprite’s KwaZulu-Natal division at the time with the intention of supplying them with his products.
“I went in with my shirt tucked in, tie on and shiny shoes ready to take on the world. I was very young and naive. Even though they liked the product, they had concerns because they could see that I did not understand what I was getting myself into,” says Kader.
Mia’s Food was advised to take certain steps to re-strategise to build itself strong enough to grow.
Kader kept on knocking on Shoprite's door for about five-years. He was determined that he wanted to manufacture and supply to a big retailer, That period was an important learn curve.
Around 2010 Kader's company finally secured a deal to supply its products to the KZN Shoprite division. This brought them great support , he says.
From then on the journey became a roller coaster.
“There were so many challenges and with those challenges we learnt then and there what they were talking about. It was not just about manufacturing and supplying, but also about whether one could supply and meet demand. It is no use listing an item in-store yet then failing to supply satisfactorily and negatively impact consumers.”
Other drawbacks was the pricing structures, understanding the rebate structure and how it worked with the retailer and what it does to the likes of Mia’s Food’s business, how it affects the way their accounts are run as well as the trading terms.
He says Shoprite has been very helpful in securing better payment terms for them by guiding the company with accreditation and the state of their facilities. “Over the years as a small business they hold your hand. They give you an opportunity, see how you are doing, monitor you and watch your service levels.”
Kader says his parents shared a great part in his journey.
His father, Mohammed “Sid” Sadeck, is good with ideas and sales and motivated Kader, while his mother, Ayesha Sadeck ,was helpful with the cooking and baking.
They both played an integral role as the business went in different directions. Kader’s wife, Sheema, has also been part of the business at some point staying awake until 3am making samosas.
The business initially manufactured chilli-sauce, which did very well. It was at some point when the family was speaking to some clients when one individual enquired if they would make rotis for them.
At the time, Kader says rotis were not readily available in the mass market. Many people would just place an order from someone who made it in their homes. Over time, Mia’s Food jumped at the opportunity.
Kader says starting out was difficult because in the food industry monetary investments are very high while the returns on investments are not as great as expected.
“At the end of the day, first and foremost the infrastructure and facility is very expensive. At the same time you need to know and plan how you want to do it. If you want to do it on a large scale or small scale. I preferred to do it on a small scale because I have the level of control over the business and the quality of the product.”
Kader says initially he did not have money to purchase the equipment and struck a deal with one equipment supplier to pay a small deposit then pay off the balance over 12 months.
At the time, the equipment cost about R35 000.
Mia’s Food was registered in 2007 as Sidrocc Investments.
Securing the deal with Shoprite saw Mia’s Food acquiring better promises in Overport. The facilities were upgraded, which was worth about R200 000. Currently, the businesses asset value in the facility they now rent in Bluff is worth R1 million.
When Mia’s Food started supplying the KZN Shoprite division in 2010, their turnover averaged between R40 000 to R60 000 a month.
In late 2017 and early 2018, Mia’s Food was selected as a private label convenience supplier for rotis and naan breads to Shoprite's stores nationally after its development team assessed rotis and naan bread from about 30 different suppliers. This saw their turnover going to around roughly R450 000 a month.
The Durban-based food maker feeds into the groups three main distribution centres in Canelands, Durban, Cilmor, Cape Town, and Centurion, Gauteng.
Kader says that the hardest thing to satisfy is customers' taste buds because if they did not like the product, they would never buy it again. Kader says that he has discovered that food is an emotion.
“There are so many things that go into food over and above the health factors. It is an emotion and tells you a story. It tells you how did it come about. That is the journey I learnt with my parents.”
He also maintains that Shoprite is not the easiest company to do business with, but one of the best as they offered so much support.
“You also need to move with the times and change when you have to. You also need to be honest and straight with your dealings on costings, price structures and such,” says Kader.
Kader says that when one sits back and looks, an achievement is never achieved, as it is never enough and one would try to achieve more. “This is not only about money. It is about self-worth and how one can add value to others.”
Mia’s Food currently employs 30 staff members some of whom have been with the company for the past eight to 10 years.
Kader says the concept of business is not just about money.
“It is about the value I add because I am only passing. Tomorrow I am gone and somebody else needs to keep on running this business. So what I would like to achieve going forward is obviously a higher quality and better products for Shoprite because we have such a close relationship and work so closely with each other. I would like to focus a lot on our company for the shop by coming up with ideas, creating recipes, doing the due diligence, testing and even producing or outsourcing production and making something out of it.”
Kader says there is still a huge opportunity for small businesses in KZN and surrounding provinces for food products and manufacturing them for chain stores. He says that they, however, need to make things things the right way. Kader urges the government to assist these small businesses in the industry by providing more than just the money, but also understanding of the business, products and what people want and how to achieve a successful business.