Entrepreneur braves multiple obstacles to start a food business

by MMC
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Lesly Marange, founder and CEO of Glytime Foods

How Lesly Marange, founder and CEO of ZimbabweGlytime Foods, based in Glytime Foods, launched and grew a food business amidst many economic and operational challenges.

In 2018, Lesly Marange had her work cut out for her. In addition to facing the typical hurdles of starting a business, he was also preparing for the birth of his first child. And if balancing business and family wasn’t already a daunting challenge, he simultaneously enrolled in an MBA program.

“I had an obligation to pay fees. I had an obligation to fund the family and I had an obligation to run a business,” he says. “When I think about it now, I wonder, ‘What was I thinking,’ but, you know, passion sometimes drives you to do crazy things,” he says.

From prison camp to food company boss

Marange, now 34, grew up in a unique environment: a prison camp. His father was a prison guard, while his mother was a schoolteacher. Marange displayed a penchant for cooking very early on. However, in his community, a young boy spending time in the kitchen was frowned upon. His father, a veteran, was less than enthusiastic about his son’s culinary aspirations. However, his mother advocated the freedom to pursue one’s passions. Undeterred, Marange persevered and even chose food and nutrition as a school subject.

He then studied food science at Chinhoyi University of Technology. During this period, Marange found himself deeply absorbed in the success stories of leading food companies, such as Kellogg’s and Nestlé. He was inspired by the experiences of these business founders. “One of the biggest lessons I learned is that there was a lot of endurance in their early days,” Marange reflects. Little did he know then that he would need the same kind of perseverance in his own life. food business trip.

While at university, Marange started a small business in her backyard, making roasted corn. He sold it to prison, army and police camps. Having grown up in a prison camp, he knew how these places worked, which gave him an advantage over other suppliers. Roasted corn is a popular snack in Zimbabwe, but Marange did something unique: he boiled the corn before roasting it, which made it softer than most people were used to. “People liked it because it was different from the traditional way of doing things,” he explains.

Although its corn product was well received, the packaging was basic. He and his team of about eight part-time employees filled the unbranded packages with a mug and sealed them with a candle.

As part of her study programme, Marange completed a one-year internship at a sugar factory in Harare. One day, the boss came to see his roasted corn farm. Impressed, he suggested Marange consider the corporate world after graduation to learn how a large food company operates. Marange took this advice to heart. After graduating, he joined this same sugar factory. In just three and a half years, he rose through the ranks and became responsible for product development. In this role, he developed several successful products that increased the company’s profits. This experience gave him confidence in his ability to produce products with commercial value. So, feeling ready, he quit his job to launch Glytime Foods in 2018.

Capitalize on the lack of healthy foods

While Marange worked for the sugar company, sales of table sugar began to drop significantly as consumers became more health conscious. Recognizing health and wellness as an emerging trend, Marange saw an opportunity. His research revealed that few Zimbabwean food brands were taking advantage of this market shift.

Glytime’s first product was granola, which the company launched in late 2018. Marange had saved around US$2,000 from her previous job, which financed the initial raw materials and packaging. He started preparing it in his own kitchen. After preparing the family’s meals each morning, the kitchen transformed into Glytime’s production space for the rest of the day. At first, the young company could only produce 24 units of granola cereal per day.

Food Lover’s Market was the first grocery chain to carry Glytime cereal. Their first order was for three crates, which took Glytime three days to produce. However, a later, larger order for 15 cases posed a production hurdle. To cope, Marange set up a night shift.

Meanwhile, the MBA program at the National University of Science and Technology was not only helping Marange meet business challenges. This also turned into an unexpected sales opportunity. He would bring Glytime products to his classes and sell them to his fellow students.

Roll with the punches

Demand for this product continued to grow and soon the TM Pick n Pay supermarket chain also began placing orders. In response, Marange upgraded to a new four-tray oven, which increased Glytime’s daily production from 8 kg to 50 kg. The business has also moved from Marange’s home to its own dedicated facilities.

