Inspired by the success story of East Africa Breweries Limited, Athanas Matheka wanted to replicate the same by venturing into the world of business.
The entrepreneur went on to make a name for herself by turning Ksh15,000 start-up capital into a multi-million Business. His company, Greenforest Foods has grown from a tiny kitchen in Umoja to a big corporate with over 60 employees and two factories. Their products can also be found in some of the biggest retailers in the country.
Here is his story as told by WoK.
In 1987, he began his employment journey at Elianto where he worked as a shift supervisor charged with cooking oil extraction and refining.
Matheka left Elianto three years later to join Unilever as a customer service manager. Before rising to field representative, he was in charge of key retail outlets and distribution points across the country. He also went on to work for other brands, like Cadbury and UNGA limited.
Spotting an opportunity
With the progression of his career, he opened a mini Mart for his wife Catherine Mwikali. Customers started asking for Kenyan honey which was not available at the time since the market was flooded with imports.
Matheka then decided to start making honey. He bought three buckets in May 2000 and began processing it in their kitchen with sufuria and hot water.
They packaged it in 500ml containers and sold them at Ksh80 each. The product eventually sold earning a profit of Ksh20,800. To the dismay of many, he quit his job to fully focus on the business. His wife supported the move despite the fact that they had a young family.
He first approached Tuskys which was at the time growing into a giant retailer. After pitching his idea, his products were accepted.
According to a local daily, by December of that year, he had sold honey worth Ksh1.6 million and made about Kshh400,000 in profits.
The demand kept rising and they eventually closed the Mini Mart to fully focus on the honey business named Greenforest Foods Limited.
With time, they introduced other products, such as peanuts, food grade beeswax, peanut butter and processed cashew nuts. They work with thousands of bee and nuts farmers in and beyond East Africa in order to get raw materials, and are among the leading processors of honey in the region.
One of their challenges is the shortage of raw materials in Kenya which has made them import from places like Tanzania and Malawi.
At some point, they also struggled with sourcing groundnuts in Kenya with acceptable aflatoxin levels.
The multiple taxes and levies on raw materials by county governments and regulatory bodies is also another challenge. The multiple taxes makes it hard for them to favorably compete with bigger brands.
Getting credit in Kenya was also a huge challenge, hence, he sourced for it abroad by building a relationship with Netherland’s Oiko Credit. He has also partnered with other organizations, such as, Slovak Aid, European Union and USAID.