Africa Leaders Magazine

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops

Uzair Essack has his roots deep in the fruit and vegetable business.

Uzair Essack founded CapeCrops because he wanted to earn in foreign currencies and access wider markets. This is his advice on starting an export business

Uzair Essack is a born entrepreneur. He started importing rice from India and Pakistan while he was still a university student, but he soon saw the problems his business model presented.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

“This market is extremely saturated, which resulted in low margins due to the excessive competition I was facing,” Uzair explains. “I was looking for something else. When a colleague introduced me to a customer in Saudi Arabia that wanted pineapples, I completed a few deals, saw the potential, and CapeCrops was born.”

With no background in agriculture, Essack invested his savings to start the business and has managed to build a company which went from earning R500,000 ($30,515) revenue in 2015 to R34 million ($2 million) in 2019.

He is also the founder and president of GetGiving, a non-profit company that aims to benefit the community through projects which include food-hamper drives, sanitary drives, stationary drives and careers days.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

It’s an important lesson: Always keep your eyes, ears and most importantly, your mind open for an opportunity. From there, work hard and learn as much as you can.

“Exporting was completely new to me, so I needed to learn as much as I could, and quickly.” The learning hasn’t stopped. “Every day I learn something new and I’m sure that will continue to be the case for many more years.”

There are a number of key benefits to exporting your product, as Uzair shares. “Exporting allows us to earn in foreign currency. With the depreciation and volatility of the rand, owning foreign currency is always a bonus. The buying power overseas, in most cases, is stronger than the buying power locally.

Through exporting, we’re able to earn more for the same product when compared to selling it locally, on condition that there is a global demand for that product.” Of course, there are always dangers, particularly when continents and oceans separate you from your customer.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

“It’s important to ensure that you’re dealing with honest people on the other side of the deal, that favourable terms are in place and that there is some level of security in case things go wrong.

To try and fight a legal battle when dealing with an overseas customer is extremely expensive and difficult. You can’t take things on face value — do your research, know who you’re dealing with, do reference and credit checks and have your paperwork in order.”

Uzair’s business is two-fold. He sources produce from farmers and sells to buyers overseas. He therefore needs to ensure both sides of the business are successful. “I provide farmers with better terms than other exporters, which means I get better prices. I could then pass these better margins on to my customers,” he explains.

“My focus is on Qatar and Bangladesh, which are two markets that have just recently increased their imports of South African produce. Because of this, there were opportunities for new players such as myself to get involved.”

Some of his clients include major supermarket chains such as Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Tesco and Carrefour and he recently opened an office in Dubai.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

Uzair believes there are still opportunities for local entrepreneurs to get involved in these markets.

“You need to pay attention to the world — that’s how you spot opportunities. For example, Qatar previously sourced produce from its neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. However, once political sanctions were implemented and the borders between these countries were closed, Qatar needed to import its own produce directly. This was when I decided to jump on a plane and find my own customers in Qatar. I saw the opportunity before my competition and took advantage of it.

“Whether it’s technological, political or social, the world around us is changing daily. There is always room for improvement. The key is to identify these changes and act upon them before anyone else.”

If you’re considering the export route, study the product, your target market and the global competition. If you’re extremely knowledgeable about all of these aspects, your chances of success are higher.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

Start small and take your time. If you don’t go all out in the first few deals, mistakes won’t impact the future of your business too much. You can use the initial deals as lessons and when the big deals come, you’re prepared and have some experience in dealing with potential issues.

Don’t force anything. Based on my beliefs and experience, if something’s meant to happen, it will. Once you start trying to force deals, you end up losing.

UZAIR ESSACK – Founder and Managing Director of Cape Crops - African Leaders Magazine

Essack won the Minara Young Entrepreneur Award in 2019.



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