How to start your own food business

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How to start your own food business in South Africa

There will always be a strong demand for food in the South African marketplace. So there are business opportunities, whether it is street food or health food or something in between. 

Your food business could take many shapes, like a small food business operated from home, a rented kitchen with a food stand at a busy taxi rank, an online food business, or a food truck near that visits office parks or a mall restaurant. Take a look at how to start an informal food business here or how to start a restaurant here if you are thinking of starting either type of food business, or read on to discover more about another kind of food business. 

Other popular food trends in South Africa are ‘health’ and ‘organic’ food. For example, more and more people are health-conscious, and the large chain stores capitalise on that with so-called health food and organic food products. And so can you with your small business. Thanks to Jen, owner of Cyrus Farm Health Store, we've got some inspiration for you.


Jen shared how she started her successful health food business.

What challenges have you experienced regarding starting a health shop?

“Wow, there are lots of challenges. First of all, people will see when you succeed and think that my business is a great idea to copy because I'm doing well. So it's quite a challenge to have people copying you often when you're the one that's sitting up all hours of the night.

“Also, coming up with ideas is definitely a challenge. 

“Another challenge can be with suppliers. Big suppliers often don't want to do business with you because you are just a small guy. So finding the right suppliers for certain products was a big challenge. But also, on the other hand, it was pretty cool to see how some big companies are willing to give the small guys a chance. 

“Loadshedding is a huge challenge power and especially in the food industry. So when it comes to using any electrical appliances, you need to have planned all of that stuff. I need to plan for my baking, my cooking, and when we keep our food cold in fridges. You need to make sure that you have a backup generator. You need to be prepared literally for anything.

“Then, you need to be prepared to possibly not be paid a salary for at least the first two years because all the money just goes back into the company. 

So there are a few challenges, but I would say that the rewards are way bigger than the challenges.”

What challenges do you currently experience running your health shop?

“Currently, I found that many people have gone into the food industry and flooded the industry. So I think that right now has been our biggest problem. 

“So, stay on the path, be consistent, take one step in front of the other, and don't back off from what you are doing. Just keep doing what you are doing. Some of those people will fall to the wayside, as is the nature of the industry, and you still need to be standing strong.”

Why did you choose to have a health shop?

“I would say that it would be definitely due to my health. I had my thyroid removed. I had a complete thyroidectomy. Then, I had other health-related complications. My health was my drive to turn my food business into a health store. 

"I spent many days and nights studying health-related topics and food. Finally, I came up with a plan to help other people who suffer from similar diseases or sicknesses while working to improve my health and make myself better. I walked alongside people with no idea what would be the right direction to go in, but I still walked alongside them, and we learned what to do together.”

What are the benefits of having a small business?

“You choose when you want to work, although I think the business chooses that for you. So you can be more flexible, and I could literally decide to take the day off. If you are working for a normal business, you can't just do that. So at the moment, it's easier for me to prioritise things in the day and do them as I can.

"So mornings are basically my work time. It's very difficult for me to actually work in the afternoons due to my health. I actually said to my husband that I don't think I'd actually be able to hold down a normal job right now. So there are definitely pros about having your own business, especially if you have an illness in my case.”

Are there disadvantages of having a business compared to a full-time job?

“Yes. I don't get leave days. I don't get sick leave, and my health changes all of the time. So I don't have all the perks of a normal business.

So I suppose it's a work-in-progress. You literally work your business up to a point where you are comfortable with what you are earning. Or you decide to rather go big or go really big and take bigger risks, but it can be done. Your business could end up with a huge circle of staff. 

“I'm just going from one start to the next. So I suppose it all depends on how you want to do it."

What advice do you have for starting a health shop in South Africa?

“Firstly, I would say you need to decide on which direction in the health food industry. Speak to that. Don't let your customers dictate what you need to sell. For example, we are a low carb/keto health shop. We provide those kinds of food, ingredients and meals. Shortly after we decided to just keep it that way, we started selling normal bread. It's not what we stand for. 

"So, my biggest advice is to choose what you want to do and stick to it within reason. You need to stand firm. I've seen so many people start up a business and not even in the health food industry, and they go with one idea and literally two, three weeks later, they are going in another way for their customers instead. So yeah, you need to be firm in your decision.”

How did you fund your business at the start? 

“I started with no funding. I had a permanent position at the time, so I worked 8 to 4, and I used to run my health store business on the side. So in the evenings, I would do that. So yeah, no capital to start with.”

Do you want to learn more about how to get funding for your business?

Learn more about business loans and other lending options.

What makes South Africa great for starting a small business?

“I think because we're such a diverse nation, there are so many things to do, there are so many cultures. So this allows space for a creative business to make it. I think that's a beautiful thing about our country for all of us.”

Why did you get a card machine to process your customer payments? 

“We had no other way of accepting payments other than cash. We just felt that a card machine would change the aspect of our business, which I did completely. Obviously, people aren't limited to spending just what's in their wallet, so it also upped our income.” 

How did you choose your card machine compared to the other card machines?

“I think I was just looking for something easy to deal with and quick to use on the go. I didn't need anything to print receipts. I didn't need any of that stuff.

