Stocktake: Partnerships and innovation rescue business

Doing whatever it takes to recover from the global pandemic – businesses turn to partnerships, innovation and AI.

Doing whatever it takes to recover from the global pandemic – businesses turn to partnerships, innovation and AI. News this week about a programme from Siqalo Foods, RCL and Bidfood to support the hospitality sector; liquor and catering experts join forces with Cascade Holdings, to present a stronger offering to market; Salesforce latest research shows a rise in AI and automation to enable brands to meet consumer expectations; and Lulalend founder Trevor Gosling says there has been a huge increase in loans made to ecommerce businesses and online retailers.

New hospitality industry support programme

Struggling black-owned restaurants, catering and accommodation establishments that have been hit hard by the devastating impact of COVID-19, now have an opportunity to get back on the road to success with the Sekela Hospitality Support Programme. Valued at a R2 million investment per year, the Sekela Hospitality programme is a holistic, phased programme that provides current black-owned hospitality businesses (restaurants, catering companies and accommodation businesses) with back of house training, business coaching, access to capital and business stimulus packages. Businesses have until the end of April 2021 to apply. In an effort to bring some relief and lift the spirits of business owners within the hospitality industry, well-known professional food service brands Marvello and Meadowland, owned by Siqalo Foods, have partnered with RCL Foods and Bidfood, to launch the programme. In order to qualify, applying businesses must meet a particular set of criteria. The programme recruitment drive will commence in March. The first phase will allow up to 50 successful applicants to join the programme and receive a 10% purchase discount on any food order placed through Bidfood. In phase two, qualifying beneficiaries will receive relevant top-class back of house training and business coaching, followed by essential financial assistance / support planning and business profiling. “The industry has endured blow after blow during the COVID-19 pandemic with the international travel ban, curfew, recurring alcohol bans, maximum capacity and social distancing restrictions all coming into play. Like most countries, South Africa can’t afford for its hospitality industry to fail. We wanted to do our part and bring a solution to the fore where we can help drive a positive change and see business owners and entrepreneurs achieve their true potential,” says Edwin Ukama, channel marketing executive at RCL Foods. For further enquiries, please contact: info [at] bloominfinite [dot] co [dot] za.

Huge rise in AI and automation

Customer and employee expectations have shifted and customer expectations are growing amid the transition to all-digital experiences, found a global survey analysis by Salesforce of more than 25,000 consumers, business buyers and professionals. And employees – who are already stretched thin – are feeling more pressure to meet demand. In response, many business leaders are turning to AI and workflow automation. Data from the Trends in Workflow Automation report features insights from participants in 25 countries, including South Africa. Released yesterday by Salesforce, it calls out four key findings shaping the employee-to-customer relationship. The pandemic and its aftereffects created urgency to adapt — nearly overnight — to a new set of customer needs and habits, accelerating what were once slow digitisation transformations. With restrictions on physical interaction and a sudden upheaval to customers’ lifestyles and businesses, the call for digital change has been loud:

  • 87% of consumers and business buyers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19.
  • 67% of consumers and business buyers say COVID-19 has elevated their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities.

Rising customer demands have reached employees already contending with new work environments and personal stressors. For many, workdays are longer than they used to be:

  • 35% of employees working remotely during the pandemic report working later than usual hours.
  • Four in five executives at companies with at least 10% revenue growth say employee experience is a top objective.

“Covid created massive pressure to digitise and automate workflows fast to handle the triple threat of overworked employees, changing customer expectations, and brand new processes,” says John Kucera, SVP of product management, automation. AI has become a powerful aid in customer service, working behind the scenes to raise insights and recommendations, populate data, and trigger processes. “If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught all of us it’s that the world is now all-digital, and there’s no going back. Customers are expecting faster if not instant responses to more complicated cases, across more channels than ever before — adding more headcount can’t be the only answer,” says Clara Shih, CEO of Service Cloud. Customer service teams are looking to automation for relief from escalating workloads. Time-consuming manual processes, like collecting background information and conducting after case work like follow-up actions, can frustrate both the customer and the employee:

  • 57% of customers say COVID-19 has raised their standards for customer service.
  • 73% of service professionals say managing case volume has become more challenging.
  • 39% of service organisations use chatbots, representing a 72% increase since 2018.
New full-service bar and beverage business launches
Photo by Alessio Zaccaria on Unsplash.

Cascade Holdings officially opened its doors this month and is poised to disrupt the South African bar, events and liquor industries. Cascade is a dynamic, multi-dimensional organisation offering solutions that will revolutionise various aspects of the South African drinks industry. The brainchild of Adam Chaskalson, Tyrone Lasarow and Shaun Duwe, Cascade brings together nearly 50 years’ worth of combined experience in the drinks-service, product and entertainment industry.

As an umbrella company, Cascade will offer a range of solutions under its three subsidiaries:

  • Salute: A one-stop solution offering comprehensive bar- and events management support and infrastructure to all tiers of events.
  • Cheeky: A product development lab with a cheeky twist (building on Skinny B and Skinny M, two existing low calorie, hard seltzers).
  • The most technologically advanced B2B/DTC eCommerce business in the liquor market featuring wholesale distribution to the on- and off-premise trade, as well as an online retail store direct to the public.

“Now is the right time,” Duwe explained of the new partnership, which comes when the greater alcohol industry is picking up the pieces of lockdown prohibition regulations. For nearly two decades, a mobile bar service under Lasarow and Chaskalson has been the operator synonymous with some of the premium events in South Africa. To them this cooperative venture was the obvious next step for the growth of their ideas, as well as the well-being of their staff. According to Chaskalson, Duwe’s network means they now have the opportunity to grow in the mass- and under-21 markets. “Previously we have been bigger in the higher LSM and corporate market, with the range of markets across which his network stretches, we can now grow in all sectors,” he said. For Chaskalson and Lasarow the evolution into Cascade is very much about building on the core talent of their current team and supporting them even further during a time when so many in the industry have suffered job losses. Through 2020 Covid lockdowns, Chaskalson and Lasarow managed to retain all of their staff and offered members of staff an equity share in the bar and events business. “We’re here to disrupt the industry and take it to the next level, but client service remains at the core of that,” Chaskalson concluded.

This week in numbers


Trevor Gosling, co-founder and CEO of Lulalend, the financing partner to many of South Africa’s small- to medium-enterprises (SMEs), has seen a phenomenal growth in ecommerce businesses which have connected with them for SME financing. Between the period of October 2020 and February 2021, Lulalend saw an 86% increase in loans made to ecommerce businesses and online retailers in comparison to the same period between 2019 and 2020. “The loans were strongly linked to growth-related requirements, such as the purchasing of inventory or the expansion of marketing,” Gosling explained. “The reality is that South Africans have now become familiar with and are used to the convenience that shopping online provides. For those which have seized this opportunity and taken the time to invest in developing their digital offering, they will continue to see rewards in the long-term.”

QUOTE of the week:

“By integrating with their bots and delivering a chat platform as part of their omnichannel offering, retailers will be in a much better position to handle the influx of queries around the increase of online orders. Chat is also a good solution for alleviating overburdened call centres, and most importantly, positions the retailer for exciting future options,” said Jeppe Dorff, Clickatell chief product and technology Officer, on Retailing Africa this past week.


Main image credit: Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash.


*Stocktake is a weekly roundup of current FMCG retailing and brand news, curated and edited by Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers. Keep the industry updated and send your announcements and news to:


Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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