How Ina Lessing Grew Ina Lessing Jams & Preserves To A Successful Family Business

Ina Lessing, Nylstroom’s jam aunt, can cook. Everyone in town and surroundings sings her praises in the kitchen. If you walk into a road stall somewhere between your home and your holiday destination, the chances are good that you will see a bottle of Ina Lessing marmalade or pickled peaches on the shelf.

In the Centurion distribution plant, the shelves groan under products ranging from traditional apricot jam and canned peaches to sophisticated products such as litchi balsamic and strawberry syrup while the actual cooking and pickling is still done in the heart of the Bushveld on the family farm.

One would never guess that this family business was born out of necessity.

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The beginning

After an eleven-year drought in Limpopo, Danie and Ina Lessing’s sowing and ostrich farming in 1996 was at a low point. Ina kept school and even drove the school bus, but the family’s finances were still very tight. It was a daily struggle for survival to put bread on the table for five children.

In addition, Ina was determined to send all five children to university one day. “You get adult finishing at university. You want to give your children the opportunity to get something behind their name for a career, ”says Ina.

She simply had to make a plan. As a trained Home Economics teacher, her cooking skills and the ingredients in the field were all she had at her disposal; and also all she needed.

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This year the field was lush with wild stem fruits and before long. began to simmer the pots with the recipes she had worked out in her head. With each pot of jam, the character of the five organ pipes became stronger and stronger. Think ahead; be creative; protect your territory; be self-sufficient.

The first bottles of jam were sold to the local home industry and displayed during the farmers market. The giant 400-year-old marula tree on the farm began to bear fruit, and marula jelly was the next project.

Sometimes Danie and Ina received fruit from neighboring farms and processed it. In this way, mangoblatjang was born. No one could really predict which products would be next on the shelves, but Ina always had a recipe in mind that would fill the bottles and purses.

Danie was responsible for fetching bottles, sugar and fruit to ensure that the farm production could run smoothly. Everyone had to work.

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Blood, Sweat, Tears

“You work Mondays to Saturdays. It is hard work, you are wet with sweat, but you can feel how the Lord gives you strength for this work, because out of yourself you can not do it,” says Ina.

Fortunately, the Lessing family, children included, were already accustomed to hard work when the business began to get back on its feet.

No holiday was an idle holiday for the children – there was always a project, remembers Ané, the eldest daughter.

On rainy days, Ina started collecting pancake orders in town early on. By resurrection time, the kitchen and ingredients were ready to get production going.

However, this “grace project”, as Ina describes it, was not without disappointments either. In the beginning, they had to do intensive direct marketing themselves.

At one point they took the road to Pretoria, Hartbeespoort, Brits and back to Modimolle, with a station wagon groaning under jam bottles. At every home industry, they tend to sell jam, but not sell one bottle during the entire trip.

Today, Danie attributes this to the fact that they were unknown to home industries and that store owners were unsure whether the products would be available again.

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Grace In Abundance

But over time, Ina Lessing products began to build a name for themselves that preceded the products: Reliable, genuine South African products, with only a twist here and there to keep them interesting.

Consumers wanted to make sure they repeatedly purchased high-quality products that taste homemade.

This set the Ina Lessing products apart from the rest. And one after another, home industries, road stalls and other shops started buying Ina Lessing products, the two pots of jam on the farm became three; then five; then ten … and then sixty.

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“The business has grown organically. As the demand for jam increased, we created more space, built another store, bought another vehicle,” says Danie.

In 2012, Ina wanted to sell the business when the business burst from its seams in every way. Production, personnel management, orders, logistics, routes and distribution have turned into an inhumanly large task.

They survived the drought of 20 years ago and in the process created a life for the whole family. The task was completed.

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A family business

Ané, the eldest daughter and a teacher at that time, saw the need and wanted to help. Her parents were tired and overworked. The other children were elsewhere in their life stages.

Ané decided to lay down the rig and established a plant in Centurion from where the marketing and distribution could be handled.

“It is difficult to make someone who has not been through the knitting process part of the business. The composition of our business is very unique and one of a kind,” says Ané.

The next phase of the business arrived and systems to handle large volumes of products had to be put into operation almost overnight. New products such as rusks and cookies were developed and the foundation for future business branches was laid.

Nathan, the only brother in the family, and his wife Neriché have meanwhile left their teaching posts and Nathan has been taking over the production reins from his parents in Modimolle since 2015, bringing further relief to the Lessing couple. Neriché is in charge of the farm’s bakery.

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Peach, fig and apricot products are of course non-negotiable for any full-fledged pickling or jam business. But this fruit brings its own challenges: for the best results, it must be processed on the same day it is harvested, says Ané.

That is why the whole production factory – stoves and pots included – is packed up every December and transported by truck to the Cape, and all the production staff are taken by bus to a farm where a temporary factory is set up to peaches, figs and apricots.

“For four or five weeks it has been chewing stones. At that time we were cooking about seventy thousand bottles of jam. I do not know of any other business that is run like ours,” says Ané.

The youngest sisters, Jana and Nicolet, both negotiated 11-month contracts with their employers to be available for the Cape production in December each year. For this month, every member of the Lessing family is a manager.

Staff challenges usually peak during this time and the main goal in mind is to keep everyone focused.

To ensure that the staff function at their best and that a positive atmosphere prevails, Ané and her family collect cute prizes throughout the year with which they hold staff competitions during Cape Production.

On a day of rest in the Cape, staff are also spoiled with a sea trip. For many, this is the first time they have seen the sea. And in that way, morale is kept as high as possible

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Worth it

“A family business is complex. It’s not just business. There is a thick line of emotion and you have to work around it,” says Ané.

She and Nathan work together as a formidable team. As children, they helped establish the foundation for Ina Lessing Jams and Canned, and therefore they know the business like the back of their hand.

They understand the values ​​on which the business is built and the emotional path their parents had to walk in order to bring it this far.

Danie and Ina feel grateful today that they came to take over children, as it were. The Lessing couple are on the verge of handing over all tasks and starting a new life. They long for a holiday that has not been for them in 20 years.

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“I want to watch the business flourish from a distance and furthermore I want to do everything my grandchildren ask for,” concludes Ina.

Like an ordinary person, on the way to her holiday destination, she walks into a road stall and a bottle Ina Lessing made off the shelf to enjoy with custard tonight after the braai.



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