It is most likely that you have eaten a smokie or sausage by the roadside. These quick fix are among some of the most loved foods in Kenya, with vendors located almost everywhere across the country.
Most if not all of these smokies and sausages are purchased from Farmers Choice, a company which initially started as a pork products production house. The company was known as East Africa Meat Products then owned by the family that ran the Block group of hotels before rebranding to Farmers Choice in 1980.
In 1989, Lonrho Group acquired the company before changed hands again 2000 with its new owners being Industrial Promotion Services (IPS).
Interestingly, Farmers Choice started as a roadside butchery on Thika Road before becoming the giant it is today. The company’s electricity bill for refrigeration alone amounts to Sh25 million a month.
Jim was born to British parents in Tanzania, where his father had been sent to be part of the personnel deployed there to grow groundnuts. The project, however, was not successful, prompting his parents to move to Kenya.
“They moved to Kenya when I was two. My father was in the Kenyan administration, based at Kahawa. I was brought up initially in Kiambu in the old chaplaincy behind St Paul’s Church,” he said, in an interview with Lifestyle.
His father died when Taylor was 12, leaving him, his mother and two step-siblings to face a tough life. Due to the financial constraints, he did not go beyond Form Six. He completed his A-levels at the Duke of York School, present-day Lenana School, and could not proceed any further.
Jim later proceeded to fly to London, using some money his mother gave him. While there, he took up a sales job with a company that dealt in chemical building products.
The company later decided to expand to Africa, and he convinced the CEO to start with Kenya. He recommended a Kenyan-based company that would be an agent. In 1973, he was back to Kenya, working with a company that sold various iron products used in the construction industry. However, in a turn of events, he resigned from the job after working for one year.
After quitting, he was approached by a company called Phillips, Harrisons & Crossfield who were importers and distributors of consumer products. The company supplied such products as corn flakes, skin blemish clearing gel, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, among others.
Jim accepted their offer, and started off working there in 1975, soon rising to the rank of sales and marketing director.
In what seems like a steady upward trajectory, he was later approached by Tabby Block, one of the entrepreneurs in the Block family. That was the beginning of a conversation that would see him quit his job at Phillips, Harrisons & Crossfield and forfeit a brand new company car he had been given.
The next destination was East Africa Meat Products, a company under the Block-family owned Kulia Investments, where he was to be the sales manager. The company sent Jim to the UK to learn about meat processing. He went to the Bowyers of Amersham meat plant and Highgrade Meats, who were sausage manufacturers. He returned to Kenya when his employer had decided to venture into sausage production from 1979.
At the time, the company was grappling with a big challenge: Only 20% of the animals they slaughtered were being used in the hotels through extraction of the meat primal that include the round, loin, rib and chuck in cows and the ham, Boston butt and picnic in pigs. A majority of the carcasses went to waste.
The company sent Jim to the UK to learn about meat processing. He went to the Bowyers of Amersham meat plant and also to Highgrade Meats, who were sausage manufacturers.
He returned to Kenya when his employer had decided to venture into sausage production from 1979. Initial attempts to make a sausage for the Kenyan market were disastrous, but after many attempts, they came up with just the right sausage with a casing tough enough to withstand cooking under high temperatures. They have since been using imported collagen casings for their sausages, most imported from Scotland.
Fast forward to 2022, the company has more than forty sausage types on the market.
The company says it has more than 100,000 smokie vendors across the country, which translates to about 600,000 livelihoods supported by the products.
The company has grown from a small meat shop to a firm owning a tracts of land and other properties. The headquarters in Kahawa West sits on a ten-acre parcel of land that also has the company’s slaughterhouse and processing plant.
Not too far away from the headquarters is the Choice Meats premises, which is strictly dedicated to beef products to ensure its halal-certified foodstuffs are made away from the main plant.
Farmer’s Choice also owns a 248-acre property in Uplands. It bought the property in 2000 from Uplands Bacon Factory, a government parastatal that went under in the 1980s then was placed in receivership.
In Uasin Gishu County, the company owns another 30-acre parcel of land dedicated to breeding pigs. About 70% of the pigs they slaughter are reared by external farmers, who are supported by Farmer’s Choice, while the rest are raised by the company itself.
Besides selling to Kenya, Farmer’s Choice also exports to Uganda and Tanzania by road and to Dubai and the Middle East by air.
Jim now heads the company at the helm, as the CEO. He looks back and appreciates his journey to the top, noting that hard work, resilience, innovativeness and focus kept him afloat all these years.
When asked about his advice for youngsters, Jim said, “Try to get the company that you want to lead out of trouble. Try and think out of the box.. of innovations that the Nation can be making that would actually take them further ahead. That’s how you do it. Be recognised by your superiors.”