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December 9, 2015

Richester’s recipe for success is simple; sugar, glucose – and an entrepreneurial drive

Mariam Cassim dances around the machines that turn sugar and glucose into sweet confections. Even the air tastes sweet as you pass a machine stretching out bubble gum that will find its way into the hollow centre of one of the lollipops that Richester Sweets manufactures.

Richester’s recipe for success is simple; sugar, glucose – and an entrepreneurial drive

“Africa … is where the biggest opportunity for growth is.” Co-founder Mariam Cassim

The newest addition to the line produced at the Centurion factory is a double-flavoured lollipop. Cassim is especially proud of her innovation. Waving one she has grabbed off the conveyor belt, she shouts over the noise of the machines: “This is a first of a kind lollipop.

“We needed to buy new machines to make this a reality; that’s where MCEP came in,” Cassim continues. “We had knocked on everyone’s doors before MCEP agreed to provide funding.”

The funding helped expand production, with most of the money going to buy new, faster automated machines. The increased production and the innovation it allows has helped the company to increase its turnover, in the process opening up new employment opportunities.

Besides innovation, Africa is another key priority for Cassim. She has been aggressively marketing her candy at trade fairs and conferences, and now proudly states that she has at least one big customer in most African markets.

“It’s not an easy market to break into. You have to solve every problem that crops up, you contact each embassy. You get three leads and end up with one customer, but it’s where the biggest opportunity for growth is.”

When Cassim and her husband decided it was time to expand their sweet range, they went straight to their biggest customers to do market research. The company’s lines are popular with street hawkers and spaza shop owners. “We went to talk to them, samples in hand, asking how much they could charge. We used that price to develop a recipe for our new lollipops.”

It is this knowledge of their customer base that has made Richester such a success in their market. The company was started by Cassim and her husband Hussein in 2007, with the help of a loan from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Small and Medium Enterprise Development Programme.

“I was always meant to go to work in the family business [Kwality Biscuits], but my dad sold it to Bokomo in 1994,” Cassim says. “My hubby and I started importing sweets from Brazil until the import tariff was raised by 15%. We decided then to manufacture our own sweets.”

Of course it’s not as easy as that. Especially if you don’t possess any sweet recipes, or the know-how to turn glucose and sugar into candy. The learning curve involved Google, along with a constant back-and-forth between sweet makers and anyone who was prepared to give them advice for free.

Today Richester employs 302 people, of whom 250 are involved in production. Her administration staff is only as large as she needs it to be. “I don’t like fat cats. I like being involved in day-to-day operations.”

Richester’s recipe for success is simple; sugar, glucose – and an entrepreneurial drive.

With each sweet needing to be wrapped, it is the outer covering that has led to Cassim’s newest venture, a factory that manufactures the wrappers for her line of sweet treats.

Her former supplier was constantly missing deadlines and jeopardising her production and delivery schedules. Her “baby”, as she refers to the factory, now supplies all the wrappers she needs, with excess capacity that she sells on. “It’s simple, really. I refuse to accept being dependent on someone else.”

Cassim is not done. She built a sweet empire without having space on retail shelves, and owns the fleet of trucks that delivers directly to her customers. But she’s already identified a new opportunity.

“It costs me R30 000 per cylinder to print my wrappers. With 10 lines with multiple flavours, that becomes expensive really quickly. I want to own my own press. I can’t believe that everyone doesn’t want to have their own.”