From hawking peanuts to butter and honey processing

It is 11am, and Francis Ochieng is busy putting branded stickers on peanut butter containers as he races against time to meet a customer order that came in late the previous night.

The order also includes several kilos of honey and roasted peanuts.

“I have orders that come late and are required immediately, so you have to burn the midnight oil to complete them. But l am used to this kind of rush because I’ve been doing it for the last three years,” Ochieng begins as he inquires from one of his two employees if there is a larger box that can fit all the products.

To Ochieng, this is his daily routine, where through his FoodBerg Investment Company founded in 2020 and located in Pipeline, Nairobi, currently processes honey, roasted peanuts, peanut butter, peanut flour, coated peanuts, roasted cashew nuts and butter and almonds.

He reveals that business has been good since he started the business after starting out hawking roasted peanuts in different parts of Nairobi, where he averaged 5kg a week.

Today, Ochieng does 300kg, including both roasted peanuts and peanut butter. He also sells 1.5-2 tonnes of honey and at least 15kg of cashew nuts monthly. A kilo of honey goes for Sh750, while 800g of peanut butter goes for Sh600.

However, he’s quick to point out the bad business environment that is now eating at his profits.

“Currently, it’s costly to run a business. Take, for example, the high costs of electricity. At the beginning of last year, l spent less than Sh3,000 on power, but today l spend between Sh8,000 and Sh10,000. Add that to the high cost of raw materials and transport fuelled by the high cost of fuel, and you understand why it is hard nowadays to make a profit,” he regrets.

After his Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE) at St Vincent’s High School in Oyugis, Homabay County, Ochieng enrolled for a Diploma in Food Science and Technology at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK).

Make extra coin

Coming from a humble background, Ochieng had to look for ways to supplement the little he got from his parents for transport and meals.

He was introduced by a friend to a lady who employed him to roast palm millet to process precooked porridge using a special machine at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI).

Ochieng saw an opportunity to make an extra coin, using the machine to roast peanuts after he was done with his employer’s palm millet for his employer, which he sold to other students. He started with 5kgs of peanuts, and in a week, he had sold it all.

“Since my peanuts were machine-roasted, they were evenly roasted and sweeter. They created a demand, and this encouraged me to go on,” he recalls.

After several months, Ochieng had made enough money to go it alone. He visited Nairobi’s Industrial Area, did some inquiries and finally bought a roasting machine worth Sh40,000.

As the business grew, some of his clients started urging him to explore processing more products besides roasted peanuts.

This gave him the idea of producing peanut butter. “I just told them, l am thinking of peanut butter, but I didn’t know how l was going to actualize that,” he remembers.

Ochieng explains that he went back to the person who sold him the roasting machine in Industrial Area and ordered a blending machine for making peanut butter. He bought it at Sh60,000.

By this time, his customer base had grown from just other students to subordinate staff and even some of his lecturers.

Some of his customers soon started ordering cashew nuts. He started with roasted cashew nuts before expanding into cashew nut butter.

But then Covid-19 struck in early 2020. He was worried it would affect his business because of the movement restrictions, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

At the height of the pandemic, demand for homemade remedies, including honey, to deal with minor effects of the infections rose.

“Demand for honey grew instantly since it was one of the ingredients of the concoction popularly known as dawa,” says Omondi.

Seizing the opportunity, Ochieng made inquiries and sourced honey from Baringo and Kitui, and started supplying to his clients. He has since started processing his own honey.

Ochieng explains that the biggest secret to his success has been ensuring he supplies quality products to his customers.

“Through this, l receive hundreds of referrals,” he says. Until he graduated last year, Ochieng was able to balance his studies and run his business, although he had to hire an extra hand.

He reveals that fully paid for his education using proceeds from the business.

Today, Ochieng has two employees, who help in processing the products. When he joined college, he had set his sights on employment, but that has since changed his mind.

He is currently seeking partnerships to raise funds for expansion.

“I want to create employment, not seek employment,” says the 28-year-old.

Currently, he trains those looking to join his line of work for a fee.

Aggregate produce

Ochieng works with tens of farmers who grow peanuts, aggregate and deliver their produce in Nairobi.

Most of his peanuts come from the Nyanza region, although he’s also scouting for partnerships with farmers from other regions. He sources his honey from farmers in Baringo, Kitui, Machakos and West Pokot.

He explains that there are times when the supply of raw materials is low, such as last year during the prolonged drought. He had to import honey from Tanzania.

Since a good quality product starts at the farm, Ochieng regularly visits peanut farmers to ensure they dry their peanuts well to prevent cases of aflatoxin.

To arrest cases of adulteration of honey, which is a common practice in the market, this is where his training in food science comes in handy.

Ochieng hopes to stock his products in all the major supermarkets but cites the challenge of late payments as suppliers have to wait for at least a month to receive their money, which affects cash flow for businesses.