Baking from the heart
Nestled in the Ceres valley in South Africa’s Western Cape province, a budding business is providing preservative-free baked treats to various major retail partners, as well as selling through online platforms.
With an ambitious plan for further expansion, additional employees coming on board and a new brand launching in June, Mamamac’s Bakery is looking to achieve sustainable growth while maintaining its core focus of providing employment and support to local families in the community.
How did this all start?
Lourensia Mackenzie has always loved cooking and baking. Growing up in a large family of six children, it was tradition and practice to always have sit-down lunch and dinner with real hearty, homemade food. This is where the love for both homemade goodies and the focus on family was born and entrenched.
“Food has always interested me, and I started doing catering when my children were born. I enjoyed presenting recipes that were not ‘the usual’ and seeing people’s reaction to something unexpectedly delicious,” she says. While living on a farm in the Koue Bokkeveld region in South Africa, she also started baking rusks and selling these to local outlets for some extra income for the family. A well-known delicatessen stocked the rusks and it became a top seller. Over time the demand for Mackenzie’s rusks and other products also grew, until she realised that she would have to expand the business and establish her own brand.
Thus, Mamamac’s came into being in 1995. At first the business was operating from the Mackenzie home before the bakery was finally opened in 2008 at its current location in the small town of Prince Alfred’s Hamlet. Nowadays, Mamamac’s can sometimes work its way through a tonne of flour in a week during peak times.
Lourensia’s daughter, Anneke, recently moved closer to help run the family business alongside her mother. She points out that while her mother may not have formal training, she is a “foodie” through and through. “She has a palette and flair like few. Food in our home is always an occasion – a time for feasting, family and friends.”
It is this sense of “family, occasion and feasting” that the duo hope will translate into the products Mamamac’s offers.
Surely it couldn’t have been that easy? They must have faced challenges?
Because the business grew slowly and organically, funding wasn’t necessarily a key obstacle at the start of the journey. However, the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) world brings various challenges that make life difficult for smaller business to get a foot in the door.
“Distribution, distribution, distribution. It is really tough for a little startup to get into the retail space,” says Lourensia. “The environment is not entrepreneur-friendly and especially if you don’t understand the FMCG world and its language, it can be very daunting.”
An important lesson for prospective entrepreneurs, according to Lourensia, is to figure out how to manage cash flow as soon as possible in your new business. “As most entrepreneurs will tell you, managing cash flow is of the utmost importance and it takes time to get the balance right. I have families depending on me and when times were tough at the start of this journey, this kept me awake at night.”
One of the memories she has of tough lessons learnt, is of a major customer relationship that came to an end because there were no formal contracts in place – only a ‘handshake’ agreement. “I think it is important to keep things professional at all times – have the right contracts in place and don’t have all your eggs in one basket.”
Noted. Anything we can learn from their success?
Non-negotiables are having quality products at the right price point, in attention-grabbing packaging, that present well at the point of sale.
Mamamac’s also never wants to lose its heart – the focus on family and community that was ultimately the reason for its birth in the first place.
“You have to take genuine interest in the lives and wellbeing of your staff,” says Lourensia. “I have staff that have been with me for 10, 14 and 18 years respectively. We respect each other and they know that they can trust me, and I will help where I can. I also have no qualms about jumping in when needed; I have spent many a day carrying boxes and rolling balls of biscuit dough.”
Both Mackenzies firmly believe that their growth plan for the future must incorporate this element of care and community involvement.
Anneke says she believes that the things you regret most in life are the risks that you didn’t take. “And my mom’s life motto echoes that of Estee Lauder’s: ‘I didn’t get here by wishing for it or hoping for it, but by working for it’.”