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Canning turns into a fruitful business

Limpopo-born entrepreneur Eiren Drake is the founder of Tin Stuf. A canned food business with a funky name coined from the history of canned food and how it’s often referred to as “Tin stuff.” Says Drake,  “the local slang, taking its lead from the vibrant street food scene in SA’s townships.” Essentially Tin Stuf was founded to become a responsive market player and an FMCG manufacturer that is aligned with the real tastes, needs and aspirations of our market.

He adds that the idea to commercialise what was initially a home kitchen experiment by his late grandfather (Spencer Drake), came about when he noticed him attempting to can various traditional foods including chicken feet. This realisation of the lengths to which so many millions of African people are forced to go daily, commuting to and from limited points of access to affordable, good quality protein, to simply obtain a nourishing meal for their families led to a business idea.  “The ever-growing need for better access to long-life meat, and food in general, ignited an innate awareness within me and eventually lead me to an attempt at finding a solution for the food security crisis here in Africa, by bringing to market an already widely consumed and enjoyed a meal, with the added value of a 2-year shelf life.”

Tin Stuf strives to become a brand ally for shisanyamas, street food vendors and township entrepreneurs alike. “We aspire to develop a range of products for the people of Africa and to create a scalable business model that offers them a sustainable alternative meat product prepared the way that it always has been. In a world that’s still emerging from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – the demand for more affordable sources of protein has grown, with the effects of climate change and overfishing causing the availability of fish supplies to dwindle, long-lasting meat products are well positioned to assume the sustainability mantle on both supply and price.”

For Drake, hard work and perseverance are salient requisites to launching a world-first product concept to any market, especially when doing so under a new brand. “We’ve not been shy to go the extra mile or to follow the path less travelled – innovation, dogged determination and a passionate understanding of our target market have been key to our success.” Fortunately, brand development has played an enormous role in Drake’s strategic approach to winning over the trust and loyalty of his consumers.

Challenges faced on a daily

For Drake being called an entrepreneur has no meaning, he prefers not to attach a label to what he does because labels govern one’s ability to be who one ought to be and to achieve their full potential without being stigmatised. “With technology developing at an exponential rate globally, your mindset now can directly impact your profitability – no longer your interpersonal skills, charisma, or who you think you know – intellect, ingenuity and the ability to think outside the box are what sets you apart in this business landscape. It’s fast-paced and there’s absolutely no margin for error.”

As an entrepreneur gaining access to the consumer market has been very difficult for Drake. This is because the  FMCG industry is dominated by large conglomerates that collude with each other to retain complete control over this cut-throat industry, making it near impossible for new market entrants, especially entrepreneurs to enter and compete fairly. “In a severely oligopolistic industry, with barriers to entry around every corner for small business, further compounded by the enormous costs associated with the commissioning of a production operation and the overheads that go with it – entrepreneurs who wish to pursue the same journey that we have, should either be very wealthy, very stupid or have the ability to offer a product that’s never been seen before.” Despite this dire backdrop, Drake adds that in all cases, this requires significant capital investment and an unwaveringly determined team of people to execute successfully.

Drake is taking on a challenge that would scare many away, however, there is still room for entrepreneurs to compete and become formidable players within this industry.

There have been lessons learnt, one being never and never again, will he consider giving up. He says that passion and rigid self-belief when it comes to setting goals is a must. “The ability to believe in a dream and the courage to do whatever it takes to turn that dream into reality, have been some of the key factors to entrepreneurship for me so far. Also, never be too proud to take advice, mentorship is an asset that’s value exceeds your balance sheet.”

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

Tin Stuf is a new player in the FCMG space but he says “Dream big, don’t play!” He adds that entrepreneurs should be willing to spend money without fear of losing anything, to be successful they need to embrace risk and an elevated lifestyle, they need to live their dreams long before they’re remotely a reality.

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