Durban - Durban food scientist and entrepreneur Busi Gumede has gone full circle in the business world after pursuing diverse ventures to formulate a niche brand of dairy products that will see her opening a retail store in uMhlanga in the next few months.
From working in food science and retailing to advertising and the energy sector, Gumede, 41, has had her share of trials, losses and opportunities on her business journey.
She matriculated at Nqabakazulu High School in KwaMashu and studied food science and nutrition at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she graduated in 1998. She also later completed a marketing diploma.
Gumede initially worked for Woolworths in Cape Town as a trainee food selector, where she tested and sourced products from suppliers, and then for the Oceana Group, which couldn’t hold on to her for more than 18 months before her entrepreneurial drive took over.
“I was really bored. I asked my manager to put me in marketing and he said he can’t because I was technical staff. I felt trapped in a routine, as much as I liked my job,” Gumede said.
Born into a family of retail business owners - her parents and grandparents were entrepreneurs - she was 22 when she quit to become her own boss.
“During my time in Cape Town I was involved in a stokvel and had accumulated a bit of money,” Gumede said.
She took her savings of R250 000 and invested in stock to open a retail business in Durban.
“What I used to earn in a month I would make in half a day. The first two months were good, but the market changed drastically because people were not shopping in the township and wanted to go to town for an outing,” she said.
On one dreadful day now etched into her memory - December 13, 2013 - disaster struck.
“I used to close one shop in one area and go to another shop and then get on the freeway to go home. I got into the car and I heard a noise and my aunty (who was also in the car) said ‘stop, we are being shot at’,” Gumede said.
“The car had bullet holes all over it and the only thing I remembered at the time was ‘if you’re being shot at, lie down’. I hid under the steering wheel and covered my head and then the car stopped. Eight of them came and said ‘open the car’ and they started beating me up so badly.
“I had R4000 on me to go to the wholesaler to get milk and I told them that was all I had. They were very violent, they just would not listen. At some stage I thought they were going to rape me,” Gumede said.
“I was bleeding so much I couldn’t see. They wanted to take the car, but couldn’t drive and forced me to drive. I was beaten to a pulp and I thought this is the final part where they are going to shoot me in this bush. I said ‘Jesus, if you are in my life please show up’ and that’s when one of the boys said ‘it is enough’ and they shoved me back to the car,” she said.
Gumede said she realised then that she needed to choose her life over her business. She lost everything. Her home, her business, her car and her income. Depressed, she moved back to her parents’ home in KwaMashu and slowly picked up the pieces.
It wasn’t long before Gumede decided to try a new business venture, Nkosasa Communications, and she cold-called Blue Chip firms she found listed in the Yellow Pages.
“Everyone I called was busy, but the fifth company I phoned was SAB and I was put through to Grant Hillary (who was then regional marketing manager), and we had a conversation that really changed my life,” Gumede said.
She landed a contract for an eventing job for SAB and went on to work closely with Ogilvy providing below-the-line advertising services. Then she had another break and was offered a business opportunity by Eskom to manage teams of contractors whom she hired from a pool of retrenched employees. She established a new business, Global Pact Consulting.
“We were given a very small portfolio to begin with where we had to read and replace meters and, from there, we started doing structures, distribution lines and vegetation management. We were running 54 teams around the country,” Gumede said.
Gumede eventually handed part of the business to her middle management team and she added small-town property development to her portfolio.
It was a turn for the worse in her health that saw Gumede turn back to her food science skills, which recently led to her opening yet another business, Goodlife Foods.
“After having my second baby, I suffered from haemorrhoids and have had constant issues with digestion and constipation. My friend asked me why I didn’t just take kefir, but I didn’t know what it was so I started researching it,” Gumede said.
Kefir is a fermented milk product which contains high levels of vitamin B12 and K2, calcium, magnesium, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics.
“I got kefir grains and started making kefir at home, and the more I worked with it the more I learned about it. I look after it like it is a living being and it looks after me,” Gumede said.
Gumede she her health improved after consuming the product.
“I got so involved with kefir and would wake up in the middle night with a recipe and would get up and make it. I make kefir cream cheeses, yoghurt and kefir sodas. I thought I am going to make more of this soda because it’s taking my kids off the wrong stuff,” Gumede recalled.
“They loved it and my kitchen became all about kefir and I thought this is a great product, I can’t keep it to myself, I have to take it to people,” Gumede said.
Gumede researched whether there were any commercial foods being made locally with kefir.
“I did not find any mainstream dairies doing kefir and saw an opportunity and registered Goodlife Foods,” Gumede said.
Gumede has contracted the services of a dairy in the Midlands to pack the kefir probiotic products she has formulated, including yoghurt, ice cream, cream cheese and sodas, under her brand, Kepro, which stands for kefir probiotic.
She is also busy exploring an opportunity to open her own production facility.
She has approached major retailers, including Shoprite Checkers, which will be launching her products in its 240 premium stores nationally and she is opening her first retail store - “Probiotique” in uMhlanga in June.
But she won’t stop there and foresees developing her business into a national franchised brand.
“My vision is to see South Africans being healthy, to shift the mindset and to get at least half of the population learning how to look after themselves, to eat healthy and protect their gut health, because a healthier nation is a more successful nation,” Gumede said.