Pauline Okubasu was in Asia when she first came across dried fruits while working in the aviation industry.
This encounter later turned out to be the inspiration behind her venture, Azaavi Foods.
Here is her story as told by WoK.
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Interest in dried fruits
Pauline started the venture after seeing the need of preserving fruits sourced from Kenyan farmers for sale locally and abroad.
In an interview with Business Daily, the entrepreneur said other than getting income from the business, she wanted to provide market for small-scale local farmers.
While venturing into the industry that was largely dominated by foreign companies, she was also seeking to introduce consumption of healthy snacks.
Azaavi Foods which is currently situated in Kyumbi, Machakos County was founded in 2018.
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At the time she founded the company, Pauline worked from incubation centre at the Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute (Kirdi).
She also received training for one and a half years before she started the company with a seed capital of Ksh 10,000.
Pauline engaged in production of dried fruits at the incubation center until when the COVID-19 pandemic struck forcing the institution to close down.
It was the when the businesswoman shifted to a physical location in a bid to keep her small business running.
Pauline moved to Machakos where she set up her company and acquired a fruit-drying machine after raising funds from family members.
They had to outsource packaging services. Azaavi Foods currently produces 1.2 metric tonnes of dried mangoes, pineapples and bananas per month.
“Hopefully, we will start offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to meet customer preferences,” Pauline said.
The company sources the fruits directly from farmers spread across Makueni, Machakos, Kerugoya, Malindi and Kisii counties.
“Farmers put in their time, effort, and resources to plant, do weeding, and harvest their produce but have challenges in accessing markets. As a result, their produce goes to waste, incurring financial losses, unable to expand their businesses and provide basic needs for their families
“This, in turn, creates joblessness in the community and contributes to poor nutritional status or hunger in the communities,” Pauline explained.
As a local brand, breaking into the market which was dominated by established foreign brands was not a bed of roses.
Pauline and her team used to sell their products on social media channels before they got spots in supermarkets.
“We recently started selling to mainstream retail outlets like Naivas Supermarket and others to grow our sales. There is a lot of potential with over one million customers yet to be reached
“It is a good snack on the go and a lovely companion in heavy traffic. We are all about healthy living,” she explained.
Major challenges that the entrepreneur is facing include the high cost of packaging, access to established markets such as supermarkets and access to credit.
She, however, credits the smooth running of business to strategic planning.
“The journey of getting compliant as a small and medium enterprise (SME) has brought tears and sweat with many times wanting to give up
“The bureaucracy, the taxes, the disconnected information by county government officers, bureaucracy can be a big hindrance,” she explained.
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