Mabel AkinlabiBy Mabel Akinlabi|June 15, 2022|8 Minutes|In Risk and Glory, Risk & Glory League

Risk and Glory

Aint nobody got time to be broke, baby!

Our story begins in May 2019.  Nthati, my eleven-year-old daughters birthday was around the corner.  She wanted to celebrate in the same way other kids of her age did, by inviting 12 friends for a night out to watch a movie, Laser Tag games, dinner, followed by  ice cream.  Easy to arrange, but expensive!

“Not me”, I said “Ain’t nobody got time to be broke, baby”

Little did I know planning something different for my little girl’s birthday celebration would change the course of our lives and empower an entire community.

This is how Browns Foods and its famous corndogs started. After convincing Nthati that a sleepover with friends, at our home, would be more fun, I stepped up to the challenge.

On April 23, 2019, I pulled out all the fun food stops for a day filled with games, pizzas, ice cream, and pretty much everything a kid wants.

Exhausted, I wanted to treat myself to something “nice”, like a corndog.  I tried to order corndogs from various food delivery apps, with no success.

Frustrated, I turned to Google for a basic corndog recipe.  I fried up my first corndogs and invited the party girls to try.   Before I could shout “leave some for me” they were devoured.  As they ate in delight, one of them asked the question that would set me on a glorious path. “Aunty Mabel, where did you buy these?”

“I didn’t buy them, I made them,” says I.

I then asked, “if I make more of these, would you ask your mommy to buy them?” The answer was an emphatic “Yes!”

Over the next few days, my conversation with those girls kept playing in my head. There we both were, my husband and I: broadcasters; unsure of what our future had in store. I told him about my idea of introducing corndogs to the South African market.

Wale, my husband, and now Browns Foods COO, encouraged me to take steps to turn my idea into reality.  I contacted Shoprite Checkers and persevered until I was granted a meeting with a buyer. We got the go-ahead just a few hours after that meeting.  Little did we know that was the easy part.

Over the next one-and-a-half years, the real work happened.  We did an enormous amount of research about corndog manufacturing and the global market. An extensive business plan with financial projections etc., and finding a good factory location, followed.  The next big hurdle was to find equipment suppliers, which took several more months. We had to learn about process flows and how to obtain a Certificate of acceptability, Food Safety, and Halal certificates.  Key to our corndogs is our own signature batter recipe and distinctive sausages.  We sourced suppliers who could make large quantities of both for us.  We then started planning how we would purchase equipment.  With the guidance of our retail buyer, we set up a good distribution network, sourced merchandising, and started promoting our product.

Did I mention that we started our company during the height of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when many businesses faced closure and staff retrenchments?  This however did not deter us.  We moved forward and opened a business, giving much-needed employment and hope to a community that would soon become the home of Browns Foods, Kya Sand, west of Johannesburg.

Browns Foods is South Africa’s first corndog factory. We had no one to reference and learn from and suppliers in the USA were reluctant to share information.   The startup was a costly process and we grappled with the question of how to start the business within the constraints of the income we had.  The answer was simple, you just do what you must. This meant calculating how long we could put off paying for our home, and school fees, and just what sacrifices had to be made.  In November 2020 the corndog couple made their first corndogs, and we were on shelves and hot food sections with three major retailers by January 2021.

Strategic instore and online promotions, backed up by radio, television, and magazine interviews helped the people of Mzansi realize that they wanted a crunchy on the outside, soft, savoury, and creamy on the inside, corndog.  From the initial production of 200 corndogs a month, made in our home kitchen, our factory now produces 275 000 units a month.

As Browns Foods grew, our entry-level manual equipment no longer met demands.  We approached a government funding institution to assist with purchasing automated equipment. With the addition of Monica, a 16-ton refrigerated truck, Michael, a 40 ft reefer, and Pearl, a new 250 L mixer among others, we increased capacity.

Just as we emerged from the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian war on Ukraine presented new hurdles in the form of ingredient shortages and rising prices.  Even though 20L of oil, a vital component of our production process, went from R450 in December 2020 to R1008 in May 2022, we persevered.  Daily oil filtering and adding natural products to the oil to extend its shelf life proved to be effective cost-saving measures.

I am proud that we never had to retrench staff. Instead, our team has grown to 50 employees. Browns Foods is expanding its retail footprint into major restaurant franchises and filling stations.  Exporting to the UAE is the next goal.

Browns Foods is built on the principles of family and unity.  Our values speak true to who we are, and how we treat our staff, suppliers, and customers. Gratitude, love, passion, community spirit, and commitment to excellence are our driving forces.  Browns Foods weathered major storms and will evolve and adapt to future challenges.  We are so excited to share the joy of our corndogs with our customers and cannot wait to see how our business grows.

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