Artist Stephanie Wills started Propa in her kitchen with the aim of wanting to make healthy food taste good. Five years later her business based on the KZN North Coast is thriving because of a great family collaboration.
Stephanie Wills went from waking up at 4am to make 80 smoothies in her kitchen for delivery before 7am, to running an industrial kitchen supplying food outlets. The long story short is that Wills gained invaluable experience working at her mother Judy Martin’s lifestyle health shop before she struck out on her own. Then she put her artistry to work, consulted her dietician sister Kim Wilson, and tapped into the business smarts of her biochemist husband Grant. We had a chat with Wills.
Q: So what’s in a name and do people get it?
A: Propa was meant to be a brand name for an Italian coffee company my husband was thinking of starting. However, when we were presented with the opportunity to start a smoothie business the name just worked. It’s a play on words obviously to say it’s a prop(er) smoothie. And the name works for our other products too – cakes, date balls, desserts, popsicles, etc.
Q: What is your unique selling point?
A: We do things properly! All our products are vegan-friendly, all-natural, no preservatives, made from scratch. We even made our own nut butters from scratch that are used in our products as well as being gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free. We have a range of smoothie-based products that fit into a modern lifestyle and can be enjoyed by all ages guilt-free.
Q: Your business has artisanal appeal. How will you retain that and scale?
A: We managed to scale successfully from home industry to our current production facility and shop, and now supply many retail outlets. I’m confident that with the right technology and strategy we will be able to take the next step up smoothly.
Q: What are your absolute non-negotiables in so far as your products are concerned?
A: We aim to make healthy food look amazing, be nutritious and taste delicious. However, health is the primary concern and then the fact that we use all-natural products that are vegan friendly.
Q: You described how you launched your business wanting to make great food; then you winged it and went big on social media. A ridiculously short summary, but what lessons have you learnt along the way?
A: A lean start-up is always a good idea. Stay close to your customer. Feedback is everything and failure and obstacles are the only way you’ll learn how to do better and adapt.