Jonathan Bamber is busy promoting some of his firm’s products to a group of people gathered around him.
Bamber was one of the exhibitors at the recent 2022 Fruits, Vegetable and Herbs Conference and Exhibition in Nairobi organised by Market Access Upgrade Programme Kenya, a project funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation in partnership with the government and private sector.
He is one of the brains behind the Crackies brand, comprising a wide range of value-added products made from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.
Crackies is made by Burton and Bamber (B&B) Ltd, an agro-processing company co-founded by Bamber and his business partner Ofelia Burton in 2016.
Bamber says events such as the exhibition give them an opportunity to market both their new and old products.
Crackies come in three flavours – fruit chutney, chilli salt and tomato Ketchup.
“We are excited to launch Crackies as our newest product in the market made from orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. It is a healthier and safe product because of the high value of Vitamin A in it. It comes in different flavours as per the individual customer preference,” he says.
The other value-added products by B&B Ltd are dried mangoes, bananas, pineapples and raspberry fruits.
Bamber adds, they also have granola that comes in three varieties – tropical, classic and chocolate.
B&B Ltd is based in the Matuu area of Machakos County.
The firm’s first product was dried mangoes, which was first marketed in local shops within the area before expanding to Nairobi where they now supply to top supermarkets.
The firm recently also started exporting some of its products to Europe.
“We have a huge market in Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom,” says Bamber.
They are also keen to venture into regional markets, including Uganda, Tanzania, DRC Congo and Rwanda.
“We are looking at a huge market of over 400 million people outside Kenya.”
He admits that the company is yet to fully penetrate the local market as many people are yet to know about their products.
Bamber reveals that they have brought in a continuous-flow microwave that can turn the raw materials into a puree, which will see the company diversify its product offering.
“The continuous-flow microwave heating is an emerging technology in food processing and offers a fast and efficient way to sterilise, say sweet potatoes puree while retaining their colour, taste and nutritional value better than the conventional sterilisation systems,” he explains.
The sweet potato puree can last for up to two years within normal temperatures, eliminating the need for cold storage.
Under the granola brand, the company manufactures breakfast cereals using dried fruits and chocolate.
Bamber explains that they work with small-scale farmers from Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, Murang’a, Embu, Tana River, Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa. The farmers supply them with raw materials, including bananas, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, pineapples and gooseberries.
“Right now we have over 1000 small-scale farmers who supply raw materials to our factory,” says Bamber.
He adds that the major challenge they face is the erratic supply of mangoes as they are seasonal.
“There are times we get them in plenty and others we don’t. For instance, the beginning of late October to March is normally a mango high season,” says Bamber.
“However, we make sure that we produce in large numbers so that we have enough to take us throughout the low season.”
The company currently has 40 employees.
He says quality is key, starting from the farm. The company has agronomists who help train and take farmers through global best practices.
It also works with other organisations to ensure quality control such as Agriculture Food Authority (AFA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (Kephis) and Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD).
Bamber says the company also processes between 10 and 12 tonnes of tomatoes weekly.
He says despite the business being on an upward trajectory, it has also endured its fair share of challenges.
“One of our major challenges is the fluctuation of power. It is a huge problem in Matuu where our business is located. When it goes off, our products are destroyed completely,” he says.
Working capital has also been another issue.
Cash flow issues
Farmers, noted Bamber, want their payment upon delivery, which is not practically possible as the company has to wait for about a month to get paid by the outlets it supplies its products to.
For supermarkets, for instance, payments are made on a 45-60-day cycle.
This, he says exposes businesses to cash flow issues.
Fortunately for them though, they have a working relationship with several banks that loan them the money to pay farmers.
Also being a dry area, water is a major problem, which has gotten worse due to climate change.
“Dealing with fruits, the factory has to be clean at all times. It is normally tough during the prolonged dry season in Matuu,” he says.
Bamber says the company plans to expand its product offering.
He says they have partnered with various non-governmental organisations to support school feeding programmes in the area.