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Walking the talk: Limpopo man puts 'walkie-talkies' on shop shelves

25 March 2022 - 08:00
Eiren Drake, the owner of Tin Stuf which cans chicken feet and necks, says he has always enjoyed the delicacy.
Eiren Drake, the owner of Tin Stuf which cans chicken feet and necks, says he has always enjoyed the delicacy.
Image: Supplied

Everyone has heard of tinned vegetables, tinned fish, tinned samp & beans and even canned beef, but a Limpopo entrepreneur has introduced something totally new to the market — canned 'walkie-talkies': chicken feet and necks. 

His product, known as Tin Stuf, was launched in Limpopo amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 but is now available across the country in Shoprite stores around the country.

The brains behind the delicacy, Eiren Drake, told TimesLIVE that he has long enjoyed chicken heads and feet, having been introduced to the food growing up in rural Limpopo.  

“As a young boy, I spent a significant amount of time with my late grandfather's employees whose children were my friends and playmates. It was then that I was first introduced to the widely loved and consumed dish of chicken feet, which very quickly became one of my favourite meals — and still is today,” said Drake.

He spent time learning about the foods enjoyed by  different cultures he grew up around — and became aware of how many people struggled to find quality protein.

The company’s solution was to can chicken necks and feet, one of SA’s most popular street foods. 

“Ultimately we decided to develop a unique canned product. Our product offers the benefits of not needing to be frozen or cooked. “It's a simple heat and eat product,” he said.

Drake, aged 26, said he pursued  the walkie-talkie business with his grandfather in 2017 but after launching their first commercially approved product at the beginning of 2020, his grandfather died.

“The unexpected passing of my business partner, investor, life coach, mentor, and beloved grandfather was, and has since been, by far the most difficult challenge that I've had,” Drake said.

He said things turned around in February this year when he was approached by the Shoprite Group, and agreed on a three-year exclusive deal to supply the retailer.

“As a small-business owner, my very first engagement with formal retail in the corporate space has been an absolute honour and great privilege. Working under the guidance of the Shoprite team, they haven’t just had a significant impact on the future of our small business, but rather Shoprite has become the future on which the existence of our business is now based,” he said.

Drake said in October 2021, Shoprite started selling the product in some of their Eastern Cape and Western Cape shops. 

“Now we are listed in all their divisions in more than 200 branches nationwide,” said Drake.

Covid-19 was somewhat of a hurdle as it was very difficult to do the promotional work.

“It was exceedingly difficult to get out as a new product so we just put it into the market. It limited us tremendously in terms of being able to get out there and get the product going,” Drake said.

He said though they have received positive market feedback they have also been criticised.

“I believe criticism is worth building on,” he said.

According to Shoprite, the factory now employs 35 people per production shift, and they have room to increase this to as many as 60 full-time employees should demand increase.

Among the employees integral to Tin Stuf’s mission are several friends who introduced him to the dish as a young child.

“Today, they are the very people behind our innovation to develop a new product concept and our inspiration to follow through and launch it,” he said.

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