At Khayelitsha Cookies you will find old
style baking – women prepare the dough
with rolling pins and individual biscuits
are cut using cookie cutters.
Every time you bite into the delicious
treats made by the bakers of Khayelitsha
Cookies, more sustainable jobs are
created for impoverished women
living in one of the largest township
communities in South Africa.
The company is making a name for itself
in the confectionary and hospitality
industries. Numerous big-name hotel
groups and food and beverage
companies have signed contracts
for the well-known cookies.
(Images: Khayelitsha Cookies)
• Adri Williams
+27 21 510 2300
Wilma den Hartigh
A South African biscuit company is changing the lives of unemployed women from Khayelitsha township in the Western Cape, helping them to become highly skilled bakers who are able to earn a decent living and provide for their families.
Every time you bite into the delicious treats made by the expert bakers of Khayelitsha Cookies, more sustainable jobs are created for impoverished women living in one of the largest township communities in South Africa.
Khayelitsha Cookies was destined for greater things when it started out in 2004 as a small training and development project to equip women with skills to earn an income through baking.
The project relied on sponsorships for baking ingredients such as sugar, flour and margarine, but when funding dried up the ladies couldn’t continue baking unless they sold the biscuits to buy more ingredients.
“We put our heads together and, against all odds, started a business,” says Adri Williams, GM of Khayelitsha Cookies.
Eight years later, the award-winning bakery business has earned national acclaim for its high quality products such as chocolate chunk cookies, ginger snaps, nutty fudge brownies and shortbread cookies.
Biscuits with a difference
What makes this cookie company different is its novel approach to creating employment. Unlike many other labour intensive sectors, Khayelitsha Cookies has avoided the trend towards mechanisation to increase profitability.
“What sets us apart is that we hand bake every single cookie. From baking to packaging, the only equipment we use are mixers and ovens,” says Williams.
In this biscuit factory you will find old style baking – women prepare the dough with rolling pins and individual biscuits are cut using cookie cutters. Williams says that in most of their recipes, only the sugar and butter is creamed using mixing equipment. “The rest is all whisked in by hand after the butter is creamed to perfection,” she says.
Electric ovens are used for baking, but the women are responsible for selecting the correct heat, setting the timer and making sure the cookies are taken out at the right time.
The cookies are all wrapped and packed by hand, according to each client’s specific requirements. Then before dispatching, each product is sealed manually before another person counts the correct cookies per packet or box.
“Everything is done by hand to create as many jobs as possible,” Williams says.
All the factory baking operations comply with the stringent food safety management system, hazard analysis and critical control points, known as HACCP.
The foresight and perseverance of the Khayelitsha Cookie company owners, Tim Leher and Tom Fehrsen, is setting the benchmark for other local businesses to make a meaningful difference in the lives of needy South Africans.
“We are here to really make a difference in South Africa and our vision is to employ thousands of people. In South Africa we need more companies to do business this way,” Williams says.
Running a labour intensive business without mechanising has not been easy, according to Williams – after about eight years in operation Khayelitsha Cookies has only started earning a profit this year.
“There have been times when we thought we have to close the business, but every month that we’ve persevered has turned into years,” she says. “Hand baking means that profits are lower, but the trade-off has been worth it.”
Without the opportunities provided by Khayelitsha Cookies, the 67 women who work in the biscuit factory as well as their dependents would have no prospects of a better future.
“Every person who earns a salary from us supports up to five people, and some women have to provide for as many as seven to eight people,” she says. “The knock on effect is so much bigger than what we do.”
Staff members also own a 30% share in the company through a trust fund.
Each woman who works for Khayelitsha Cookies has a success story to tell. Some have saved up enough money to finish school or even enrol for tertiary education and find better jobs.
Nosiseko Ngoma, a single mother of two children, started working as a baker at Khayelitsha Cookies and worked her way up to being promoted to a supervisor position.
“Khayelitsha Cookies has brought light into my life and to my children,” Ngoma says. “Now earning a salary I can afford to put bread on my table for supper, and pay their school fees to better their education.”
Violet Motsepe says that she is in a better position to take care of her children since she started working at the company. “I really love working at Khayelitsha Cookies, and strive to do my best every day,” Motsepe says.
“Working here has helped me so I can better myself for the future. I have done a cake decorating course on my own time, and whenever there are birthdays in the factory, I decorate the cakes with love!” she says.
All staff members are trained thoroughly in the operations of the bakery and receive training in food safety standards such as HACCP, administration and computer literacy. The company also regularly presents personal development seminars on issues such as women’s health, diet and money management.
The company is making a name for itself in the confectionery and hospitality industries. Numerous big-name hotel groups and food and beverage companies have signed contracts for the well-known cookies.
Khayelitsha Cookies provides oats and chocolate chunk biscuits for coffee and beverage company Ciro, its famous chocolate chunk biscuits are available at retail outlet Pick n Pay, Spier Wine Estate buys the cookies for its hotel, and even guests at private weddings can enjoy the delicious products.
Recently they also signed a deal with baby and toddler nutrition company Purity, to produce rusks and biscotti as part of their range of healthy snacks for toddlers from 18 months to preschool age.
The deal is the result of Tiger Brands‘ inclusion of Khayelitsha Cookies in its Enterprise Development Programme, which allows SMME’s in disadvantaged areas to grow and contribute to the overall development of the community.
Forward thinking business
Khayelitsha Cookies is pioneering a new way of doing business in South Africa, changing lives one biscuit at a time.
“Our mission is to create a company that can not only produce the best cookies in South Africa, but which also radically changed the lives of everyone involved in the company,” Williams says.