How this urban gardening startup is gaining market attention

Updated on 4 October 2016

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Uninspired by the look of traditional seed packaging, when Vanessa Jacobs, launched her range of seeds used to grow vegetables and herbs called Sow Delicious, she decided that for the packaging she would think outside the box.

When it came to deciding on the design, Jacobs being a chocolate lover meant that deciding to shape the seeds into slabs was an obvious choice. However, rather than eating the slabs, you plant them instead, she explains.

“The concept of delicious food and chocolate just seem to gel. I mean who is not inspired by chocolate? It also helps that both soil and chocolate are brown. I like to say that we make the healthiest guilt-free chocolate on earth,” she says.

Form and function 

Cape Town-based Jacobs launched the Sow Delicious online store in 2013. The first slab of seeds were sold three months later.

Jacobs’ seeds slabs grow heirloom vegetables, which unlike genetically modified and hybrid vegetable, means the seed has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, and are pollinated without any human intervention.

“It is the only type of seed that can be saved from the parent plant and replanted to grow an exact replica of the plant the seed was harvested from,” says Jacobs.

The range of seeds in the Sow Delicious range includes peppers, tomatoes, brinjal, cabbage, cauliflower, basil, spinach and rocket. 

The slabs are fertilised with organic fertilizer, making the seeds germinate twice as fast and hold water longer than the soil, says Jacobs.

Each packet includes detailed instructions which include: how to plant; the months in which to plant (depending on the province they are grown in) and how much produce can be expected from each packet, as well as when to harvest.

“Our slabs are pot friendly too so it does not matter if you live on a farm or in a flat, with the ‘Slab of Seed’ we make grow-your-own ‘sow’ simple,” says Jacobs.

Although the harvesting period depends on the type of plant, Jacobs says in South Africa most vegetables can be harvested after 8 to 12 weeks from the time they are planted.

“Our slabs are pot friendly too so it does not matter if you live on a farm or in a flat, with the ‘Slab of Seed’ we make grow-your-own ‘sow’ simple”

Edible gardening is on the rise

Sow Delicious is hoping to capitalise on the growing ‘grow-your-own movement’  – which Jacobs says has been gaining momentum worldwide for over 10 years, with more people keen to plant their own vegetables and herbs. An additional benefit of their unique seed packaging, says Jacobs, is that it makes gardening less intimidating especially for novice gardeners

“People are keen to take their health back into their own hands, to get back to their roots and eat homegrown food, which is unrivaled in taste and nutrition. But besides all these wonderful benefits, the most surprising of them all is that growing your own fresh food will save you an average of 70% plus on your vegetable grocery bill,” says Jacobs.

These slabs were created with everyone in mind regardless of where they live. People living in cities and metropolitan areas can now grow their own vegetables and herbs, says Jacobs.

“Planting with your garden fork the harvest that will end up on your table fork used to be something our parents and grandparents taught us, but we are forgetting to teach our own children and it is taking its toll on our environment, our connectedness to our bodies and to each other and can be seen in our increasing hospital bills and dwindling social etiquette,” she adds.

Left, Exotic tomato seeds from Sow Delicious’ range of fertilised slabs. Right, A plant growing from the slab of seeds.
“I [would] like to believe that we have shattered the traditional mould of ‘gardening product’ into the realm of ‘delicious, inspirational, food product’ and so our ‘Slab of Seed’  has been created with everybody in mind that has dreamt about growing their own patch of delicious food, whether they consider themselves a gardener or not,” she says.

Unexpected success

As a result of their local success, Sow Delicious is preparing to tap into the international market.

“A few months ago we had a break-through in the ingredient composition of our slab and for the first time it became ‘exportable’. We really would love to break into the international export market and hopefully join the ranks of the many amazing South African companies who have left their mark on distant shores,” says Jacobs.

Jacobs also scooped the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award at this year’s Sanlam and Business Partners annual entrepreneurship competition, which recognises entrepreneurial excellence.

“As an entrepreneur, the nature of this beast [career] is that you fail more often than you succeed and so to have moved so far in such a short space of time is something I have never experienced in any of the other businesses I have started and so I really feel blessed out of my socks,” she adds.

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