Basil Williams, the founder and director of Afya Foods, became interested in nutrition on a personal level after discovering the benefits of making healthier food choices and experiencing the direct impact on his own health and wellness.
Williams ascertained that he wanted to be involved in some sort of health enterprise that benefitted the masses. He explained, “I thought that was the best way to help people in South Africa, where we have a high level of lifestyle diseases. I wanted to make something out of my purpose, which is to help people and to create a legacy for generations to come.” He added, “I always knew that I did not just want to work for somebody and live an ordinary life.”
Consequently, Afya Foods was founded in 2015 and supplies four products – Afya Rolled Oats, Afya Sorghum and Afya Mealie Meal (coarse and fine). All products are unrefined meaning that they have high amount of fibre, which helps ensure a healthy gut. An important aspect of eating unrefined foods is that they help control glucose levels. Of significance all four products are NOT genetically modified (Non-GMO). “This is how nature intended and we have given them to you in that form,” explained Williams.
He added, “We are currently the only company in the country supplying yellow non-GMO mealie meal, rolled oats and sorghum (amabele or maltabella) that are certified and endorsed by The Glycaemic Index Foundation of SA (Low GI), the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Vegan Society of South Africa and Diabetes SA.” These endorsements make Afya Foods very unique in the food business especially in the carbohydrate sector. “All four of our products are geared not to create havoc with your sugar levels,” says Williams.
Afya Foods tries to source its raw material (grain) from local and regional farmers – especially poor subsistence farmers who are willing to grow grain according to specifics to meet the product offering requirements. Williams prides himself on the fact that the company is creating jobs directly through employment opportunities at Afya Foods and indirectly through using local farmers to grow the grain.
Afya Foods has overcome a number of obstacles to bring its products to market and the last five years have had many challenges. Apart from setting up the company and acquiring premises, the milestones were to overcome the financial burden of getting all four products tested – including vigorous laboratory testing – where nutritional analysis of all products is performed, which comes at great cost, explained Williams. This testing was required prior to obtaining endorsements from the various foundations and societies, which was a long process. Another milestone was in obtaining a regular supply of non- GMO yellow maize from Agri-South Africa. The raw rolled oats are imported, a supply of these also had to be negotiated.
Ensuring that the packaging was of high quality and attractive was another milestone. Williams explained, “Fortunately for Afya Foods we have done a lot of work behind the scenes, especially to get the packaging right, which is important to the consumer and to the shopkeeper. We did a three year pilot project where we tested the market to see what perception we would get before we started in earnest on the product production. Afya Foods has cracked that part and the market is ready and waiting for us.”
Afya Foods is now taking its product to market and occupies a niche market in the health section of food stores. All four products are available in over 200 stores including selected Spar stores, Food Lover’s Market stores, The Veggie Shop and Oxford Food stores.