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So!Go: Francois Te Water Naude

It Took An Astute Eye To Spot That There’s More To Cape Wine Farms Than The Grape Harvest

Monique Verduyn

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Francois te Water

It was his frustration with the corporate world that led François te Water Naude, a mechanical engineer by profession, to experiment with condiments. Today his company, Cape Town-based So!Go, has won numerous local and international awards, and its products are known not only for their superior quality, but also for their eye-catching package design.

The company sells over 4 000 bottles of olive oil alone every month and exports 30 different products all over the world.

“I’m a non-conformist, and after 13 years Ihad had enough of the rules and regulations of the business world, so I formed my own engineering consulting firm,” Te Water Naude recalls. Much of his work experience had been in multi million- rand engineering projects with Cape wine farms, where he also gained insight into the importance of trademarks.

As he started to recognise the power that lies in a brand, he also realised that while people raved about South African wines, little was mentioned about South African olive oil – despite the fact that many wine farms in the Western Cape grow olive trees.

“The problem was in the presentation,” he says. “Olive oil is usually plonked on the table in a greasy and unattractive bottle, or it’s decanted into an equally messy pourer. I wanted to make a product that could go from the store to the table and complement any table setting.”

He experimented with a few bottles but decided to shelve the idea while he was growing his consulting firm. When the economy entered a bit of a slump, he decided to take a chance.“I took R3 000 and a box of 100ml bottles to a graphic designer and asked her to come up with something,” he says.

“She informed me that she was in the business of brand development and design. R50 000 later, we agreed on the packaging design for a balsamic vinegar and olive oil set.”Te Water Naude says his engineering background came in handy during the conceptual phase. “The opaque bottle, the silver cap and the logo gave the product upmarket appeal. There’s no doubt that years of experience in engineering design and project management were very helpful.”

His first clients included Giovanni’s Deli, Melissa’s and Spier Wine Estate. It was a hard sell at first – he was peddling a product that everyone already had. “But I had a unique selling proposition,”he says. “So!Go was the first in the world to produce a designer branded olive oil and vinegar set that could be bought in-store and used to dress the dinner table.”

Armed with product samples and top quality photographs, Te Water Naude took the concept to local magazines. This initial legwork resulted in free advertising for So!Go.Being a firm believer in marketing, he incorporated this into a multi-faceted campaign that has seen the company enter and win many competitions.“I visited every radio station I could to talk about the awards and promote the concept. I have also done many talks and participated in many business networking events.”

Sophistication, indulgence and innovation are watchwords of the brand. Te Water Naude notes that around four to eight new products are added to the range every year, taking advantage of new trends in the food sector. “It’s vital to launch fresh products every year to prevent a brand like ours from becoming stale,” he says.

It is this approach that has seen the company expand into the European, US, Canadian and New Zealand markets. “We have dedicated importers in each country so that if we have one hiccup it does not affect the entire export business.”

So!Go has had year-on-year growth of 80% and sales have doubled in 2007. Te Water Naude says it was important to restrict volumes in the beginning, to ensure the product set retained an air of exclusivity. “We would have lost the deli sector if we had also gone straight into supermarkets, but now that the brand is older and well established, we have earned the right to do more with it.”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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