Ginger beer-making entrepreneurs share some marketing secrets

Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi, founders of YaMama Gemmer, plan to distribute their traditional ginger beer internationally. They created the ginger beer of YaMama Gemmer from a family recipe.

yamama gemmer founders
Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi, founders of YaMama Gemmer, want to distribute their traditional ginger beer internationally. “Our product must be something that is on tourists’ list to get whenever they come to South Africa.” (Image: Melissa Javan)

Melissa Javan
Social media was the number one marketing tool to get a traditional South African product into the hands of more customers, said the founders of YaMama Gemmer. Rosemary Padi and her sister, Mosibudi Makgato, created the ginger beer of YaMama Gemmer from a family recipe.

The two recently took part in the Japan Summit in Johannesburg, where they got a chance to give the ambassador of Japan and other delegates a taste of their signature product.

Digital transformation is needed

The National Small Business Chamber survey found that 43% of small business owners struggled with the sales and marketing of their businesses.

The chamber’s Mike Anderson said that more than more than 10,000 small business owners took part in the survey, which was released last year. He urged entrepreneurs to become rainmakers. “Give your business a digital transformation. Be brutal on money.”

Makgato and Padi are not afraid to take their marketing to social media. Makgato said people tagged them in images on Instagram whenever they were drinking YaMama Gemmer. “Someone tagged us in an image showing they’re having the drink with cereal,” she said. “Instagram is a beautiful platform for us.”

Neighbourhood markets were also a good way to get more sales. “We also exhibit at a lot of expos. We work closely with Proudly South African and that’s how we find out about the expos.”

The beginning

It all started with their mother, Mmapula Makgato, who was always asked to make ginger beer for functions. “When there’s a function, everyone asks certain people to do certain things.

“We know who does it best so we stick to a certain person making that thing at a family gathering. I won’t ask my sister to make salad, because I know it’s not her strongpoint,” said Padi.

The skill of making products such as ginger beer was dying. Many of the older women who used to make it, no longer have the physical strength needed to produce it, explained Padi. This opened a market for them to produce and sell their family recipe.

Their research

Both Padi and Makgato were working full time in the corporate world when they started YaMama Gemmer. They started with research first.

According to Makgato, there were a lot of products on the market that were close to ginger beer. There was also several synthetic products that claimed to be ginger beer. “A lot of people had bad experiences with these products.”

For example, people complained of getting heartburn.

“We then had to educate people about our product. We told them that it was a natural product,” she said. “Since we started we have never had bad experiences. Clients who complained about the bad experiences with other products, came back to us with positive feedback.”

Makgato said that they also talk to people about health concerns, especially diabetes. “We talk about the amount of sugar that is in our ginger beer versus in other drinks. Other drinks have more sugar in them, which may be harmful. Our drink does not have preservatives in it.”

They did not only learn about market research; they also learned about the different sugars that went into the drink as well as food safety and complying to certain standards, said Makgato.

They were continuously learning new things. “Things change – so we have to keep up with the local as well as international trends.” Last year, for example, they rebranded YaMama Gemmer so its label would be suitable for an international market.

Taking the leap

yamama gemmer ginger bottles
YaMama is sold as a concentrated drink and as ready-made bottles. (Image: Melissa Javan)

In August 2014, Padi quit her corporate job in the information technology industry and went to work on YaMama full-time with an assistant.

YaMama’s shop opened last year in Randburg, Johannesburg and the factory has been running since November 2015 at the Riversands Incubation Hub in Midrand. YaMama Gemmer now employs five people.

YaMama Gemmer is distributed to Soweto, Vosloorus and Lesotho, among others, and the sisters are planning to expand the business outside the country.

Watch Rosemary Padi and Mosibudi Makgato talk about how people responded to their leaving their corporate jobs to start their own ginger beer-making business:

Working together

The sisters said that it was great to work together. “We are best friends,” said Padi, referring to her father’s belief that family relationships laid a foundation. “He said that we must make friends at home first.

“We know each other’s strengths and we capitalise on these. So each of us can deal with pressures and situations differently.”

Makgato added: “It helps us to go about business because we know each other’s strengths. For instance, if it’s a situation where someone has to be firm, I’ll come in. When it’s a merry situation, (my sister) comes in.”

Padi agreed. “I’m the people pleaser. I’m much more patient than Makgato is.”

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