CityPress - - Business - NEESA MOODLEY busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Born and brought up in the tiny town of Pniel in the Western Cape, Denise Stubbs never imag­ined that she would one day be run­ning a highly suc­cess­ful, black-owned wine and hos­pi­tal­ity brand. Thokozani Wines, Con­fer­ences and Guest­house are af­fil­i­ated to the Diemers­fontein wine es­tate, which is renowned for its cof­fee-choco­late Pino­tage. Thokozani means “cel­e­bra­tion”. “I grew up run­ning among the vines and my par­ents were both labour­ers on the farms. As a lit­tle girl, I al­ways saw the wine sec­tor as the Hol­ly­wood of the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try. Although the wine sec­tor fas­ci­nated me from a young age, my pas­sion was ini­tially in fash­ion de­sign,” she says.

How­ever, af­ter com­plet­ing her de­gree and go­ing on to study project man­age­ment, Denise’s path took a turn when she met David Son­nen­berg, the owner of Diemers­fontein.

“He wanted to do some­thing to con­trib­ute to­wards trans­for­ma­tion in the in­dus­try and to­gether we started re­search­ing the project, look­ing at other wine farms’ broad­based black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment (BBBEE) mod­els.”

David was keen to leave a sus­tain­able le­gacy, while mak­ing a dis­cernible dif­fer­ence in the lives of his em­ploy­ees. That was in 2005. In 2007, Diemers­fontein launched its em­pow­er­ment com­pany, Thokozani, with 35 staff share­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the white man­agers, to avoid ar­ti­fi­cially split­ting the work­force. “You don’t throw away the hand that feeds the child,” Denise ex­plains. Each worker with at least one year’s ser­vice and a will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate, was given R10 000 to R20 000 worth of shares in Thokozani, de­pend­ing on their se­nior­ity. This was con­di­tional on their stay­ing and work­ing on the farm for five years. In ad­di­tion, they con­trib­ute 2% of their salaries each month to buy­ing more shares in Thokozani. To­day, Denise is the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Thokozani, which has 65 staff mem­bers with an 80% share­hold­ing. A lit­tle more than 10 years later, she has taken Thokozani to lev­els of both in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal suc­cess, with an exclusive re­tail deal with Wool­worths. The brand, which is sold in Wool­worths’ wine sec­tion as Ova­tion wines, has been well re­ceived by cus­tomers. Re­becca Con­sta­ble, se­nior wine buyer at Wool­worths Food, says the re­tailer saw an op­por­tu­nity to add a BBBEE wine sup­plier to its port­fo­lio and ini­ti­ated a re­search project to eval­u­ate var­i­ous sup­pli­ers. “The re­search project was es­sen­tially a bench­mark­ing ex­er­cise that fo­cused on wine qual­ity and value for money, as well as busi­ness val­ues and sus­tain­abil­ity fac­tors.

“Thokozani proved to be a great sup­plier fit for us in that they didn’t just pro­duce qual­ity, af­ford­able wines, but also were pre­pared to learn from the mar­ket re­search and grow with the brand,” she ex­plains.

Con­sta­ble says that with South Africa be­ing a strong wine­pro­duc­ing coun­try and Wool­worths’ drive to sup­port lo­cal pro­duc­ers, over 90% of Wool­worths’ wines are pro­duced in South Africa and wine sales con­trib­ute 2% to the over­all Wool­worths Foods busi­ness. The first Ova­tion wines (Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, Mer­lot and Pino­tage va­ri­etals) were launched na­tion­ally in Wool­worths Food stores in Oc­to­ber 2015.

Re­gard­ing the name change, Denise ex­plains that re­search showed that the name Thokozani was not a name that sold well in South Africa, as she tried nu­mer­ous times to list wines un­der the name Thokozani, but was un­suc­cess­ful. Wool­worths and team Thokozani worked to­gether on a name that would be em­braced by the con­sumer.

“We came up with the brand­ing for Ova­tion af­ter we re­alised that, un­for­tu­nately, the South African mar­ket is still scep­ti­cal of so­cial-up­lift­ment projects. There is still an as­sump­tion that BEE prod­ucts are in­fe­rior be­cause you are learn­ing the ropes,” she says.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, Thokozani wines are en­joyed as a premium wine, sell­ing at R110 a bot­tle while a bot­tle of Ova­tion wine

at Wool­worths goes for R60 to R70 a bot­tle.

GRAPE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS Thokozani farm work­ers with Shi­raz grapes dur­ing har­vest­ing

Denise Stubbs

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