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Cooperative bakes its way to sweet success

Written by Samona Murugan
What started off as a small project to teach women how to bake cookies in a community rife with unemployment has escalated into one of the most successful female cooperatives in the country.

Noluvuyo Nekemfu bakes a batch of cookies at Khayelitsha Cookies, where she is employed. The business started with just two women and an oven and now employs 50.The cookies baked by the cooperative are found in hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and now Pick n Pay stores countrywide.

Khayelitsha Cookies, which began in 2004 at the Nobuntu Training Centre in Khayelitsha, with just two women and an oven, is a female-owned and operated business in the Western Cape that has created jobs for almost 50 women in the township.

By learning to bake the women now have a skill that helps them to provide for their families, something they struggled to do previously.

It is at the Ndabeni Gateway Park in Cape Town that all the magic happens. With mixing bowls and cookie cutters everywhere and boxes stacked to the ceiling across the factory, the smell of freshly baked home-made cookies fills the air.

Bakery manager Eunice Nyobole, who joined Khayelitsha Cookies in 2008, worked her way up from baker to bakery manager in just five years. “I love my job because I meet women who have struggled to make ends meet just like I have, so I know how to help and inspire them.”

Nyobole says that when women first start at Khayelitsha Cookies they come in withdrawn, guarded and tired from previously working all hours of the day and night trying to put food on the table.

At Khayelitsha Cookies “their hope is restored, they begin to smile and buy new clothing - their burdens are eased,” she says. Managing director Adri Williams prides herself in the quality of the cookies. “What makes our cookies different to other brands is that ours taste home-made because they are. The recipes are passed down from grannies, mothers and aunts.”

It is these delicious secret family recipes that led their first big break, a lucrative hotel group deal that sees the Khayelitsha Cookies on hotel guests’ pillows each night.

Empowering women is the foundation of the business, says Williams.

“Even our slogan, which reads, ‘creating opportunity one bite at a time’, does just that. Every cookie that is sold and every bite that is taken allows these women to put food on the table and create better opportunities for themselves and their families.”

Today Khayelitsha Cookies creates 68 different cookies from chocolate chunk, ginger snap and brownies to butter cookies, rusks and fruity oats. Over and above their busy baking schedule for restaurants, coffee shops and hotels, they also make cookies for corporate gifts. However, the business reached its ultimate goal of getting their cookies into homes across the country by landing their biggest deal of all, supplying retail giant Pick n Pay.

“Our cookies are now available at all Pick n Pay stores at just R12.50 a pack,” says Williams.

For more information about Khayelitsha Cookies call 021 510 2300.