The birds and the broccoli – the tale of Tikketai

Feb 21, 2022 | General

Stephan Gericke (left) and his son Burger at the cave in the cliffs near the Gwaing river mouth where the Tikketai lives.

Stephan Gericke started farming in the George district in the 70’s. Since then he has established and grown Tikketai to become one of the largest broccoli and cauliflower suppliers nationally. A few years back his son Burger has joined the business and together they both apply their strengths to run a sustainable business that makes a difference.


He has grown together with household names such as Table Top, Green Giant, McCains, and Harvest Time. He states, “In those days, broccoli and cauliflower was a seasonal product. It was grown in the winter months and intended for the frozen market.”

In November 1991, Stephan in collaboration with Dr. Matthys Strydom were pioneers with the first Farmers’ Market in South Africa. This addressed the growing need for consumers to purchase fresh produce directly from farmers.

It all started in 1994 Woolworths approached Stephan to supply them with lettuce. Joining forces with a farmer friend, Brett Ellis, they started a packing store to produce lettuce. They needed a name. Between the two of them, they decided to stay away from names of their wives, children, and farms. The business was named after a legendary bird, the Tikketai. The Tikketai originates from a sequel folklore story Stephan’s father, Burger, shared with his children. 

The story of the Tikketai

Stephan was one of six children. The Gericke family spent winter nights in front of the fireplace listening to stories. His father Burger, was a great storyteller. The legend of the Tikketai was born in their living room with the story of the dwarf family that lives in the indigenous forest on the farm deep in the cliffs. His father Burger was the only one who could visit the dwarfs as it was difficult to get to their home. He would always return with stories of his visits to Hompie, Rippelgesiggie, and Janmat. Story has it that this dwarf family has always been the first to know when the rain was coming because their home was closest to the ocean.

“Hashtags and social media did not exist in those times”, Stephan claims. This resulted in this dwarf family being responsible to spread the good news to the rain queen and other dwarf communities living in the mountains and inland.” The Tikketai is a large bird, living in a cave in the cliffs near the Gwaing river mouth. Hompie was a friend of the Tikketai. He could call it, saddle it up and fly to other forests spreading the good news about rain and other happenings.

The magic about the Tikketai is that everyone has a unique picture of what it looks like.

From lettuce to Brassicaceae

Producing lettuce was not sustainable. They produced cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and baby cabbage. Stephan mentions that they were the first to produce red and green baby cabbage. It was after trying everything that they decided to focus only on broccoli and cauliflower.

The healthy choice

Today Tikketai produces, packs, and supplies the highest quality broccoli and cauliflower. They provide their produce to amongst others Woolworths, Spar, In2Food, fresh produce market, and other processors. Their competitive edge is the favourable weather conditions enabling them to grow and supply their produce all year round. 

Their ethos

The Gerickes are part and parcel of George with a real and vested interest in the community and its well-being. They have always driven job creation above mechanisation. They strive to ensure that they have happy and content employees. Tikketai offers the opportunity to generate an income for about 300 families in the George District.

Tikketai supports nearly 60 NGOs and soup kitchens in the community with broccoli and cauliflower weekly.

Their secret

Tikketai partners with between 10 and 12 of the best farmers who have extensive experience in growing broccoli and cauliflower.  Stephan explains, “Our relationship with our contracted farmers is pivotal to our success. We import the finest seeds. Farmers are provided with very explicit specifications to ensure first-grade produce. Close collaboration between Tikketai and farmers realise the daily supply of broccoli and cauliflower of the highest quality. The Southern Cape offers the best and safest location for growing fresh produce with a short shelf life. We believe the high-quality, unpolluted water from the Outeniqua Mountains is one of the main reasons for this.”

Tikketai continuously does trials with new cultivar-seed selections. Sourcing only the finest seed from overseas guarantees produce with the right shape, colour, shelf life, and resistance to pests. 

The one-less olive lesson

Business owners have to be creative and innovative to cut costs. Stephan applies a valuable lesson from Robert Crandall, head of American Airlines in the 80s. The United States aviation industry was going through severe financial and operational difficulties. Carriers had to cut operational costs. Crandall suggested that if they removed just one olive from every salad served to passengers, nobody would notice. The airline saved $40,000 a year with this small change.  

Stephan has always used this principle to evaluate processes and inputs to promote efficiency and maintain quality within Tikketai.

Today Tikketai is a great example of building a multi-generational legacy. The first generation established and built the business and it is now gradually transferred to the next generation.