Novice stumbles on niche market with family spices


A novice stumbles upon a niche market with family spices


Stephen Machua is the founder of Piquant Spices, a spice manufacturing startup. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Stephen Machua’s entrepreneurial journey began with a costly failure, but that turned out to be his biggest business lesson.

He invested 250,000 Sh of subsidies in the cultivation of tomatoes. He and his partners had hoped the investment would yield as much as 1.2 million shillings.

The math was correct, the returns weren’t and they faced a measly Sh9,000.

For many entrepreneurs, the costly setback would have been enough to persuade them to retire in job security and live a risk-free life. But not Stefan.

He let his wounds sink and woke up the next day to travel to Kutus, Kirinyaga County, where he was looking for a new product, banana flour, which did not hit the ground.

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The storm blew that ship away before it could dock. Because, as he says, “Banana flour is great on paper, but it doesn’t make business sense. You have to dry a lot of bananas just to get a kilo of flour.

But he didn’t give up.

Then he came across an idea. Why not create spices for what he calls the kadogo market? Spices needed to be well packed for retail customers.

This is how Piquant Spices, a spice manufacturing start-up, was born.

With the remaining part of the grant from the Government of Kenya and the World Bank (collectively the grant was 3.6 million shillings), Stephen spiced up the idea and set up a small spice manufacturing plant. .

In his words, he saw a gap that had been overlooked.

“If you look at the market, you’ll hardly see spices that have the whole family in mind. Either they are too hot for children or too bland. I wanted to create something the whole family could consume without having to call a doctor.

With fire in his bones, Stephen got into it at Mach speed and produced two products – tea masala and pilau masala – in the first phase of his newfound love.

It was a baptismal exercise for him as he embarked on his first startup attempt.

Is it easier to have two products in circulation?

“You are not resting. You do one thing and the next keeps you up at night,” says the young entrepreneur.

And it has more products in the pipeline. “We have ten products in the certification phase at the Kenya Bureau of Standards. Ten products that he thinks will have adhered to a similar scenario. A whole family of products for the whole family. Beef Masala, Chicken Masala, Cumin, Cinnamon, Cardamom among others.”

He sources his raw materials from aggregators, people who travel to farms as far away as Zanzibar and Uganda to get them.

“We get some products from suppliers in Marikiti [Nairobi]. It’s important to get them from these places because they’re considerably cheaper because they come straight from the farm. Our factory is based in a government facility where we also have storage.

Piquant Spices goes into production two or three times a month, depending on market demand. Most of their customers order from their website.

Does he make a profit, asks this writer. He’s a die-hard businessman and he tries to philosophize the answer like all businessmen would when faced with this question.

He thinks for a bit, then shoots straight from the hip to the center of the target.

“Yes, we are making a profit. But our startup model is lean, so it’s easy to have the illusion of making a profit because we’ve been shielded from overhead costs like rent and closing storage facilities. We can pay salaries, cover all other overhead costs and devote time to such maintenance,” he says.

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Are the products in major stores across the country?

“We encountered headwinds in our attempts to get there. We have only been operating for a year, I think the stores have not trusted us so much. Then there is the challenge of credit terms. At this point, it’s important that we lock in all the revenue we can. Big stores have long sales conversion rates and that may not work for us. »

To promote their products, they have a strong sales team that seeks out new markets at granular levels. Their target customers operate convenience stores and kiosks in the estates.

Stephen wants to expand his reach to the greater region of East Africa. Its products are already in Tanzania and Uganda. They plan to enter the DRC this year.

“I’m looking for money!” Either investors to buy shares in the company, or a grant, or something like that.

He wants to set up a factory which, according to him, would cost tens of millions of shillings. That’s what keeps him awake.

Her biggest lesson so far is “never be afraid to try something new”.

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