"So yeah, it was pretty straightforward for us, but I suppose it depends on your business model again. So if you need to print receipts and that kind of thing, your decision would be slightly different from ours.” 

Is it worth it to have a small business in South Africa?

“I would say yes. My business is the legacy that I'm trying to build up for our girls. I hope that if they need something to fall back on one day, they can fall back on it.

"I suppose it all depends on what will unfold in this business and country over the next five to 10 years, but right now, I just keep on keeping on.”

How have you grown your business? 

  • “It has been difficult. I'm not a salesperson to start with. I've always worked in accounts or in the hospitality industry. So it was a very different position for me. Funny enough, it came to me easily. 

  • "I put a lot of time into marketing. I learned how to use certain software. I put up marketing on my Facebook Group when I started up. I wanted it to be more interactive than a formal Facebook page. Another thing that really helped grow our business was putting ourselves out there in the social atmosphere, if you want to put it like that. 

  • “I learned to use all of the different marketing software tools for free because you don't want to pay for marketing software. So I use Canva for most of my marketing love the program. I would even sign up and pay monthly. It's a really awesome tool to have as a small business owner.

  • “Also, I think spending many hours in the kitchen and experimenting with different ingredients, especially when it comes to low carb and keto [ketogenic diet], because everything is different from a baking perspective. So I spent a lot of time studying, experimenting, trying new things, and just putting my head down and doing it.

  • “You shouldn't look the other way. Just keep your head looking forward. Draw your positivity in your drive to succeed from those rooting for you and the customers who support you. 

  • Remember why you are doing it. You're not working for other people. You're working for yourself. What I put in this week is what I'm gonna get out on my orders on Friday. “When I have been ill, or it's just been difficult, I can actually see it in my orders. It shows when I'm on top of it, on top of marketing and interacting with my customers.

  • “So yeah, having the right attitude would help grow your business. You can't become despondent whenever somebody takes you down or if an idea doesn't work. Redesigned it, or you can make another plan. 

  • “There is no quitting when it comes to starting your own business. If I did quit, I would have quit a long time ago. Look at all the stuff that I would have missed now. Like the fabulous conversations I've had with six people who have cancer, we walk together. We've helped one another. I would have never learnt about food like different thicknesses, autoimmune diseases and nutrition.

  • “So you have to really be a go-getter and not a quitter. Above all, I also think you need to pick the right business to start. Don't pick something you know you don't have a passion for. Pick something that inspires you and drives you. Make sure you have a customer base. It's all good and well if you have an idea, but you can't grow if you don't know where you are going.” 

  • Do you want to know more? Here’s more info about starting your own health shop.

Learn more about starting a health food business

You can improve and maintain your health while opening a health shop business that provides you with income. 

It's a way of life

People are not only interested in eating certain foods to lose weight. Eating healthy food is now a way of life for many. People have heard too much about obesity and heart disease due to bad eating habits.

Do your homework first

It’s all very well to be excited about starting a new adventure. But, you don’t want to be in despair a little later because the small business was a flop. An informed decision is much better than one not based on doing research.

How well do you know your local community?

Start collecting info on the area where you are likely to start up your health food shop. Do some thorough research, making sure what is happening on the ground. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who are the customers that you want to sell to with your shop? What do people like to eat and not eat?

  • Are there already some health shops close by? With competition so close, your business may struggle to get off the ground.

  • What kind of foods do the folk in your area love like crazy? Perhaps you see the chance to develop a niche that supplies a unique type of healthy food.

Write out a business plan

Don’t stress – it’s not that bad. First, you need to put on paper how you see your entire shop functioning. Include your target market, the kinds of food you plan to sell, your physical spot, operating hours, and overhead costs (including operating and maintenance costs).

What else is there?

  • How much equipment you may need.

  • The qualifications or experience of your staff.

  • Staff positions and their salaries.

  • The competitiveness of prices of your health foods.

  • The shop space needed and monthly rent.

  • When will the business break even?

  • A cash flow projection.

  • An advertising and marketing plan.

You need money to start your business

Will you borrow money from family or friends or get a bank loan? Are you a Yoco merchant? Yoco offers qualifying Yoco merchants to help kickstart their small businesses with flexible cash advances.

Trading and health requirements

Your restaurant needs to have a valid business or trade license and a Certificate of Acceptability for Food Premises. Make sure you arrange for correct health inspections. If you allow smoking in your restaurant, you must comply with the Tobacco Products Control Act.

Comply with consumer protection

If you provide services or goods, you must comply with the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008, ensuring fair, accessible, and sustainable trading.

What about the music?

Get the vibe just right in your restaurant. You can apply for a TV license. If you will play music, get a licence from either the South African Music Performance Rights Association (SAMPRO) or the Southern African Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO).

Yoco could help kick-start your business

Do you want to know more about how to start your own business? Read more about starting a business in South Africa now.

Why not join Yoco and 230 000 small business owners who chose Yoco? Then, get a credit card machine with no monthly costs and more benefits now.

If you need any advice, get in touch, and we’ll be glad to assist you. Make your dream business idea a reality.


Source: How to Open a Health Food Store

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