A few years ago, Afie Braimoh was hired from Florida in the US to manage the setup of a juice manufacturing plant in Benue State – Nigeria’s acclaimed “food basket” – where she learnt that many famers in Benue suffer huge post-harvest losses due to a lack of storage facilities and poor roads.
“I saw lots of rot in food produce,” Braimoh recalls, and she started to think of a solution to create a sustainable value chain while empowering farmers.
How did it all start?
At first, she considered setting up a fruit juice company. She realised, however, that while fresh fruits are seasonal, dried fruits are available all year round and have a longer shelf life if they are properly stored.
Braimoh began to experiment by drying fruit in a standard kitchen dehydrator, revising the process to get the right texture, taste, and colour. After a few weeks of testing, she started handing out samples at her church, offices and among friends and family. She was encouraged by the feedback she got and sought approval for her product from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in Nigeria.
In September 2016 she got the NAFDAC approval and that marked the launch of SACFruits Dried Fruits, a healthy snack in Nigeria. Less than a year later, SACFruits had found its place in over 70 stores and was nominated by the African Creative Exhibition and Awards 2017 as the Best Food Produce Innovation in Nigeria.
Now, only in its second year, the product is available in about 200 stores across several states. and can also be found in hotels, gyms, spas, fast food stores and schools.
How did the company grow into the business it is today?
Today, SACFruits’ dried fruits are available in three varieties – mangoes, pineapple and a medley pack which consists of dried mangoes, pineapple and coconut. It’s made with 100% home-grown fruits and prepared without additives, sugar or preservatives. So far, Braimoh company has sold about 40,000 products.
To grow the business, the company relies on direct sales, trade shows and a distribution model to spread its tentacles. Apart from selling it in 120g packs, SACFruits has a contract manufacturing arm through which it supplies dried fruits to companies that rebrand it.
SACFruits isn’t Braimoh first business venture. The self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur is also the founder of Makinhomes Limited, a Lagos-based real estate marketing company that has been operating in Nigeria and the US for more than 10 years. She also serves as a project manager, managing technology projects from time to time.
“From the start, I decided to grow SACFruits organically. Everything I put into SACFruits has been from my savings and whatever money I make from any business or contract. Now, we are in a growth mode.”
Surely there must have been challenges?
Like many entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Braimoh struggled with erratic power supply and a poor road network. In the beginning, she transported the fruits from Benue to Lagos. The journey took about 14 hours by road. By the time the fruits got to SACFruits’ factory in Lagos, about half of them were spoilt. To solve this problem, Braimoh decided to set up a factory in Benue state at the source of her raw materials. This has reduced operating costs. The less obvious, but still major challenge, is constantly having to educate people on what dried fruits are and getting the product stocked in the market.
She says store owners should be willing to carry multiple brands of the same products and leave the customers to choose.
Braimoh is currently looking for investors to take SACFruits to the next level. Her goal is to get SACFruits into other African countries and the US market where she will be participating at the 22nd Annual Food & Beverage show in Miami in October.
By 2019 she wants to be in stores in the US. The medium- to long-term plan is for SACFruits to have its own farm.
What can we learn from her experience?
“Sometimes I take a step back to re-strategise and think of ways to move this business forward. I attend courses online, events and trade shows. I spend time talking to and learning from people, including my staff.”
To anyone thinking of starting a business in Nigeria, Braimoh says: “First of all, do your research and understand the territory. Just because it has worked for you globally, doesn’t mean it will work for you in Nigeria.” She says the risks of doing business in Nigeria are very high, but the rewards are higher.
“You have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul. Be financially savvy. Be passionate and focused. Understand the value chain of your business and account for every cost along the way because one little thing that falls off will affect you in the long term. Monitor your business closely; don’t just leave it to your accountant. If you can tackle some of these things, you are very well on your way.”