2020 was an objectively terrible, terrible year for the majority of South African businesses. Covid-19 and its associated lockdowns ended, or sped up the demise, of several established household names, while small and large businesses grappled with unpredictable closures, confusing legislation, new sanitisation requirements, and shifting consumer habits.
But not every business struggled. Some were fortuitously poised to take advantage of South Africa’s new-found appetite for online shopping, while others adapted quickly to the circumstances.
These are some of the businesses in South Africa that bucked the trend in 2020.
Online shopping, particularly in the grocery space, served a tiny share of the South African market prior to 2020. And as pandemic closures hit and large grocery stores saw massive spikes in orders, most buckled under pressure and struggled to keep up with demand.
Pick n Pay partnered up with Bottles, and Game and Exclusive Books clipped onto Uber Eats, to offer same-day deliveries. And it took Woolworths until November before they revealed a plan to offer a similar 60-minute delivery service.
But Checkers, which had been testing its 60 minute app-based order and delivery system from November 2019, was the best positioned to take advantage. In spite of some initial delays and difficulties during lockdown, its Sixty60 business exploded in 2020, with sustained growth well into August.
In a year where most insurance headlines were negative, one relatively new startup took advantage of the rapidly shifting landscape with its agile tech.
As South Africans drove less and claimed less, some insurance companies offered once-off discounts on premiums. But given Naked’s tech-heavy approach, it was immediately able to integrate and market a nifty feature that allowed clients to pause their coverage.
This, along with a greater adoption of digital technology this year, contributed to 2020 being a bumper year for the young insuretech business, that co-founder Alex Thomson told Business Insider South Africa grew by “more than three times”.
Tech-driven food business Yebo Fresh started as a small operation offering online shopping services to Cape Town’s townships. Although the company had seen sustained growth since, and sizeable investments prior to 2020, lockdown saw orders expand dramatically – with Yebo Fresh looking to expand its WhatsApp and online delivery service nationally.
“Business has boomed significantly, and now we manage thousands of orders every single day. We went from having one, to two, and then three warehouses, before moving into one large space – a 2,400 square metre warehouse – where everything now takes place,” founder Jessica Boonstra told Business Insider South Africa in August.
Prior to the pandemic, online safari streaming channel WildEarth catered to a a fairly niche market of wildlife-crazed fans, many of whom were abroad and unable to embark on safaris as regularly as South Africans. But as lockdowns put a temporary end to all leisure travel, WildEarth saw viewers of its daily live streamed safaris grow exponentially.
“While viewer numbers have dropped somewhat since the April peak, our global viewership is still more than double when compared with March, and South African viewership remains at well over seven times what it was before the lockdown,” CEO Graham Wallington told Business Insider SA in August.
“Expressed in hours viewed, this number for South Africa is currently still eleven times what it was before lockdown.”
As a result of the massive increase in interest the company was able to license its shows to the BBC, Tencent, and China’s CGTN, while locally it struck deals with both SABC 3 and DStv.
As lockdown forced many non-essential businesses to close, and grocery stores struggled to keep up with delivery demands, a company that made swimsuits and kombucha saw an opportunity for expansion. In a matter of weeks Granadilla Swim became Granadilla Eats, and the company started delivering fresh vegetables and produce from small food-based businesses to homes around Cape Town. It has continued to expand products and services throughout the year, and now offer same day delivery on most orders.
Since launching in lockdown earlier this year, the company has delivered over 20,000 free range eggs, 8,000 avocados from local small-scale farms, and enough coffee to make 12,000 cups – amounting to a total number of over 10,000 individual deliveries.
“Granadilla Eats is now fully staffed and has its own team, the only thing it shares with Granadilla Swim now is its name,” says co-founder Adam Duxbury. “It’s on its own two feet, and has every intention of continuing to challenge the big guys and make sure we can get sustainable produce at affordable prices to people across the country, starting with Cape Town.”
Another business to benefit from South Africa’s hard lockdown, which prohibited the sale of alcohol, was the non-alcoholic beverage company The Duchess. The company, which previously relied on targeting those looking to cut down on alcohol, suddenly found itself at the centre of a burgeoning local market. As a result, non-alcoholic gin and beer flew off South African shelves in April and May.
“For April, and during the lockdown, we’ve seen a 150% increase in sales year on year, which is quite substantial,” founder Johannes Le Roux told Business Insider South Africa in May. “We’ve seen our online sales skyrocket. They’ve increased from 5% of our total sales, to about 25%.”
The Duchess has been able to sustain some of the new public interest in non-alcoholic drinks, too, and have recently received backing from AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer.
Like many online grocery delivery platforms, Zulzi had been working in the background prior to 2020. The company started in 2013 as a simple online textbook delivery service, and later expanded to include grocery deliveries from various stores in major cities around South Africa. For a flat delivery fee and slight commission on each item, Zulzi would do your grocery shopping and deliver it to your door.
But as South Africans stayed away from shops in the early part of South Africa’s lockdown, the company saw exponential growth. Founder Donald Valoyi told EWN that orders on the platform “increased by 500 times immediately”.
Signapps, a South African app that streamlines communication in hospitals, won a massive contract with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service in 2020.
The healthtech app, started by ex-Mxit COO Andrew Davies in 2017, forms part of Britain’s plan to phase out pagers in its healthcare system by the end of 2021, which was accelerated by the spread of Covid-19. The two year deal concluded by parent company Healthcent and the NHS, was worth approximately R66 million.