The throning of the Spinach King

Meet Cape Town’s health activist and businessman, Lufefe Nomjana, better known as The Spinach King. This 27 year-old man saw the need to incorporate spinach into the daily lives of Khayelitsha township residents, arguing that they do not have time to prepare meals at home and end up eating fast food, thus introducing Low GI Spinach bread. BRICS Journal had a chat with Nomjana about this innovative project.

BJ: Tell us the story behind Spinach King, where did it all start?
Lufefe Nomjana: The Spinach King started in 2011 as I was doing voluntary work at a community garden. That is where I saw a dire need for young entrepreneurs and sales intervention, as the garden was 70 % social and 30 % commercial before I volunteered.

I managed to transform the community garden from 70 % social to 60 % commercial in a space of three months using a door-to-door selling strategy. This strategy is one I applied in my first fashion retail business, where I bought from manufacturers and sold door-to-door.

After four months I fell in love with spinach because of its harvest turnaround period, as compared to other vegetables I planted in the garden (kale, broccoli, cabbage etc). I then decided to do more research and discovered that according to United States Department of Agriculture, one spinach leaf contains almost 13 phytochemicals such as syrengeric acids, kaempherols that boosts the metabolism system and prevents cardiovascular and other chronic illnesses.

That’s when I became passionate about changing the issue of health in Khayelitsha and the rest of the world. I sought to address this challenge by encouraging healthy eating, a healthy lifestyle and environmental health. I had a desire to start incorporating spinach in daily consumed products for the majority of people who hardly have enough time to eat and prepare their vegetables and end up eating fatty fast foods that shortens their lifespans.

BJ: Tell us about this special spinach project:
LN: After all the research and voluntary experience, I decided to incorporate spinach in bread – making the product and concept a truly unique one in South Africa. I looked at highly-consumed staple products such as muffins, burgers, rusks etc and infused spinach. After the conceptual phase – which lasted about 5-6 months – I googled: How To Bake The Best Bread in the World and a website called Breaducation popped up! This site taught me how to bake the best ordinary bread and I then experimented, taking out unhealthy ingredients i.e high sodium and high sugars. My first four LOW GI spinach loaves were made from a neighbour’s oven.

I started out with a capital of R40,00 ($2.50), four spinach bunches from the garden I used to volunteer at, and used my intellectual capital. I then baked from my neighbour overnight and sold door-to-door during the day until I exhausted my capacity (24 loaves a day).

BJ: How did you solve the issue of capacity?
LN: I approached the Spar franchise in Khayelitsha for spare oven capacity and also to sell from their stores while delivering door-to-door per by bicycle.

BJ: How many products are under the Spinach King brand?
LN: At the Spinach King Bakery Restaurant, we have the Low GI spinach bread (R 13.00 a loaf), the gluten-free spinach bread (R 20.00), spinach green burgers (R 20.00) and spinach green smoothies (R 15.00).

BJ: How would you measure the business’ growth since 2011?
LN: Spinach King is the solution that combats the socio-economic and health issues through healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, healthy environmental education and alternatives especially in limited-resourced environments such as the townships and rural areas. We are currently serving about 80 to 100 on Business-to-Business (supplying) and Business-to-Consumer walk-ins in our two Cape Town branches daily. The annual turnover is R 2.4 million.

BJ: What kind of feedback have you received from consumers?
LN: The customers have been very happy with our service, quality and growth levels and continue to support us.

BJ: What are your futures plans for the Spinach King brand?
LN: Spinach King’s ultimate plan is replication and expansion innovatively through impacting others – something we currently address through franchise sales. In 2016, the Spinach King sold the manufacturing rights and licence to the McFaden Bread company in Washington D.C. for a good value of money and 10% royalty agreement which commences in June 2017. We are also currently engaging with an entrepreneur in the Netherlands who will be signing a franchise contract to extend the business to those parts of the world. In Pietermaritzburg, we have sold a social franchise to an NPO as well.

Spinach King is based in Khayelitsha township (Cape Town) with two branches in Spine Road (next to Lookout Hill Tourist attraction Centre) and the second branch in the Khayelitsha Community Trust Mall.

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