#LearningCurve | Cereal brand began in PE kitchen

Lize Fouche, whose Nutristart product is now sold nationally, says passion and staying focused are crucial to success

She started her national cereal range from her kitchen at home – but if Lize Fouche and her team have their way, Nutristart will grow from its proudly Port Elizabethan roots to be one of the biggest cereal brands in the country.
Can you give some background on yourself and how and when the business was started?
My partner Stephan Gericke and I were both born and raised in Port Elizabeth, but moved to Cape Town for work. Stephan specialises in building architectural homes, while I started my career working for the Woolworths head office in Cape Town after studying at the Institute of Culinary Arts.
In 2012, Silvio Scribante asked Stephan to come and build his house in Port Elizabeth, and we returned to PE, two daughters richer. This was also the year the idea behind Nutristart was born.
What is your core service?
We produce a range of oats-based breakfast cereals for the entire family.
Where was the idea born?
The original muesli recipe was developed in 2006 for our Port Elizabeth family-owned guesthouse Manor 38. I also produced a speciality roast for Babylonstoren in 2012 while living in Cape Town.
The next year, back in Port Elizabeth, I had to do something to bring in extra income. That’s when my attention returned to muesli. With almost no money, I couldn’t buy large quantities of ingredients, so I used the kitchen oven, lived very sparingly and started small by selling muesli to guests, friends and family.
If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?
Find a product that you are passionate about. When I speak about oats I get goosebumps. Your product can be as humble as a bowl of breakfast or as lavish as hand-crafted jewellery but whatever it is, find it or be open so it may find you.
You need to establish a demand. I started my early days of business going to festivals, and approaching every hotel group and possible outlet.
You need to refine your offering. Use the feedback you gather from the market to refine your offering and be prepared to continually refine what you offer to the market.
As the demand grows, be certain your capacity can increase. I think this is where many entrepreneurs like myself start feeling overwhelmed. Passion alone won’t sustain you for the entire journey. You have to embrace growth and be certain that you don’t take things too personally. It’s not about you, it’s about the business.
Be target-driven and have a mantra that you keep repeating to yourself.
Stay focused – I can write an entire article about the importance of focus in business. This quote by Alexander Graham Bell sums it up: “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”
Invest in people– the business constantly interacts with people. Create a company culture that reflects the values you envision for the business.
What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before even getting off the ground?
When the product offering was chunky muesli, the challenge was to increase the capacity and reproduce the unique product. We then reworked the offering to develop a product that could be commercialised in FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods).
Suddenly we were no longer a festival and small-store business. Nutristart became a national operation. It was the first time I entered this field of business. I had experience in establishing a guesthouse and doing some property renovations and rezoning, but never being an entrepreneur at this scale. I lacked the experience of FMCG trade.
What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations?
For me personally, it is balancing being a mom and partner to Stephan with the passion and drive of the business. I enjoy what I do so much that I can get lost in operations, planning and logistics and forget to prepare supper. The industry is driven by very big brands that have been in the market for many decades. In a start-up business, if you want to have it done, you have to become very resourceful.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you about success?
PE-based life coach Miles Harrop once did an exercise with me where he made me stand on the one end of a rug and look back at my life.
In the exercise I was 100 years old and I had the opportunity to reflect on my life. I often stand on the invisible rug in my office and project my thoughts three years forward and establish what I see.
What did we achieve, and most importantly, what action do I need to take to accomplish the progress I envision.
It helps looking back from the place you want to be to determine the route you need to take to success.How do you define success in your business?
Success to me is getting your staff, your shareholders and your customers so excited about your growth that they become your roaring fans. Success is growth. Without growth, there is no success. Growth is continuous learning.
What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?
Be brave and take charge. Mentor your team in a practical, positive way. Always be fair and respectful. Upskill yourself and your team – invest in the people working with you.
How many people do you employ?
Sixteen people, plus we contract manufacture a number of items that also contributes to more than 85 employees.
What has been a proud moment for you as an entrepreneur in the last year?
Nutristart approached Popup NMB at the beginning of 2018 and gave the Popup learners the opportunity to take part in a three-week process where they help with the manufacturing and packaging of Nutristart products.
Popup NMB is a life skills and adult education programme which empowers learners to gain a skill or experience in the workplace. Popup’s vision is to empower and to uplift the underprivileged.
It means so much to be able to help them in this cause.
What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?
I am very pro-PE. Living here offers a magnificent lifestyle. The biggest challenge is the constant travelling for meetings. Most of my meetings are in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

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