- When Umatie co-owner Anna Olivier had her baby, she wanted to make her own meals, and some created from family recipes.
- She enjoyed them, pushing Olivier and her sister to develop the now fully-fledged baby and kiddies meal manufacturer.
- At its core is the business’ love for food and belief that baby food doesn’t have to be bland
- Now its meals are stocked in major retailers, including Spar, Checkers, and Pick n Pay.
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When Anna Olivier had her first baby over a decade ago, she was determined to do all the cooking when the weaning stage came – that led to Olivier and her sister Judi de Jongh creating Umatie, a brand changing the perception around baby food.
Now the business supplies some of South Africa’s biggest retailers, including Spar, Checkers, and Pick n Pay.
Finding baby food that was both tasty and close to a home-cooked meal on retail shelves was a struggle at the time. But Olivier, who comes from a big family of foodies, delighted in making different dishes for her baby to try.
Soon after, Olivier and De Jong, who share a deep passion for food, were cooking for other babies in their family, then for friends and other moms who could not stop raving about the flavours and food combinations.
The sister duo spent a year researching, developing, and experimenting with new and old recipes, some family secrets, before formally establishing the business in 2012. The business' name lends itself to De Jongh’s misnaming of the word tamatie when she was a child, which was her favourite thing to eat.
As De Jongh puts it, Umatie had very humble beginnings, moving from Olivier’s kitchen to a cottage, and then a bigger residential home that hosted its offices and kitchen, and eventually, its Plankenbrug factory in Stellenbosch.
“We started very humbly in a small little cottage, just the two of us, cooking everything. I did the deliveries. We managed absolutely everything, from peeling the potatoes to the delivery, and we started appointing people,” De Jongh said.
At the heart of the business is delivering bold flavours for young palettes and preaching the gospel that babies love delicious food.
“The crucial thing that we’ve seen is that babies do love to eat. If you offer them bland food, they’ll get used to bland food. When we develop a meal, it needs to taste delicious. We always say to the moms, if you have a bite and you enjoy it, give it to the baby,” Olivier said.
Its range of products includes unique meals including casseroles, moussakas, and chicken and coconut combinations and ingredients such as buckwheat and sorghum.
Olivier says it is what sets them apart from other baby and kiddies food producers.
“It's the flavours, and I think its the combination of the recipes that we put together. We try do it as we would do it at home. And I think our different texture variations, we sort of help the baby and the mother to gradually wean,” she said.
De Jongh says that baby food-makers and parents often skip texture stages, especially the in-between texture, and they feed children chunkier food directly after the smoother, more pureed food stage.
Umatie's texture variations include the Petit Purees, smoother options for smaller babies from 6 months. Then comes the Dinky Dinners suited for babies from 7 months and Might Munchers for babies from 10 months when the teeth start to make an appearance. Its kiddies range for babies one and up fall under the Bulky Bites category.
After 11 years of operations, food producer and maker of Lancewood cheese and Denny mushrooms snapped a majority stake in Umatie under the company’s Libstar Nova incubation programme. The programme aims to support and scale businesses in the food industry financially.
The pair will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the business.