By Prudence Minayo
Bernard Njoroge is the managing director of Sky Foods Limited. He has over 15 years experience working for some of the top brands in the country. He quit his Sh1 million a month job at Del Monte to re-introduce Tree Top juice brand to the country. Mr Kamau was hoping that Kenyans still remembered the iconic brand and if nothing else a sense of nostalgia would push people to buy the product. In 2015, he successfully introduced Tree Top to the market after buying the trademark in 2011.
Here is the entrepreneur journey of Bernard Njoroge as told by WoK.
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He was part of the sales and marketing team that introduced Del Monte to the market. He saw the company grow from its initial sales and three flavors to a brand that turned over millions annually and distributed to several African countries. He went on to join Coca Cola East Africa as the operations marketing manager.
From September 2008 to October 2014, he served as the director, sales and marketing for Sub Saharan Africa at Del Monte.
Quitting and Venturing out
In 2014, he quit his job at Del Monte to found Sky foods. He was inspired to quit his job after realizing that he was building an empire for other people yet he did not have any shares at the company. While working at Del Monte, consumers often mentioned Tree Top during focus group interviews. He wanted to re-introduce it to the market but his employer was not keen on the idea. In 2011, he decided to purchase the trademark from Unilever but took him about 4 years to start the business.
Asked by howwemadeitinafrica.com about his decision to buy a brand from Unilever rather than start his own, he responded,
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When I was at Del Monte every time I did focus group interviews, consumers would often mention Tree Top. I started thinking about buying the brand and reintroducing it, but my employer wasn’t interested. So I decided to negotiate with Unilever on my own to acquire the trademark. I approached more than 10 financing institutions and eventually, after nearly two years, I raised over $2m for this business.
Some people were sceptical over the success of Tree Top. The juice had been pulled out of the shelves around 1995 due to price controls imposed by the government. At the time, tree top would come in a 700ml glass bottle with orange flavor. The introduction of Quencher, which was much cheaper, came in a plastic bottle and different flavors, also meant Tree Top lost a lot of customers.
Bernard realized that a lot of people and retailers were still nostalgic about Tree Top. Two decades since it was last sold, the juice was re-introduced into the country in different shapes, sizes and flavors. They also introduced both the ready to drink option and the dilute to taste. One advantage about having worked for a multinational was that he had built both local and international connections. The disadvantage was that unlike before, he didn’t have access to a lot of money. As a boss, he was also in charge of almost all aspects including paying suppliers and tax. Nonetheless,Tree Top has been a success and distributes their products to other countries, like, Uganda and Tanzania.
Prior to the re-launch of Treetop, the University of Nairobi graduate of Commerce, had set up Garden Limited in 2004. The company packaged pickled gherkins which he sourced from farmers in Kerugoya. He closed the business after drought affected production and he started selling sun dried tomatoes until 2006. During this time, the father of three was still employed.
Quitting job at Del Monte And Sourcing For Finances
According to the entrepreneur, “the only weapon I had after quitting Del Monte was blind optimism, faith and millions of potential risks”. After he had identified all the aspects of the business including factory costs and workforce, Bernard Njoroge now had the herculean task of sourcing for capital.
He got funding from the Industrial and Commercial Development Cooperation (ICDC) and other partners pumped in Kshs500 million.
The re-entry of Treetop was made possible through funding from the Industrial and Commercial Development Cooperation (ICDC), a government owned agency that supports small and medium enterprises which exhibit potential growth.
“ICDC gave Sky Foods Limited KSh100 million in exchange for a stake”, the entrepreneur said.
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