Rural KwaZulu-Natal baker Njabulo Sithole has clinched a deal to supply a national supermarket chain.
For Njabulo Sithole, it has been a long journey from his childhood dream of having his own business to owning a successful bakery in Maphephetheni.

His firm, Bakers Creationz, provides cakes, muffins and coconut-coated snowballs to retail outlets in Durban such as Spar stores, Pick * Pay Express, BP Express, Inanda Cash ’* Carry, Fedics, Shell and Engen garage shops and it bakes customised cakes. He recently clinched a deal to supply Pick * Pay stores throughout South Africa.

After completing his diploma in business management and marketing, Sithole worked in London where he learnt a lot working in the food-processing industry. But it was only when he shared a house with fellow South Africans and took on cooking duties that he discovered his culinary passion.

“By the end of the first week, I was cooking. By the end of the first month, I was the best cook in the house,” Sithole recalled.

This inspired him to try his hand at baking, read cooking magazines, watch cooking shows and improve recipes on the back of flour packets.

When he returned home, he worked for Woolworths briefly before taking up an offer with start-up, Mpilende Foods. He later teamed up with a colleague to create a bread brand, Royal Bake, using contract bakers but they parted ways a year and a half later.

Sithole researched the market and created a business plan for Bakers Creationz but his rural location did not attract potential funders. Undeterred, he started baking for local schools, in his family kitchen.

He sent his son to school with 15 muffins and they were sold out before he reached the classroom. Sithole recruited children to sell his cakes at R2 each for a 50c commission. Teachers began buying, schools placed orders for functions and people started ordering customised cakes. “The challenge for me became production capacity,” he said.

Sithole found an old community shop where he rented a small space and complied with municipal food safety regulations.

Bakers Creationz grew and in 2014, he started selling to retailers, first the local spaza shop, then Inanda Cash ‘* Carry. He was shocked when asked to deliver 300 units the next day. He negotiated a two-day extension, scraped together money for ingredients and packaging, baked through the night and delivered his snowballs by minibus taxi.

Sithole later borrowed a vehicle for deliveries and bought equipment from bakeries that had closed.

As he acquired Pick * Pay and more retail customers, new challenges arose. To meet the Global Foods Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards, he had to upgrade his systems and equipment. “I realised building a business is not just about pushing volume. We needed to maintain high standards and be food safety compliant,” he said.

Sithole approached the SA Home Loans (SAHL) Sekela Development Programme, which develops small enterprises and obtained technical and financial support. “I presented my situation of having secured a deal with Pick * Pay but that I hadn’t supplied them with a single cake. I shared my fear that I might lose this important opportunity to establish my business. They evaluated my case and I was accepted onto the programme,” he said.

Sithole completed his GFSI audit and is gearing up to supply Pick * Pay and additional Spar stores. He is also talking to retailers about developing a snowball variant to suit their market.