Recycling never tasted so good: Jozi couple turns wasted fruit into sorbet

Thula Ndema and Thato Masondo in front of a sign advertising their thriving sorbet business, Sobae Frozen. 
Image: Alaister Russell

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or better, lemon and ginger sorbet.

The smell of rotting fruit and vegetables left by hawkers in the Johannesburg CBD first caught the attention of Thula Ndema, 28, and Thato Masondo, 27, as they cycled through the streets about four years ago.

Employed as shop assistants at a retail outlet, they mulled over starting a compost company to get the rotting discards off the pavements.

“One of the things that bothered us was the piles of rotting fruit discarded by the sellers. We hated that fruit was being wasted,” Ndema said. “We would talk about owning our own business. We decided our business would deal with the waste. Our first idea was starting a compost company.”

But the idea was put on hold until about two years later, when they started working in an ice-cream shop. Here, they noticed how well the sorbet sold. Also, customers were increasingly asking about the ingredients used.

“Our customers were asking for dairy-free and sugar-free flavours,” Masondo said.

The couple quickly realised they had found a good use for all the wasted fruit in the CBD. In 2017 they took the plunge and, with the bare basics of a freezer, a blender and a cooler box, launched Sobae Frozen.

And to save money, they moved in with Ndema’s grandmother.

“Those first days weren’t easy. We painted our logo onto polystyrene cups before we could afford our printed cups,” Ndema said.

“The nice thing about really ripe fruit is that it sweetens and so we use less sugar in our recipes. There is nothing artificial in our sorbet.”

The nice thing about really ripe fruit is that it sweetens and so we use less sugar in our recipes

They started selling from their icebox outside the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein. “We couldn’t afford to pay to be at the actual market so we sold on the street. Security guards were constantly chasing us away,” Masondo said.

But customers started lining up and local businesses asked them to sell in their store fronts to attract foot traffic.

In December, the newly developed Victoria Yards in Lorentzville, in the Joburg CBD, which showcases local businesses, invited them to sell and produce their sorbet at its VW Commons centre.

They also use herbs grown in the Yards’ common garden to create new flavours.

“It also helped us with our new problem: where to put the peels,” Ndema joked. “Now we use our waste to make compost for the herbs we use.”

The couple create flavours depending on what fruit and vegetables are in season.

“For Heritage Day we made umqombothi [traditional beer] and guava sorbet. It was very popular with tourists. “Our cucumber, lime and apple sorbet is also very popular,” he said.

Sobae Frozen uses nothing artificial to sweeten their sorbets. 
Image: Alaister Russell

They now earn about R7,000 a month, putting half of it back into the business and living off the rest.

Ndema said: “The first year we had to put all our money back into the business, but then slowly we began to make more money. We now have a little savings account.”

“I’m saving for an engagement ring,” Masondo revealed, adding, “it really opens your mind and it makes you more confident. Before we would wear fancy clothes, but we can’t spend like that any more. There is more to life.”

“Some of our friends won’t stand next to us when we sell in the street,” Ndema giggled.

“They say: ‘You used to be fancy and work at Zara and now you’re on the street’.”

Masondo said: “You just need to start your business. Don’t just talk about it because when you talk about it then someone else will do it.”

As for the name, he said they were inspired by their relationship.

“Love sells the product.”




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