But another challenge quickly presented itself: inflation. Retailers paid Glytime long after the products were delivered, and by the time the money arrived, inflation had eroded most of its profits. Despite outstanding orders, Glytime found itself at one point in 2019 with orders worth US$20,000, but without funds to purchase the necessary raw materials. In addition, his small oven could not keep up with the volume of orders and six employees had to be paid.

Marange then discovered purchase order financing, a mechanism by which companies receive funds to fulfill existing orders. Old Mutual Finance agreed to provide US$20,000 of this financing, but needed some form of security. It was then that Marange’s uncle proposed property as a guarantee. “It was a risky decision, but he accepted,” explains the CEO of Glytime. The interest rate on the loan was high and Glytime had to repay the entire amount within three months. “I had no choice…I just had to stay in the game.”

A selection of Glytime granola products

A selection of Glytime granola products

However, after obtaining the loan, other problems arose. Marange gave $5,500 to an acquaintance to exchange for local currency. In a twist he is reluctant to elaborate on, this person “lost” the money in the process, leaving Marange with just US$14,500 of the initial US$20,000.

“I got my team together and told them, ‘You know what, the bank gave us some money, and of that money we’ve already lost $5,500 and that money has to be paid back within three months …the only way we can handle this. is to make sure that we work very hard to… keep this business alive.

The pep talk worked. In three months, the team turned the US$14,500 into US$37,500. The loan, along with interest, was repaid, at a total cost of approximately US$26,000.

Glytime invested some of the remaining money to build a much larger industrial oven, which increased its capacity five times.

Pandemic-related challenges weighing on market dynamics

Amid the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Zimbabwe’s economy has taken a major blow, putting consumers under pressure. Even as Glytime production increased, consumers tightened their belts. This meant Glytime products remained on shelves, highlighting a problem: Glytime’s preservative-free granola had a shelf life of just four months. This posed significant challenges throughout 2021. Marange began experimenting with natural preservatives and, in April 2022, successfully reformulated the granola to have a longer shelf life. Buyers started buying again and, shortly after, Glytime had to increase its production capacity again, leading to the addition of two more industrial ovens.

Earlier this year, the company also found an investor. This new capital is intended for a new factory equipped with high-end equipment from Europe.

Beyond granola and roasted corn, Glytime’s product line has expanded to 22 SKUs, including low-sugar cookies, oatmeal, raw honey, desiccated coconut and a variety of plant-based vegetarian products like hamburger patties, sausages and meatballs. In Zimbabwe, these products are stocked in approximately 120 stores, including Pick n Pay, Food Lover’s Market, OK Mart and Bon Marché.

One of the main obstacles faced by Glytime in Zimbabwe is inconsistent power supply. Marange notes that at one point, power issues prevented the business from operating at a third of its capacity. However, he says the energy situation has improved recently.

Another issue highlighted by Marange concerns labor. He believes that many young Zimbabweans lack a strong work ethic and that there is a notable trend of young professionals leaving the country for better opportunities abroad.

Leverage independent agents and neighboring markets for growth

Beyond physical points of sale, Glytime has expanded its distribution by partnering with independent sales agents. Marange wants to establish its own sales channels and route to market. These agents, mostly young people, actively market the company’s products to educational institutions, hospitals, businesses and at various events. Currently, these sellers number more than 100 and represent approximately 12% of the company’s total revenue.

There are two ways for these salespeople to work with Glytime:

  • Agents buy shares worth a minimum of US$50 at a discounted rate, then sell them at whatever markup they choose.
  • For those lacking initial capital, Glytime provides the stock. After resale, the agents transfer the revenue to Glytime and receive a commission ranging from 10% to 12%, depending on their sales volume.

Glytime leveraged its extra capacity to venture into neighboring countries Zambia And Botswana. Its products are now present in several supermarkets, with exports representing around 15% of the company’s turnover. Marange intends to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area to further expand the company’s regional presence.

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