Last year was a tough period for many businesses due to the economic effects of covid-19 pandemic.
Many businesses were hit badly and others forced to close shop. Sweet and Dried, a processing company in Tharaka Nithi County specialising in processing fruits, vegetables, grains and assorted flours, was not spared.
Prior to covid, for more than seven years, the firm was exporting quality dried agricultural produce to the US and Europe where it made good returns.
However, when the pandemic hit Kenya in March 2020 leading to the lockdown and flight cancellations to contain the virus, the export link was cut abruptly negatively affecting business. To stay afloat, like other businesses, they had to innovate, reinvent and restrategise.
“With the international market closed, we had to think of a way to stay in business. It was a tough season,” recalls Mercy Mwende the company founder.
Having built the company from Sh50,000 venture to a million-shilling venture, she was not going to sit down and watch her fortunes go to waste. They were exporting dried mangoes and dried ripe bananas abroad.
After some market research, they developed one composite flour that would meet the nutritional needs of the local community.
The nutritious flour dubbed Cham Booster Porridge contains two fruits, two cereals, two tubers, two seeds and three vegetables, formulating one whole flour. The rich components also boost the body’s immunity.
Coming from a community highly dependent on plant resources in improving food security, nutrition and health, Cham Booster Porridge came in handy.
In order to reach the base pyramid consumer, they did aggressive marketing through the company’s 100 local outlets.
“When the international market crashed, we had to get creative in coming up with ways of remaining afloat, and more so locally. With Cham Booster porridge, we not only met the nutritional needs of the community, but we also managed to reduce poverty by promoting commercialisation of African indigenous vegetables,” explains Mwende the company founder.
Coming from a region with seasonal produce, and one that faces serious postharvest losses, particularly during the high production seasons, Mwende capitalised on extending the shelf life of agricultural commodities through drying to avail the produce throughout the year at relatively stable prices.
To guarantee quality, processing and packaging of commodities at the factory follows a strict guideline which adheres to the stringent regulations of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).
The processing also abides by the laid down food safety standards as well as traceability systems to meet both the export and the local market requirements. The products are also certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards.
To aid in production in the company, United States Agency for International Development through the Kenya Value Chain Enterprises funded the company with an automated air drier, and this helped boost their processing capacity.
“Drying extends the shelf-life of commodities for instance the shelf life for vegetables moves from seven days to 12 months,” she says.
The dried fruits are packed in 30 – 100 grams, flour in 400gm, while the bulk produce for all the products are sold in 5- 10 kgs.
From the venture, Mwende has won several awards. In 2011, she won an award of the top young entrepreneur, in 2013, she won Enablis Business Plan Award, and in 2015, she secured Netfund 2015 Green Innovation Award.
Currently Mwende works with more than 3,000 farmers and 40 employees of which 80 per cent are women.
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