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Peter Kuguru: From Destroying Billboards To Breaking Company Bottles By Competitor, How Softa Soda Owner Was Forced To Exit Market

  • Peter Kuguru was the founder of Softa Soda, a soft drink manufacturer that was popular in Kenya in the 90s.
  • He is also the founder and CEO of Kuguru Food Complex Ltd which manufactures Cateress maize flour

Billionaire Peter Kuguru is a serial entrepreneurial who always found a way of reinventing himself even when the odds were stacked against him. He has had his fair share of ups and downs in business but that has never stopped him from chasing his dreams.

One of his most notable business ventures was Softa Bottling Company, a soft drink manufacturer that for a decade gave other big players in the industry a run for their money.

“I want to be remembered as the entrepreneur who dared to dream big,” he told Business Daily. 

Here is his story as told by WoK.

Education and Early Business Ventures

The businessman attended Massey University in New Zealand where he pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Food Technology.

Upon returning to Kenya, he worked as a chief chemist at Kenya Commercial Creameries and had a stint as a production manager at House of Manji. He was also among the team tasked by the government to form Kenya Bureau of Standards. 

In 1973, he started making potato crisps in his Kitchen. He would then distribute the crisps to various supermarkets. 

Two years later, he joined the industrial world. He borrowed a loan of Ksh2 million from Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) and used the money to start a noodles making business.

The business then went into bakery and confectionery. His reputation grew and he was selected chairman of the Bakers Association of Kenya. Unfortunately, in 1980, most bakers went out of business after a drought affected maize and wheat production.

Mr. Kuguru would then set up a Chinese restaurant and operate it till 1986. He then sold the restaurant to buy a tourist hotel that was on sale. He ran the hotel up to 1990. 

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Peter Kuguru Kibuku Beer

In the early 90s, Kibuku Beer Company closed shop following the sudden introduction of Value Added Tax. Seeing an opportunity, Peter Kuguru bought the company in 1991.

At its peak, the beer company employed over 10,000 people and produced up to 30,000 litres a day.

In 1997, he went out of business blaming political interference and smear campaigns targeted towards him for his woes. They were even accused of lacing their drinks with drugs.

Peter Kuguru Softa Drink

Following his exit from the beer industry, he immersed himself in the world of soft drinks manufacturing.

He bought Highlands mineral water plant in Nyeri and with some equipment from the brewery, the company was up and running. Softa became a household drink and competed favorably with the biggest soft drink manufacturer in Kenya.

The founder said at one point he controlled 50% of the Nairobi market. He received international recognition and was interviewed by CNN among others. 

Also Read: Kimani Rugendo: The Billionaire Behind The Popular Afia Juice

However, he says competitors were not happy. They fought him and would even destroy their billboards. This business too did not stand the test of time as gradually they exited the market.

He lay the blame on expensive running costs, competitors’ urge to drive them out and the government’s failure to support local industries.  

“……competitors brought to me even physical fights, tearing down my billboards and even breaking my bottles. We stagnated for a year, then came back with 1,000 containers from 2000 to 2004. Every container employed 12 people,” he told the Standard.

Kuguru Group

After Softa, he went on to milling and real estate development. He is the founder and CEO of Kuguru Complex which manufactures Cateress maize flour. Just Real Estate is another arm of Kuguru that deals with properties.

Also Read: Stephen Mutai M’Imanyara: The Richest Man In Meru County Who Co-founded Co-operative Bank

In 2015, the businessman put plans in motion to set up a sanitary towels manufacturing plant in Kenya. He is involved in the importation of All White sanitary pads from China after winning the franchise to sell them locally.

He registered a subsidiary, Sanitary Pads and Diapers International, which he co-owns with some foreign investors. 

Book

In his book, Trailblazer: Breaking Through in Kenya, he has detailed his challenges and triumphs in doing business in Kenya. The book details his life growing up in the era of Mau Mau and the challenges he underwent.

He also explains his political journey and the dirty tricks in politics. The Foreword and Commentaries of the book are written by Dr. Manu Chandaria, the late Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima and the late Charles Njonjo. 

Family

The businessman’s father was Davidson Ngibuini Kuguru, a powerful minister during Jomo Kenyatta’s and Moi’s regimes. He was reported to have 7 wives and about 45 children. He served as the Mathira Constituency MP for more than ten years. 

Peter Kuguru is married and a father of nine according to Business Daily.

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