#10Q: Food supply chain solutions for the 80%
Township grocery shopping service start up Yebo Fresh, delivered thousands of food parcels to needy families under lockdown. We talk to founder, Jessica Boonstra.
Since the lockdown, township grocery shopping service start up Yebo Fresh, became a lifeline for Cape Town township communities, continuing to deliver food to their doorstep, as well as for various organisations and charities, which needed tens of thousands of food parcels ordered, packed and delivered direct to the doorstep of needy families. Yebo Fresh is a technology-enabled operation accessed via web or mobile phone – WhatsApp or Facebook Lite – launched in September 2018 in the Hout Bay township of Imizamo Yethu.
Founder, Jessica Boonstra, who has a Master’s degree in engineering and who worked for retailers in her Dutch homeland, as well as in South Africa, enjoys solving problems and saw an opportunity in the disparity in the food supply chain in South Africa, where township residents have to travel long distances to buy bulk food that is affordable and healthy to sustain their families during each month. Yebo Fresh plugged that gap, rolling out their service across the Cape Town Metropole, with rapid acceleration under lockdown when the need was the greatest. We talked to Boonstra about the company’s massive growth under lockdown driven by need.
1. What is at the top of your to do list?
Family. Giving time and attention back to my family because they deserve it after my business grew so rapidly under lockdown. From a business perspective, it is closing the next round of funding.
2. Tell us more about your strategy?
Our strategy is to find the biggest problems for township residents in the food space and to solve them using technology, efficient purchases and everything else that we have at our disposable – the capital, the amazing networks, our brain reserve. This is more of a mission than a strategy.
3. What are your current challenges?
We have food prices going up, with world markets like Russia closing down and rice supplies from China dwindling. We have also seen customers trading down to cheaper products and with that, a whole shift in the market has happened. A lot of our customers are really struggling at the moment, they are living just above or under the breadline. Let’s hope the next phase of the easing of lockdown will come soon and everyone can get back to work to at least feed themselves and take care of their families. With that, for our business, our donations will taper off; we expect at some point to do fewer donations and do way more deliveries to customers who can take care of themselves again; that businesses will pick up again; and we can start suppling to employer and community networks that we have dealt with over this time.
4. What needs to change in the food supply chain in South Africa?
I would like to invite people to think about townships as an opportunity, and less of a place of doom and gloom. At one point I did consulting work for retailers, and often the response when looking at this market was; “Yes, it’s a big market, but it’s also a messy market, there is not enough money and it’s a dangerous market.” But when you dive into that township dynamic, it is 70-80% of the populationt; and this is the future of South Africa. It is where our young people are. I would like to invite companies in South Africa in general to look into that market as a place of opportunity and think about how to innovate and build future businesses that actually cater to this need. With COVID-19, everywhere we saw online businesses sprout and everybody had market boxes and farmers’ boxes and fancy restaurant deliveries – all focused on that 20% of the upper market. We saw so little happening in the townships. We saw township entrepreneurs innovating, but so few larger businesses getting in there and finding the opportunity to meet the big need.
5. Where does opportunity lie and what needs to change?
Many more parties should be looking at the township market as a place of opportunity. We should have way more little restaurants and coffee shops – we should have more competition looking into all those niches in the food space and cracking that problem of getting food into the townships more efficiently. Spazas are such a vital part of the ecosystem of the townships and they should be getting all the support they need. We are not competing with the spazas at all. We see them more as partners. If anything, we are competing with the large retailers, not the shop around the corner. The most important thing I am trying to say is that a shift in thinking is needed. A whole different mindset around the township market – it is about 40% of the entire grocery retailing market.
6. How will you change the world?
There are many players out there, in Kenya and Nigeria and India who are ahead of us that we can learn from, but there should be so many more doing this. There is space for 20 to 30 Yebo Fresh-like companies out there. I do hope that we can kick off a ‘township food retailing revolution’ and that more will follow.
7. Proudest career moments in the past 3 months?
Not so long ago, I came into the office a little late and saw this well-oiled machine working in sync, with a happy vibe, there was music, there was stock we were producing at high speed, everyone was communicating, there was flow and it was all happening. There were 50 young people packing parcels, each one to feed a hungry family in need, and none of this was there three months ago! It is incredible, and I am so proud of what the team has built. We did this altogether.
8. Do you have a life philosophy?
I do try to make the most out of life. I am a very optimistic person. I do feel that we have only so many years to spend, so we have this obligation to use this time and resources we have been given, all of that, our networks, our studies… we have an obligation to do something with that and to make the world a little better if we can.
9. How do you inspire others?
By being direct and honest. The fact that I am so optimistic. I have a lot of energy. It is infectious. I have learnt not to run ahead and also to listen. Sometimes you inspire by just listening, by letting other people do the talking.
10. What is your superpower?
Two things; energy and compassion.
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