Leaving their jobs at one of the largest fruit businesses in the southern hemisphere to become entrepreneurs, was the sweetest thing this young and dynamic couple could have done…

When it comes to small business, it is always refreshing to discover new black start-ups that venture into unknown territory – into spaces that have been traditionally, and historically not predominantly occupied by people of colour. It is not just exciting, but it also beautifully shows off the courage and determination of our young black entrepreneurs, despite the often extreme challenges that one would associate with venturing into the unknown.

One such a fine example we recently stumbled upon was the success story of Christynn and Nigel Jacobs, a young Ceres couple, who, in 2018 found the courage to quit their day jobs to follow their dream to own their own business.

Today Jacobs Jam Co, a start-up food processing and manufacturing business, produces choice grade jam (all 100% colourant, additive and preservative free) at its brand new factory, despite many obstacles getting the business off the ground and running.

The dynamic Christynn Jacobs (originally from the small fishing community Hawston near Hermanus), who owns 51% of the company, is a qualified food technologist with more than 10  years of work experience in her industry. She is the heart and soul of the business, having created the special and unique recipes from scratch in her kitchen at home, while upscaling to a commercial factory. Husband, Nigel (originally from Mitchell’s Plain on the Cape Flats), the Managing Director, owns 49% of the business, and brings to the party his business management expertise and skills.

The biggest contribution that we as business owners can make towards transformation, is to educate and upskill our teams

The couple makes it clear that the idea to start their business was not just motivated by their professional dreams – it was also about creating legacies.

“Both Nigel and I have had our fair share of the corporate world and we realised that when you retire from a corporate job, no matter how high you climbed the ladder, you cannot pass down your position to your children – and they must start all over again. We believe our ceiling must be our children’s foundation.  

“But leaving a legacy is not just about us – it is about everything and everyone the business touches. This includes staff, our clients and the disadvantaged communities surrounding us. The biggest contribution that we as business owners can make towards transformation, is to educate and upskill our teams. In our industry it is very common that an employee starts out as a cleaner and 40 years later he retires – still a cleaner. We believe in upskilling and promoting from within. Talent is over-seen in the agriculture and agro-processing industry and we want to empower people of colour. It is time we close the race and gender gaps,” she told BBQ magazine in an exclusive interview.

Jacobs Jam Company employs 75% youth and 50% female workers to increase the totals to an even higher youth and female employment contribution.

Being passionate about what they do and their industry – and about being black small business owners, the couple say the next South-African mega food group must still be born and they are adamant it will be black – and that they are determined to position their start-up in the front of the race.

“Our ambition is to launch various different products with fruit as the common ingredient. We have plans to launch more jam flavours including fig, watermelon and we want to introduce a diabetic range of jams as well as top secret new flavours. We are also planning to launch new products like fruit juices, baby food, fruit snacks, sauces and chutneys making up a complete basket of products for consumers to enjoy.”

Christynn says one of the highlights of their company’s success was the fact that Jacobs Jam was the first in South Africa to commercially produce pomegranate jam.

But the biggest highlight, she says, was the recent factory visit by the Deputy Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Nomalungelo Gina, during her week-long visit to the Western Cape businesses, as part of the Siyahlola Programme. The programme is aimed as monitoring the performance of government supported businesses, but also specifically to assess how they have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are very humbled by her visit and very grateful for the support that we have received from Government’s Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) and additional business support services from the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) in general over the past few years.

The next South-African mega food group must still be born and the Jacobs’ are adamant it will be black – and they are determined to position their start-up in the front of the race

Sharing the difficulties they have had to face to set up their business with Gina, the Jacobs’ said top among them were that when you are a start-up company, funders insist on a track record and for instance letters of intent from potential clients. And the fact that the big retailers in South Africa have not opened doors wide enough to give markets to small black start-ups.

In response, Gina said Government has put a lot of systems in place which include policies, funding schemes and various other forms of support programmes in place, but opportunities to interact with the small businesses operators and hearing of their challenges on the ground reveals the complexities of the work that still lies ahead to ensure that the economy is truly inclusive. 

“This tells us that there is a great need to always revisit our work to assess whether they enable us the tools to ensure we promote black excellence among entrepreneurs. We need to ensure that our systems encourage young entrepreneurs to enter the business space so that they help us to grow the economy of our country,” she said. 

­­­Sweetness aside, in business there are always challenges and Christynn says although their products are already on the shelves in many stores including Spar supermarkets in the Western Cape (Winelands,  Oudtshoorn, Callitzdorp, Ladismith and Ceres) and at specialist deli’s and farm stalls in the province, they are battling to get listed by the big supermarket chains – a move that is necessary if the company is to go national

She says the competition is tough but they believe that Jacobs Jam has the edge, as it is for our people, by our people. Furthermore, she proudly says: “Our packaging is convenient, modern and simplistic. We saw this as a great opportunity to be different and disruptive, because jam has always been in the same old fashioned tins and glass jars. Our tubs are 100% reusable and recyclable and can be used as your day to day ‘Tupperware bakkies’ alternative. When family visits, pack the barakat in the tubs because we know family don’t return the bakkies!” she joked, adding that their ultimate goal is to have their products in supermarkets nationwide

Another plus for doing business with the company, Christynn says, is the fact that they source their fruits exclusively from local crops within a 100 kilometre radius from the factory.  “Our apricots and peaches are grown mainly in Montagu, strawberries in Stellenbosch, pomegranates in Wellington, and apples and pears right here in the Witzenberg area around Ceres and Wolseley,” she concludes.

Levy Graham