Kenyan entrepreneur leaves Nation Media Group for gooseberry venture

Viola Maina, founder of Gooseberry Delight (centre), and two of her employees display some of the company’s products.

Viola Maina, a bachelor of arts graduate from the University of Nairobi, is the founder and CEO of Gooseberry Delight Limited. Located just outside the town of Eldoret, Kenya, her company specialises in using gooseberries – a small, round fruit – to create an array of products such as sauces, juice and jam.

Before founding her fruit-processing company, Maina had an extensive 17-year career with the Nation Media Group, the largest media house in East and Central Africa. Working in the advertising department, she eventually left her position to venture into the uncertain world of agribusiness.

Maina resigned in 2017, seeking opportunities that would allow her to better utilise her skills and empower her community. She wanted to pursue an agriculture-related venture, but managing two jobs simultaneously was impossible, so she had to make a choice. “Leaving Nation was incredibly difficult,” she admits. It took her two years to finally make the decision to leave the company.

Getting started was no easy task. Initially, she connected with her friend Bernadette Murgor, the founder of Smart Farmer magazine, and worked at the company. This allowed her the opportunity to interact with farmers and understand their challenges. One of the driving factors behind her decision to join the agricultural magazine was to establish connections with farmers through field events.

During one of the events Maina hosted while working for Smart Farmer magazine, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) held an exhibition featuring underutilised fruits, including gooseberries. After learning more about these fruits, Maina’s interest was piqued. “KALRO informed me that there was a farmer growing gooseberries in Tigoni, Limuru, so I paid him a visit. Stephen Mwanzia, the farmer, was very experienced and discussed the various aspects and benefits of growing gooseberries. I was truly intrigued,” says Maina.

Maina left Smart Farmer in 2019 and dedicated her time to engaging with farmers and encouraging them to cultivate gooseberries. Later that year, she invited KALRO to educate farmers on the advantages of growing the crop. Eighty farmers attended the field day event, gaining valuable insights about gooseberries from industry experts.

One day, Maina was invited by KALRO to attend an event at a three-acre demo farm owned by a local farmer. Unfortunately, the farmer was harvesting gooseberries without a market to sell them. Seeing the opportunity, Maina decided to purchase the fruits from the farmer and began searching for buyers. She bought the gooseberries for $0.23 and sold them for $0.31 in different markets around Eldoret. As the fruits started to gain traction, she decided to fully commit to the business. Farmers began producing gooseberries in larger quantities, and Maina saw the potential for a company that could buy from them and handle the packaging and sales.

Maina began promoting her products on social media, and one day she received an order for 500 punnets from a supermarket in Nairobi. Her business was thriving until the Covid-19 outbreak disrupted everything. The places she had been selling to stopped buying as the pandemic affected various businesses across the country. However, in September 2020, her company experienced a resurgence when someone interested in exporting the fruits contacted her.

A selection of Gooseberry Delight’s products

When Maina received the phone call, she didn’t have enough fruits to fulfil the request. Fortunately, just the previous week, she had spoken with a woman from Kitale who had a 20-acre gooseberry farm. Maina visited the farmer, negotiated with her, and they reached an agreement on the price. “We agreed, and I loaded the fruits into a pickup and headed to Nairobi,” she recalls.

Another customer, a food scientist working for a food company, purchased 400kg of gooseberries from Maina. But, in 2021, when the food scientist contacted her again, she didn’t have any fruits available. The farmer from Kitale had exhausted her supply.

Consequently, Maina needed to encourage more farmers to grow gooseberries, as she had already secured a market for them. However, she soon found herself facing an excess of fruits and struggled to sell the entire supply of raw gooseberries. It was then that she decided to process the surplus fruits into products like juice and jam.

Eager to learn about food processing and value addition, Maina enrolled in a short course at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) in Eldoret, where she learned how to make jam, juices and other products from gooseberries. Additionally, she visited a woman in Nairobi who provided her with further training, as well as a food technology expert who shared valuable tips.

The client who purchased gooseberries from Maina for export advised her to obtain certification for traceability purposes. Consequently, she registered with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). After receiving approval from KEBS, it allowed them to start packaging and supplying supermarkets.

Once the gooseberries are sourced, they are sorted before being processed. At present, Maina’s company produces gooseberry sweet and hot sauce, gooseberry chili sauce, gooseberry jam and gooseberry juice.

Maina sells her products through several retailers, including Transmatt, New Yako Supermarket, Yako Household, Uzuri Supermarket, all branches of Tulin Supermarket, Eldomatt Hyper, Eldo Raiya Supermarket and Kenmart Supermarket. She notes that the recommended retail price for the jam is $0.99 for a 250g container and $2.06 for 500g. The hot sauce is priced at $1.30 and $1.60 per bottle.

Gooseberry Delight’s hot and sweet sauce is the company’s best-selling product. On a weekly basis, it sells around 20 boxes, each containing twelve 250g units, as well as 10 five-litre bottles to hotels in the Eldoret region. Hotels have emerged as a notable new market segment for the company’s sauces.

Recently, Maina’s company showcased its products at the Agricultural Trade Fair held at the University of Eldoret and also participated in an event in Mwanza, Tanzania. To date, she has invested approximately $46,000 in capital, which covers research, equipment purchases, and business operations.

Gooseberry Delight Limited founder Viola Maina’s contact information

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