You cannot mention tamarind and your taste buds fail to acknowledge the unique bitter-sweet taste that comes with it.
Known in Swahili as ukwaju, edible fruit that comes from a leguminous tree, can be used to make juice, paste, sauce and jam.
It’s the uniqueness that comes with it that made Ann Kariuki start the business after quitting employment back in 2018 after working for a company that was struggling to pay salaries.
“It was a series of events that led to the birth of Umai Organic. I quit employment I then set up a fresh juice plus fruits and uji power business which was doing well until Covid started,” she says.
After closing down, she had to find ways to make ends meet, by looking for something unique, not flooded in the market and readily available.
“I fell in love with tamarind because of its versatile nature, there’s so much you can do with the fruit. From juice, sauce, paste, jam, powder to making soap and lotions,” she says.
Umai comes from Umami one of the five basic tastes, also known as the fifth taste. Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Umami.
Umami is the taste of amino acids and nucleotides, and tells us when a food contains protein, a nutrient essential to survival.
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Ms Kariuki says when she started, she was focused on selling in supermarkets and had limited her marketing to friends, family and acquaintances.
However, she expanded her reach after being certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).
Though she is now more stable, she admits that it is not an easy path to navigate.
Kariuki says the main challenge at the moment is getting to clients who are out of Nairobi.
“For instance, someone sees our products and would like to buy but then the transport fee is almost the same price with the products, that puts them off,” she says.
Another challenge is that some Kenyans are still sceptical about online businesses and she keeps getting requests to stock the products in the supermarkets, which limited their plan to go big.
“We are however working on better ways to reach mashinani folks,” she points out.
Kariuki says the other challenge was getting their products in the supermarkets. When they started, supermarkets were the main target and all of our efforts were geared to that area.
“We had our products in shops and supermarkets. We however realised how much supermarkets disfavour small businesses. From payment terms to the logistics needed to supply in supermarkets, it was pure headache.
“For instance, you need a merchandiser in every branch that has your products. That has cost implications and eats into your profit margins,” she says.
She adds that one also needs vehicles for deliveries and mostly you have to wait 30-90 days for payment to be processed.
To overcome those many hurdles, she is determined to go fully online and be an E commerce business.
WORKS WITH LOCAL FARMERS
Kariuki says the company has experienced a steady growth and penetration in the market by providing employment for six full time employees.
The business has also empowered women who supply them with raw materials giving them an alternative source of income.
“The main raw product is tamarind which depending with the seasons I source from Makueni, Kitui and Pokot and Baringo. However, I grow some of my other ingredients that I use in the making of sauce like carrots, onions, mint and chillies,” she says.
They have also partnered with big names in the food industry who believed in their products.
“We currently produce an average of 2,500litres of tamarind juice a month and about 300litres of sauce, and 500kg of tamarind jam and paste,” she says.
“I have four Tamarind products that is juice, sauce, paste, jam/spread and tamarind seeds powder. The prices are affordable to make them accessible to as many people and follow the competitive forces in the market,” Kariuki says.
Kariuki explains how she processes the different valued added products.
Made naturally from the tamarind fruit, tamarind juice is a deliciously tangy juice, the perfect guilt free alternative to soda and carbonated drinks. It comes in six variations, Plain and infused with either mint, cinnamon, iliki/cardamon, cloves or ginger. The juice is sweetened with honey or Stevia natural sweetener.
Made with fresh natural spices, chillis and herbs, it is available as chilli sauce and sweet and tangy sauce.
Ms Kariuki says she is among the few who have explored the Tamarind Jam, a spread that is unique, tasty and one of its kind in the Kenyan market, perfect spread for bread, pancakes, burgers and hotdogs.
Made from the tamarind fruit pulp perfect as a marinade, loved for its ability to tenderise, and deepen the flavour and colour of your meat. It is also used in porridge for a sour taste.
Tamarind seeds powder
When she started, she didn’t know what to do with the seeds after removing the fleshy part.
After doing some online research on their usage and making inquiries, she learnt that they are good for joint lubrication and knee pain.
For Ms Kariuki, the future looks bright and she is only getting started.
Her future plan is to become a household brand with branches opening in major cities and towns in the country.
“We are also hoping to automate most of our production process to increase on capacity. We have six employees and engage casuals on a need basis. We partner with different companies for delivery services,” she says.