Scoops of love

Sinenhlanhla Ndlela,  founder – Yococo

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Sinenhlanhla Ndlela is the creator of Yococo, a dairy-free ice cream that has given lactose intolerant individuals and vegans a reason to rejoice.

Originally from Cape Town, Ndlela moved to Johannesburg where she became a Writer for television and a film post-production professional. However, she eventually realised that the career choice was not for her.

“I just didn’t feel fulfilled in what I was doing. It felt like I was stuck in a mundane routine, waking up day after day doing the same thing, and it didn’t feel as though I was contributing to anything meaningful. It was also a time where a lot of changes were occurring in my life and I suppose, ultimately, I was trying to find my place in the world.

“It also happened to be a time when I was exploring veganism and I realised that if I were to actually become a full-on vegan, I would not be able to enjoy traditional ice cream, and the vegan ice creams that were available at the time did not appeal to me. So, things seemed to perfectly aligned, and I got the sense that this was my purpose, and that I could possibly create something successful venturing out on my own as an Entrepreneur,” she explains.

Like all great things, Yococo started as a dream. “It started with an idea, really, and rallying everyone around me to believe in it. Then, I had to put a lot of action behind it, I am a dreamer and it can usually stay there,” says Ndlela.

“I also had to do a lot of research because I wasn’t familiar with being a businessperson and the veganism lifestyle. I also conducted extensive market research because the worst thing that can happen when creating a new brand is that only you will like it—I had to do my homework,” says Ndlela.

Despite her newfound commitment, she worried about breaking the news of her career change to her family. “I didn’t think they’d understand it because, for them, ice cream is just a treat that costs a few rand. I knew they’d doubt the sustainability of such a business,” she says. However, Ndlela’s mother turned out to be her biggest champion, paying for three months’ rent, stock and equipment.

Yococo is made from a plethora of natural, aromatic ingredients and has one unique common factor in line with the owner’s personal philosophy—all the flavours in the range are made according to the seven chakras, the centres in our bodies through which energy flows.

“For example, lavender is for the crown chakra and represents femininity, while granadilla ice cream is for the sacral chakra, associated with creativity and emotional wellbeing. I’m a big believer in homeopathic and natural remedies and these principles guide my ice cream flavours,” she explains.

Yococo has a number of interesting flavours, such as turmeric-laced golden milk, avo and mint, fragrant Earl Grey and lavender and light and lovely strawberry and rose water. Her ice creams feature fascinating flavour marriages that are amazing on their own and sure to be a fabulous finale to any meal. Yococo’s Rooibos cookies and dark chocolate and granadilla dairy-free ice creams are two of her signature ice creams.

“All my ingredients are natural and I like using both fruit and vegetables to create out-of-the-box flavour combinations. I like incorporating ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think to turn into an ice cream, like beetroot, for example,” Ndlela says.

Ice cream has a nostalgic quality and symbolises self-love to Ndlela, and she wants people to experience those things when eating her ice cream. “Dreamy, colourful and soft,” is how she describes her brand in three words.

Founded in November 2016, the brand boasts a staff that is all black and all women. Yococo still has a long way to go according to the team, but they have chosen to celebrate every small success. The ice cream brand has increased their sales by partnering with new stores in various locations and by teaming up with other black-owned businesses like Beauty on TApp and Studio Moma. Recently, she also collaborated with the urban leisurewear brand, DEAD, at the gourmet waffle house, Van De Waffle in Rosebank, creating an on-trend black vegan ice cream, activated charcoal being the main ingredient, served on a charcoal Belgian waffle.

In terms of overcoming the challenges faced, Ndlela says that the biggest one has definitely been having the self-belief that she can succeed.

“Even though I’ve grown up around businesses, I’ve never had a real interest beyond assisting here or there if friends or family required me to. When running your own business, you have to be assertive and take on the role of business owner one hundred per cent and continuously motivate yourself. You have to step up the plate and embody your idea fully.

“And even when I’m not making money, I still have to keep the goal in view because you get discouraged sometimes. Another challenge is also making sure I know exactly what it is that I’m doing and not making unnecessary mistakes, and gaining business acumen. Some days, I do think that if I had proper funding, I would be much further along in building Yococo, but I’m also grateful that things are taking time to grow and that it’s progressing in an authentic and organic way,” she explains.

Ndlela says that one mistake she learnt from was her experience of trying to open a store without a solid approach. “I thought I had to have a shop, so I rushed into renting a small space in the CBD. However, it was a disaster—it was in the wrong location for my brand. People there don’t want artisanal ice cream—they want a quick, hot meal for lunch. I opened in February last year and it was such a struggle that I closed the shop in April this year. I was only making about R25 a week and couldn’t draw a salary. I had to do freelance work to support myself,” she recalls.

Despite this hiccup, Yococo has been successful and her innovative postings through social media have gained her many fans and helped her to target the right audience. In the year since Yococo first opened its doors online, the brand has grown a cult following of both vegan and non-vegan ice cream lovers, who subscribe to both the flavours and the concepts behind them.

Of the success, she says, “It’s surreal. The reaction has been very positive and it’s very uplifting.mSometimes, I will be having a normal conversation with someone and, upon telling them what I do, they say, ‘my gosh yes, I follow you on Instagram’ or ‘I’ve had it and I love it’, and it encourages me and makes me believe I’m on the right track—because I think it’s very difficult to find what your purpose is, and having positive feedback gives one that sense of confirmation that you’ve found it and are doing the right thing,” she explains.

In terms of whether she would recommend becoming an entrepreneur to those trying to find their purpose, she says that while it is a good path if you have the passion, it might not be for everyone.

“I don’t think we are all supposed to be entrepreneurs. All our purposes are different and entrepreneurship is very difficult. It can have great rewards but it’s not the same as when you’re working in a set position. One can put in 20% or 70% of their effort when you have a job because you will still get a salary at the end of the month, whereas, on your own, you have to push hard to actually see results. But, because it is my passion and something I love to do, I’m okay with that. However, if you don’t have that in you, then becoming an entrepreneur would be a miserable experience,” Ndlela cautions.

Her future aspiration is to establish a large factory and provide employment for a whole group of people who will share her love for Yococo. “I would like to see us grow into other African countries and, eventually, grow internationally. But I am taking things slowly. At the moment, I am building capacity and creating interest in the brand.

“I’d like to have a place where people can taste my ice cream, but I don’t think I would go the shop route again. I’m taking it one step at a time, at my own pace. When I started out, I knew that the business could be successful and there is still a lot for me to achieve for it to fit into my idea of success, however, I am very grateful for the progress so far and the positive support from consumers,” she concludes.

Yococo is sold at a number of locations, including Healthy Store in Umhlanga Centre in Durban, Farm Table in Linden, Johannesburg, Wrap in Braamfontein, Jackson’s Real Food Market in Bryanston, Kwikspar in Hillcrest, KZN, and at the Sea Point Spar in Cape Town. 

For more information on further locations, visit www.yococo.co.za

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