What makes a geologist quit his day job in favour of starting up a fresh food delivery service?
A love of seasonal, organic food, a belief in the quality of local produce, and a desire to get people back into their kitchens and away from the takeaway menu, says Munching Mongoose founder Brad Meiring.
Munching Mongoose is a three-year-old organic food delivery service that liaises with local farmers and artisans to find the best mix of seasonal produce that is delivered to a customer’s door.
Each food box can be customised, while items such as meat, dairy and artisanal products can be added to the standard vegetable box.
The company liaises with its suppliers on a Monday and starts “building” its basic box for the week based on availability and budget.
Customers then have until 11AM on a Tuesday to make any changes, substitutions or additions to their boxes.
Orders are then placed with suppliers, and deliveries made to customers on a Thursday.
“The produce is literally taken out of the ground the day before it’s delivered to the customer.
Even the meat and dairy arrives the day before we ship it out, we don’t hold stock for long, and the meat is never frozen,” Meiring told finweek during a recent visit to the company’s facilities in Muldersdrift.
Produce is sourced primarily from within Gauteng, with some originating from North West and the Lowveld.
Every week, a surprise product from a local producer is also included.
“My biggest passion is giving people an awesome experience that comes to their house every week.
The concept is centred around great food, but it also saves time and money in terms of logistics,” he says.
How did you start Munching Mongoose?
I’m a geologist by trade, but I wasn’t really happy where I was in my career. In 2014, while chatting to a friend who had the idea of bringing in local produce from the Lowveld, we quickly realised that that model would work phenomenally well in Johannesburg from a convenience and a quality point of view.
We ran the business out of my house for about a year-and-a-half while we had other jobs, starting with 12 customers – mostly friends and family.
The business was completely bootstrapped and was started on the tightest shoestring budget you can imagine.
We each put in a little bit upfront, and everything we made got put back into the business. After about 18 months I went in full-time, and we’re only breaking even now. The business is still totally self-funded.
How many customers do you currently have?
We have about 250 active customers, with some taking weekly orders, some fortnightly, and some on an ad-hoc basis. Most of our customers are in the upper LSM groups between the ages of 30 and 45 and are mostly young families.
We started with one delivery van, but we have since had to outsource delivery to keep up with demand.
In terms of our price point, we are on par with other organic food outlets but are more expensive than a non-organic, standard greengrocer.
How has the business evolved in the last few years?
When we first started, it was a mystery box and customers had no choice as to what they were getting. You got what was available.
Subsequently, we’ve changed it so that we still “build” the box for you on a weekly basis, and what goes into that box is still based on seasonality and availability from our farmers.
You do have some flexibility to adapt your box each week, and we also have add-on products, such as meat, dairy and breakfast packs.
We’ve come to realise that customers love choice, but they also hate choice. We give them enough choice in terms of flexibility, but we take the basic decision-making away.
You need to buy into the concept of local, seasonal, good-quality produce and be a little bit flexible in terms of not always getting the same thing.
Why do you think the concept appeals to customers?
What we’ve found is that a lot of customers that have used us had previously fallen into a bit of a rut.
You go to the supermarket and you fill your trolley with the same things.
Nowadays people are so used to getting what you want when you want it, despite the seasonality of produce.
Without coming across as too “hippified”, you must have an understanding of what kind of effect eating out-of-season produce has, both in terms of your own health and nutrition, and environmentally.
Produce that has been picked too early so that it can travel halfway around the world in cold storage while ripening, has lost most of its nutrients.
For the environment, and in terms of carbon footprint, the more you can support local and sustainable farming, the better it is for everyone.
The organic element obviously comes with the benefits of no pesticides and chemicals.
How do you find local organic farmers and producers?
We tap into a network of around 85 small-scale local farmers brought together by an app called Khula, which allows farmers to list their produce and tracks real-time inventory levels as well as basic production forecasting.
The app also includes a crowd-sourcing marketplace where farmers can satisfy market demand and incoming orders.
They haven’t officially gone live, so we have gone through the teething process with them and are now one of their main wholesale clients.
Their idea is to link small-scale farmers with the likes of Munching Mongoose, hotels and restaurants.
We also source produce directly from organic farmers such as Ganico, which is a pomegranate and blueberry farm where we also have our offices and distribution centre.
How do you differentiate Munching Mongoose from its competition?
The likes of [ingredient delivery service] UCOOK are catering to the same market as us, but it’s a very different business model.
What they are offering is pre-portioned ingredients with recipes.
Our service essentially allows you to fill your fridge and pantry with the staples you require and then you can decide how you cook it.
There are a lot of other online organic stores and a lot of them are pick-and-choose type stores, so you have to take action each week to choose what you want to buy.
There are also other box schemes, but those are very limited generally speaking, where it’s just fruit and veg.
So we’ve done a box-scheme idea, but it’s a greater array of produce with flexibility.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt?
You hear a lot of the same tips for entrepreneurs, but I think the support structure you have is hugely important.
I’m so fortunate in that my wife is patient and has given me the freedom to go with this and run with it.
If you start a business, from my experience, it takes time and you’re putting in money, you’re not taking out money for a good few years.
As long as you have someone that can stick with you through that, you should be fine.
Also, don’t be too proud to admit you don’t know what you’re doing and to ask questions. No-one can do everything. Lean on people.
There are so many successful business people out there who would happily give advice. Buy them a cup of coffee, and they will gladly share their wisdom.
What are your future growth plans for the business?
We’ll first expand further in Gauteng to areas such as Benoni and Pretoria and then into other provinces, as we only currently deliver as far as Bedfordview to the east, Centurion to the north, Parktown to the south, and Krugersdorp to the west.
Cape Town is an obvious choice, but it’s also a tricky one, as people there definitely have the right mindset for the service.
But there are farmers’ markets in Cape Town and food delivery services for each suburb.
We’ve also had chats with potential investors, and some of the people we’ve spoken to could be the right partners down the line, but I want to make sure we expand properly.
I’m not looking for a big sell-out in two years’ time. We would potentially look at both a branch and franchise model, but that would depend on whom we’ve found to get involved.
This article originally appeared in the 18 January edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here.