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The designer who makes fruit juice



MASERU-THE old adage that when the going gets tough, the tough keep going summarises Bokang Matlosa’s business journey. Coming back home after completing an Honours Degree in Interior Design at the University of Johannesburg, Matlosa knew that her chances of getting a job in the formal sector were severely limited. Moreover, she wasn’t sure a business in interior designing would attract enough customers in a country like Lesotho where the majority struggle just to put food on the table and view her services as a luxury. The outbreak of Covid-19 made chances of such a luxury business succeeding bleak. “I then decided to produce drinks to try and earn a living,” she said. At that time, she did not know that the move would prove life-sustaining. Her fruit syrup soon became a hit and she has not looked back. “I thought of producing and selling ginger beer but later decided against it due to the number of people who were already producing and selling it,” Matlosa said. What then followed was a lot of trial and error trying to produce drinks with fresh fruits, eventually giving birth to her company Fruit Xtract. “ I played around with different fruits and in the end I managed to produce a strawberry flavoured drink,” she said. “Matlosa then approached Cafe What to supply them with the strawberry drink to use in their cocktails. She was not disappointed by the outcome. “When i approached them they indicated that they did not offer any strawberry flavoured drinks but they took a chance with me” Matlosa said. Although she had managed to secure a market for her drink, Matlosa soon learned that though her drink needed to be improved for a lasting flavour. “I wanted them to introduce strawberry flavoured cocktails but because of its consistency it failed to give consumers that lasting effect,” Matlosa said. She went back to the drawing board and while experimenting in her kitchen she ended up producing fruit syrup that she thought would be a hit with clients. However, Covid-19 hit and the market she had earlier secured was no longer available. The country went into lockdown and restaurants, hotels and bars, which were her primary target market, closed their doors. Before the lockdown it was already a challenge for Matlosa to source strawberries as they sold out quickly in stores. During the lockdown it was almost impossible to get the strawberries. This forced Matlosa to think deeply about the sustainability of her business and as a result she resorted to producing strawberries on her own. “With the support of my parents I started farming strawberries. They provided funding to buy greenhouses to enable climate change resistant farming,” Matlosa said. A challenge emerged in the form of access to seedlings. “Not a lot of people had strawberry seedlings, the few who had them had small quantities and the varieties would also differ,” she said. Regardless of these challenges, Matlosa managed to start strawberry farming. “The plan is to have a big orchard producing various fruits to feed the manufacturing side.” When the lockdown eased during festive holidays, Matlosa managed to get her product sold at the Station off-sales. “Looking at the sales of the product during the festive season at the off sales, I think most people were curious enough to try the product.” She said that feedback from those who have tried the product has been good. “Initially people thought it was only to be taken with alcohol but that is not the case and I have had to educate customers about it.” She said she also “realised that the product is a luxury product appealing mostly to people with a certain lifestyle”. “However, it does not have to be because it can be taken with anything. Fruit syrup can be taken with cocktails, yoghurts, smoothies, desserts, pancakes. ” “The nice thing is that it can be taken by both adults and children.” Although it has been less than a year in business, Matlosa is proud of the progress she has made. “It has not been easy to get here, starting a business under normal circumstances is hard but starting during a pandemic is harder,” she said. She said the issue of licensing has also proved to be a serious challenge hampering the growth of her business. “I have approached big retail supermarkets in the country with the hope of getting the product on their shelves. Even though they loved the product the problem is they cannot put it on their shelves without a food and safety certificate.” To get that certificate, she needs to operate from a commercial building and not out of her kitchen. Another challenge was raising the necessary funds to rent out a commercial site. “Getting money to finance a start-up is not easy, I was lucky to have supportive parents but pushing for too many things at the same time would be problematic,” she said. Thus far Matlosa has been working alone but plans to get a partner soon as the business is growing and needs several hands on deck. Lemohang Rakotsoane

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