Lufefe Nomjana, or The Spinach King as he is otherwise known, tells the inspiring story of his journey of just a few years, from gardening to commercial success. Nomjana needed work but felt there was something telling him that he had to give in order to receive. With nothing to give, he was perplexed. However, there was a community garden nearby, worked by a group of elderly women, so he offered his assistance to them. Nomjana gave of his labour in the garden as well as selling their produce door to door in Khayalitsha. In doing so, he noticed that health problems were rife within the community. The problem was unhealthy eating, occasioned by poverty, in addition to an unhealthy lifestyle exacerbated by pollution.
While working in the garden Nomjana noticed that one crop grew faster than the others, rewarding the gardeners with produce within about four weeks. He had also discovered Google which gave him access to internet information which he eagerly sourced. Nomjana was looking for a food which could address the health and nutritional problems he saw around him. He was looking for a miracle food. The eating habits of the populace were in dire need of change; it seemed spinach was the answer.
With R40 in his pocket and an idea in his head, he approached a neighbour for the loan of her oven, collected 4 bunches of spinach from the old ladies and set to work. He baked four loaves of spinach bread which he sold within the community. Four became eight, then sixteen, then twenty four, until demand had outstripped supply. He approached the local Spar supermarket, asking to use the spare capacity in their ovens. The demand grew until he was baking 120 loaves a day. In order to deliver the bread he needed to purchase five bicycles and employ five people, but this required funds. It was then he realised that banks do not loan money without collateral. Once again Google came to the rescue with crowd funding, a concept through which he raised the required sum. From that small beginning the business grew exponentially, with spinach bread being delivered within Khayalitsha as well as office parks nearby.
The dream of opening his own bakery grew, but although he had saved R50 000 capital, he needed more. A competition run by SAB Innovations came to his attention, again via Google. He entered and won first prize, R100 000. Express Bakery, the first eco-friendly bakery in the township, was built shortly afterwards. Soon he was supplying three chains of supermarkets in the Western Cape besides local over-the-counter trade. An American firm bought Nomjana’s recipe and manufacturing licence which provided the funds to build a second bakery, this time a factory-cum-shop to cope with the burgeoning market.
Nomjana was still active on the internet, in contact with about 900 000 people, talking about his amazing innovations with spinach. In 2014 he was one of the first South African social entrepreneurs to appear on the Forbes under-30 list. “Not,” he adds, “because I am a rich man, but as an entrepreneur and innovator in Africa.” There are currently several franchise shops within Khayalitsha, but also as far afield as the USA and Holland, while he hopes soon to expand into Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. His health food café and bakery has a unique concept, incorporating spinach into every-day products, such as rusks, bread and now, gluten-free bread. He has grown all of this from R40, four bunches of spinach and being obedient to the small voice telling him to give in order to receive.
Lufefe Nomjana's talk was first delivered at the Nation Builder In Good Company Conference on 15 August in Pretoria.