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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Friends turn healthy eating into a sustainable business

Johannesburg – Cooking healthy meals can be challenging, especially if you work long hours and have no time to stand in front of a stove. With load shedding at its peak, the process becomes even more daunting.

This is why many people often resort to buying unhealthy takeaways just so they can have a meal to keep them going, but at what cost? Well, do not scratch your head any further; besties Ontiretse Sethuntsha and Mahali Manyeneng are here to save the day with their healthy food business, iCook.

A drive from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg and their weight loss journey inspired the pair to start their business in 2020. A week after the trip, the two studied the market and had their first meeting to bring their idea to life and come up with a unique name for their brand. They finally launched their business in December of the same year.

“Mahali and I used to share our meal plans when we embarked on our weight loss journey. We did that for the whole year until October when we reached our weight targets. It was then when we had an idea to turn the concept into a business where we sell healthy meals to people who want to eat healthy but have no time to cook healthy meals,” said Sethuntsha.

She said the business’s name was inspired by the fact that they would often say to each other, “I will cook for you,” when preparing their weight loss meals. Sethuntsha said they took the risk of launching their business with no idea how the market would receive the concept, but to their surprise, their meal packs sold like hotcakes.

“It was like people have been waiting for us to get our brand out there. Initially, we were unprepared for such a big market because we had no proper equipment and worked from our kitchens. We did not think that people would want our product just like that. We did not have a brand look. We just had brown stickers that we would put on the packs.

We knew what we wanted but did not know how to execute it then. However, in 2021, we got a bigger space in Kempton Park to ensure that we meet our client’s demands and found the perfect look for our meal packs,” she said with a chuckle.

The partners are on a mission to connect and improve the lives of individuals and bring families and society together while promoting healthy living and guiding on good nutrition. Sethuntsha and Manyeneng hope to achieve their goal by providing these three key elements, such as having personalised one-on-one guidance for overall well-being through their delicious yet healthy food options.

This includes the promotion and education about healthy living and making their products even more accessible at the convenience of those who are too busy to whip a good meal without breaking the bank.

“There is nothing like our products on the market right now. iCook sells low-carb meals. When we hit the market, people did not have such meals readily available to grab and eat whenever they wanted,” said Sethuntsha.

She said that the main challenge the pair encountered was finances that they needed to get their business off the ground.

“My business partner has a full-time job when we kick-started our business, and she had to invest more into the business,” Sethuntsha added.

The duo wants to expand and make vegan meal packs per clients’ requests. They also cater for events. Currently, the company employs two people. This excludes Sethuntsha and her partner.

“We have various clients requesting different meals based on their preferences. Some are requesting high-carb meals, and those families are requesting regular meals. We are expanding our range to meet the demands,” she said.

The brand has 10 different meals from which clients can choose: roast chicken, beef curry, meatballs, broccoli bake, beef curry, stuffed chicken, beef stew, chicken stirfry, meatloaf and quiche, with the cheapest meals starting from R85.

They also have a family convenience box worth R800.Sethuntsha said she loves all their chicken meals, but her favourite meal to make has to be their chicken curry, which goes with coconut rice.

“The dish is not too complicated to make, and the two go well together. The taste is so easy on the palate,” she said.

iCook products are available on Uber Eats for those within a 5km radius of their Kempton Park kitchen. Those in Johannesburg and Pretoria can order the products through their online store, www.icooksa.com, or call 087 152 3553.

Captions: Photo 1: iCook meals lined up after preparations at the company’s Kempton Park kitchen before delivery.

Photo 2: Business partners and co-owners of iCook Mahali Manyeneng and Ontiretse Sethuntsha at a branding photoshoot.

Photo 3: iCook staff at their Kempton Park kitchen before starting their work day.

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