Stephen Machua: Invested Ksh250k In Farming Only Got Harvest Worth Ksh9K, Business Journey Of Piquant Spices Co-founder

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Piquant Spices co-founder Stephen Machua PHOTTO/Courtesy

Stephen Machua is the co-founder of Piquant Spices, a Kenyan processing company making natural and plant-based food and tea spices.

The processing company was established after a business grant from MbeleNaBiz Business Plan Competition in 2019.

However, just like most entrepreneurs, Machua, a Certified Public Accountant, was not spared from entrepreneurial challenges.

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Here is his story as told by WoK.

Business challenges

Machua and his business partner, SK Kamau, founded Piquant Spices after winning the MbeleNaBiz Business Plan Competition, a government initiative under the Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Project.

Machua participated in the competition just after arriving from Canada where he graduated with a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Calgary.

By the time they got into business, the two wanted to learn the whole production process and for this reason, they invested Ksh 250,000 in tomato and banana farming.

However, the project flopped and they ended up harvesting produce worth Ksh 9,000.

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“That’s not even five per cent, I say. Actually, that’s only 3.6 per cent! Losing 250,000 is not a joke. Or rather, not a cheap joke,” Machua told the Weekly Magazine.

Making spices

It was after the second trial when they opted to try making spices, a move that was followed by a carefully-done research.

Machua noted that they were targeting families and so they had to make spices that can be consumed by everyone.

“We discovered that, although we were farming in a low-cost area for banana production, there wasn’t a big market for banana powder. Then we thought that since we had already come this far, we could also try spices

“We had to differentiate ourselves. We did a dipstick and discovered that people were not consuming spices because a typical family wants to have only one pot of food. Whenever you want to use spices, you want a spice that can be consumed by everyone in the family. Plus, a lot of people get heartburn from spices, mostly because the spices are not well cleaned or dehydrated,” he said.

It was then when Piquant Spices was established and they have since distributed their products to various parts of the country.

The food processor employs seven people.

International market

Machua disclosed that they sell their products in Uganda and Tanzania with over 30 outlets in Arusha and Moshi.

They are still onboarding Kenyan distributors although they sell their products through online channels and select supermarkets.

Currently, they have three products in the market; