From travelling the country in caravans promoting their product, to losing everything and finally finding their “A-ha” moment, the story of We Love Low Carb truly is a fascinating and inspirational one.
It all started at a young age, when Leandi Strydom, Co-Founder of WLLC, learned about Low Carb “diets” from her father, who sold Diet-clinic franchises and facilitated training all over South Africa.
In 2005, Leandi – a law student at the time - decided to join her father in his business ventures after realising that Law was not the path she wanted to continue on.
After a year of working alongside her father promoting information and training on the diet, they decided to research - and eventually create - a fat burner in capsule form with the help of a doctor in the field. Another year later and with constant research, they managed to better the formula and added an appetite suppressant to the range.
The success of these slimming aids prompted a once in a lifetime adventure – father and daughter travelling the country in their individual caravans – promoting and selling their products.
“We travelled all over SA in our caravans, going from town to town selling Diet Clinics and capsules. We did very well!” says Leandi of their one-and-a-half-year road trip.
On their return home, Leandi took over the company and ran it successfully for 2 years. During this time, she started realising that she did not actually enjoy selling supplements, as she was always a big believer that food is the answer to optimum health. “I have always loved food and experimenting and creating things that nobody has done before.” Leandi explains.
Meanwhile in 2009, Leandi met Hein Kymdell, Co-Founder of WLLC, who was the Bar Manager at the club Leandi frequented with her friends. The two became friends and, noticing Hein’s skill in sales and customer service, she offered him a position as Sales Representative. “When we met, Leandi had her own business producing and selling self-developed, all-natural slimming capsules. She however, had a desire to delve deeper and gear her business model more towards food, as she always believed that food as medicine was the way forward.” says Hein.
At this time, the Low Carb “diet” that Leandi knew all too well, became a global lifestyle. From Banting to Keto, everybody started noticing the benefits of a low carb, sugar-free lifestyle. As she was following the lifestyle herself, she noticed that there were very little alternatives to bread, so she decided to start a low carb catering company. “My first loaf of bread was made from Flaxseed and Egg. It was small, dark-grey and very dense. Horrible. My cheesecake and ice cream were the best of 2012.” she recalls with a smile. “I struggled to get it off the ground, so I decided to join up with another low carb company and became their national manager until 2015.”
Leandi and Hein realised that they could not fully achieve their goals under the current circumstances, and so, the passing of Leandi’s mother sparked a pivotal moment in the origin of WLLC. “After my mother died, I could see no reason for me to stay in Pretoria, so I packed up everything and asked Hein to join me in going on a year-long road trip, like in the old days.” says Leandi.
With the backing of some investors, they had developed a Banting Pre-Mix. “It was very nice and fancy, but it did not sell as well as we had hoped and so we found ourselves broke and with very little hope within three months.” they recall.
The determined duo carried on pushing forward with the product they believed in, and when a bakery in Cape Town approached them with a proposal to collaborate in developing a Banting range, it seemed like their luck had finally turned. “They had the ovens and equipment, and we had the expertise as well as the recipes, so it was a win-win situation. Unfortunately, like too many stories in business, the collaboration was one sided and did not work out.” They found themselves in dire circumstances. With both of their cars repossessed and cell phones cut off, the pair could not see how they could possibly continue with their journey and their dream.
They subsequently made a deal with their business partners that would see them give up all current contracts if they could have the use of the bakery at night whilst there was not much production taking place. At this point they had been working on a new recipe for low carb “white” bread that would actually taste and look like real bread, and not just an alternative to bread with substandard flavour. “It was the second night that we were working on our new recipe that we knew we had a winner. It smelled like real bread, not the dogfood/egg smell that used to hang in the air when we baked our previous low carb alternatives. It looked, smelled and tasted so much like the real thing!” they recall excitedly. “That weekend we went to our usual markets and sold out. The following weekends we sold out again and again!” This was when We Love Low Carb came into existence. They stopped making their previous range and started focussing on their low carb white bread range full time.
By selling out weekly on their markets, it became clear to Hein and Leandi that there was a massive need for what they had created that they now had to start promoting and marketing their product. They decided to enter the “Kom Ons Braai” competition and created the whole menu from their own WLLC range, which resulted in them winning the competition. “Things were going really well but we were exhausted. The two of us worked 30 hour shifts as we ground our own flour from scratch, did the baking ourselves, the packaging as well as delivery and invoicing whilst designing labels.” says Leandi of their two-man operation. “It was rough, but so rewarding, because for the first time in a very long time we knew we were at the start of something big. We could feel it.”
Just when they believed they had a good thing going, they were shocked to get to the bakery one night to start baking for the upcoming weekend markets, when the staff informed them that they were given instructions to not allow them in. With nowhere to go to produce their stock, Hein and Leandi frantically started contacting other bakeries to allow them the use of their equipment, as they needed fresh stock within 24 hours. “We literally begged them and then 3 of the bakeries we contacted agreed to help us.” Leandi and Hein remember the desperation. “We went in, baked our stock (the staff even helped us!) and the weekend market was another success.”
One of the bakeries they had contacted that day, Espresso, ended up playing a very important role in the couple’s success. “Espresso was so great and lent us so much support. They were the only bakery that took the time to understand what we were doing. They even agreed to contract bake for us in order to free up our time to promote and sell the product.” Leandi says gratefully. “In hindsight, being locked out that night forced us to look at other bakeries which was the best thing that could’ve happened to us.” Espresso still bakes all WLLC bread products to this day. “They mastered the art of baking with our flour – which can be tricky as it is an artisan flour – and with every new product we develop, they share our enthusiasm.”
Four years have passed since partnering with Espresso and the company has gone from strength to strength. WLLC now employs 13 full time staff members and occupies a large shop space at Gants Plaza in Strand from where they distribute all over South Africa as well as accommodate walk-in customers.
They also recently expanded to the Netherlands, where WLLC flour is locally ground and baked to support the need in the local market. Hein, Leandi and the WLLC Team are looking forward to watching this European market develop.
Even though the company now boasts over 36 different products in the range as well as make use of 3 different courier companies to ship all over SA, one thing since those early days has not changed… They still grind their own flour fresh every week.
When asked what it all means to them – the struggle, the success – they both answer the same. “We ultimately wanted to create a healthy product that tastes good at the same time. Everybody can benefit from a low carb lifestyle, whether you suffer from Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, Epilepsy or just want to be healthier, lose a bit of weight or maintain it. The benefits are truly endless, and we wanted to make it easier for people to follow this lifestyle.”
At the core of their success lies a very tangible determination, a deep-seated belief in their dream and an admirable “never-give-up” attitude. It once again proves that if you believe it is possible, it can be achieved!