Yococo: A guilt-free, vegan ice cream experience

Sinenhlanhla Ndlela left a promising television career to launch Yococo, a guilt-free dessert experience that prioritises lactose-intolerant individuals’ wellbeing. 

After eight months of determined effort, Yococo emerged as a dairy-free, artisanal ice cream company, with its inaugural offering, cookies and rooibos-flavoured vegan ice cream, gracing the shelves of the renowned Rosebank Market in Johannesburg. 

But the reality of building a business proved to be different from her initial expectations. Sinenhlanhla once candidly admitted, ‘My first year in business was challenging yet enjoyable. Filled with doubt, I found it intimidating to confront the hurdles before me. I began with lofty aspirations, only to realise I needed to adjust my expectations. It dawned on me just how much effort was required to transform my dreams into reality.’  

Undeterred, she sought solutions and discovered a business development program tailor-made to her specific needs. Sinenhlanhla, affectionately known as Sine, emphasises the significance of acquiring business acumen, particularly in the realm of financial management. But her most profound realisation came from within. ‘I recognised that personal growth is more important than expanding my business,’ she confides. 

Yococo is now an African brand to be reckoned with and the ambitious pioneer behind it spoke to us about business, travel and life as a new parent.  

Before anything, can we discuss the elephant in the room? Were you one of those lactose intolerant people who consumed dairy products and complained about the suffering afterwards? This is a safe space.

[chuckles] Luckily not! However, when I was pregnant my body craved dairy and hated it at the same time! What actually led to me making dairy-free ice cream was wanting to remove all animal products from my diet in order to pin down what was affecting me emotionally.

Yococo was started in 2016 with the intention of bringing more joy and fun into life.

‘Our mission is to remind each and every one [of you] how divinely perfect you already are and bliss truly is all our birthright,’ Sine said.

It is now close to seven years since you started Yococo and one of your main drives is the desire to ‘serve love’. How does one achieve that with ice cream? 

Time really flies! So many people have food intolerances and can’t enjoy ice cream with no repercussions that’s how Yococo serves love in that space, we don’t use any animal products and we use biodegradable products where we can that’s how we serve love to the environment and last but not least We are sensory beings, smells and tastes have such an incredible power to weave our memories together, the way my mom and grandmother used ice cream as a way to connect and show love for me made an association for love with ice cream, my intention is for people to experience that connection as well with every scoop of Yococo.

What was the inspiration or story behind the name “Yococo”?  

I remember writing a bunch of names on a piece of paper and saying each one to see if it had a ring to it.  I always knew I wanted to make something coconut based so coco had to be in there and in case ice cream doesn’t work maybe I can make yoghurt [but] also this idea was motivated by my spiritual journey so I needed something alluding to that, yoga which means union or to connect popped up as well and so Yococo was born and sounded best honestly.

Moment of honesty: Recently tried to make my own ice cream and let’s just say unlike you, I don’t think I should quit my day job to do this full-time. How long did it take you to learn the trade of ice-cream making and do you still produce all of your ice-creams in-house?

[laughs] Don’t worry the first time I tried I also regretted quitting my job and jumped into bed and cried. Fortunately, it was too late to turn back so I had to keep trying! I’d say it took me about 2-3 months to feel confident to charge for the ice cream and I kept on learning for years, I’m always amazed by how obvious some things are now compared to when I started. We still produce everything in-house but now I have someone else help me make the ice cream.

I’ve been fortunate to indulge in your ice-creams over the years and two of my favourite flavours are Stracciatella and Salted caramel, although Beetroot Chocolate is a blend I’ve enjoyed too. How do you go about deciding on the flavours? 

Ah, thank you! I used to try lots of different things, and when I make ice cream or food this amazing thing happens. My imagination takes over and I get ideas of what to mix and what’s missing. That’s how I come up with recipes and combinations.

Sine envisions running the largest and most enjoyable ice cream brand in South Africa. She also intends to utilize her steady growth to support her team and empower more women. 

 ‘I want to provide people from rural areas with opportunities to grow within my company,’ she states. ‘I have been fortunate to meet numerous individuals throughout my journey, and my mother has been by my side every step of the way. I firmly believe that my team has carried me through the challenging times, making us stronger. They all grasp the process and contribute immensely.’ 

Mail & Guardian included you in the 200 young South Africans list in 2019 and your business has sold hundreds of tubs to ice-cream lovers across the country. Do you have ambitions of serving that love across the continent and, perhaps, even beyond?  

Oh, absolutely I want to take Yococo all over the world.

Her family’s strong and determined women served as a great inspiration to her. Additionally, her passion for ice cream and her vision for the future motivates her. 

 ‘I aim to demonstrate that ‘fun’ and ‘healthy’ can go hand in hand,’ she said. ‘That’s precisely what I’m achieving with Yococo’s dairy-free ice cream. I want to prove that we can change the world and spread love, even if it’s one scoop at a time.’ 

While on the topic of serving love to the world – it all has to start at home right? You are now growing into your journey with motherhood while also running a full-time business. Has this posed new challenges for you and if so, how have you created space to ground yourself in that time?

Motherhood has completely opened me up to a whole new world, I thought I had some things figured out before this new role and now I’m back to “what is going on? Where are the adults?” It’s fun though lots of learning and I’m grateful for all the internal work I did with raising my first baby Yococo I can now use some of those skills here such as being open to learning, having grace for myself when things are uphill, asking for help and taking care of my mind, body and spirit.

The palate has to travel to gather inspiration. Has there been a country you have visited that you feel serves you the best ice cream to date? 

In Amsterdam, I tried quite a bit of dairy-free ice creams and you know what I’m biased towards Yococo.

If you were ever to make a flavour that tasted like South Africa, what would go into it?

I’m thinking turmeric a hint of chilli and pineapple. South Africa for me is such a bright, fun and buzzing place we have so much variety and it’s a friendly country with spice!

And finally, where is the Yococo currently based and how can people get a hold of the sumptuous tubs of ice cream?

We are based in Riversands right now, Riversands incubation hub unit 65, we are also online we supply Jackson’s in Kyalami and Bryanston, Thrupps in Illovo and The Pantry in Rosebank.

ALSO SEE: Vanilla ice cream and salted caramel choc-chip cookie dough sandwiches

Vanilla ice cream and salted caramel choc-chip cookie dough sandwiches

Written by Tsoku Maela for Getaway.

Feature image: Yococo/Instagram

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