17 August 2004

A businessman from the Western Cape is set to take a traditional South African meal, pap and vleis, to the mass market – in a can. And it may help Africa’s hungry, nogal.

Pap (a kind of mashed potato made from mealie meal), which is both nutritious and affordable, and vleis (Afrikaans for “meat”) have been the staple diet for millions of South Africans for years.

As traditional as rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet, pap and vleis is also an integral part of the country’s ubiquitous braai (barbecue) culture.

Now Western Cape entrepreneur Willem Steenkamp has found a way to put it in a can, and the world – especially other African countries – are sitting up and taking note.

Steenkamp says one of the problems was figuring out how to keep the pap fresh – it gets sour after a few hours. According to Standards South Africa (stanSA), products with meat content have to be sterilised and have a shelf life of at least three years.

“Pap alone is not a problem and does not need a long, intensive sterilisation process, but things get more complicated when meat is added, as it is more likely to contain hazardous bacteria”, Steenkamp said in a recent interview in Business Day’s trade supplement, The South African Exporter.

To satisfy stanSA, the meat content had to be 40%, but Steenkamp battled the body down to 10% after market research showed there was demand for less meat.

Steenkamp says even the machinery to put pap in a tin on the production line didn’t exist. And that was only half the problem.

“The label is a problem all of its own, as it has to carry all the info that the health department and [stanSA] want on its nutritional information and ingredients as determined by an accredited laboratory, the recommended daily allowance and serving suggestions”, Steenkamp told The South African Exporter.

Heating instructions also have to be “in an understandable sign form for those who can’t read”.

Steenkamp says he expects success with his unique product in both the local and export market – and that his product could even go some way towards solving food shortages on the continent. “With this traditional African cuisine one can feed the hungry”, he said.

He says there has been a lot of interest in his product from African governments, donor feeding schemes, and even mines. After samples were showcased in Japan, Steenkamp says prominent figures in government throughout Africa have contacted him.

Steenkamp has negotiated a deal with Bull Brand, the established canned meat company, to manage the local marketing of the product, using their own label under patent-holder licence.

The local retail market received the first tins in April and, according to Bull Brand, there is demand. “The chain stores indicated that they are very positive”, Steenkamp said.

Some typically South African words and phrases used in this piece:


  • Nogal – too, as well.
  • Pap – a kind of mashed potato made from mealie meal (literally “porridge”).
  • Vleis – Afrikaans for meat.
  • “Rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet” – lines from a 1970s radio advert for Chevrolet denoting things truly South Africa. The complete phrase was “braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet”.
  • Braai – barbeque.
  • South African cuisine – a glossary of terms
  • SouthAfrica.info reporter