This business launched after two entrepreneurs lost their jobs – it secured R650,000 in funding

GUDGU cordials (Supplied)

  • Pieter du Plessis and Viljoen de Kock own GUDGU, a local company that manufactures sugar-free and alcohol-free cordials.
  • The pair started the company in 2013 after losing their jobs in the legal and communications industries.
  • After entering the 2021 ENGEN Pitch & Polish competition, the company came out victorious and walked away with R650,000, plus a bursary worth R350,000 to attend a two-year business development programme.
  • The sugar-free cordials can be used to make cocktails, mocktails, and cold drinks, and are said to be vegan-friendly and gluten-free.
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Pieter du Plessis and Viljoen de Kock started GUDGU, a local company that manufactures sugar-free and alcohol-free cordials, after losing their jobs in 2013, and today the company has secured a R650,000 cash prize after pitching to investors.  

“The inspiration started when we both basically lost our jobs [in 2013],” said Du Plessis. “We had to do something to keep the cats off the stove, so we started to make sugar and sugar-free cordials like lemonade,” he told Business Insider South Africa.

A cordial is a syrup, tonic, or nonalcoholic concentrate that can be diluted to make a cold drink, flavoured water and more.

Some of the ingredients used to make GUDGU include water, xylitol & steviol extract blend, fruit extract, citric acid, and sodium benzoate. They also use a secret blend called SugO, which promises zero aftertaste. 

The intended purpose of the cordials is to make cocktails, mocktails, flavoured water, or cold drinks, and according to the founders the benefits are that they are vegan-friendly, diabetic-friendly, gluten-free, and are low on carbs.

After Du Plessis lost his job in corporate communications and De Kock lost his as a lawyer in 2013, the two came together to make cordials, and today they supply to big and small businesses across the country, markets, and major retailers such as Spar.

“We both love food and developing new tastes but have no formal education in food technology or anything. Luckily, we got some professionals to help us in the long run,” said Du Plessis.

With trail and error, the pair tried different recipes to create the cordials, and after various attempts they found the combination that gives that “wow, in your mouth” factor, said Du Plessis.

They tried every trick in the book to get their product out there, but it wasn’t until they found a name for their product that they truly started seeing customers noticing their offering.

“GUDGU in Afrikaans stands for ‘Goedheid Uit Die Grond Uit’, meaning goodness from the earth. As soon as you give it an identity, it becomes something, the name stands for something.

Pieter Du Plessis and De Kock (Supplied)

Viljoen de Kock (middle left) and Pieter Du Plessis (middle right) (Supplied)

“We use only the good ingredients and none of the bad ones, and we make sure that we put out the best quality products,” Du Plessis said.

Business during the Covid-19 pandemic

Although the pandemic and hard lockdown brought many businesses to their knees, both Du Plessis and De Kock said their businesses was fortunate to flourish during that period.

“We actually flourished and exploded during the lockdown. Because we’re a sugar-free product, we applied to carry on with businesses and bringing sugar-free drinks to diabetics and people in need and we got the permit.

“What we also did was develop our 50ml mini cordials… and it was something that people could buy and play around with. That really promoted our product. People also started buying the big one,” said De Kock.

Having made strides supplying to Spar, Superspar and other big and small businesses including pharmacies, the duo aims to work with other major retailers such as Massmart and Checkers.

Grabbing opportunities

In efforts to expand their horizons, Du Plessis and De Kock entered the 2021 ENGEN Pitch & Polish competition and came out victorious.

This came after the pair enrolled in an online business course in 2020 when the lockdown started. The instructor helped these partners in business stay focused on growth during the ongoing levels of lockdown. She felt they were ready for the ENGEN Pitch & Polish competition and encouraged them to enter.

They walked away with a cash prize of R650,000 and a bursary worth R350,000 to attend a two-year business development and growth programme from Raizcorp – a South African business incubator.

“We entered five days before the closing date and made it through. We have not done anything like this before and it was completely out of our comfort zone,” said Du Plessis. They were grateful to have found a Raizcorp guide who was friendly and understanding.

“He could lead us in the right direction. It was a great experience working with him. He was knowledgeable and on top of trends,” De Kock said, adding, “The fact that we could ask questions and know the answer was correct was priceless.”

To business owners who feel like things aren’t moving as fast as they hope, Du Plessis urges them to continue to put in the hard work as no one will do it for them.

He also encourages emerging business owners to make sure they educate themselves on the numbers of their businesses, as this also helps them know where they are and can assist them to scale their business.  

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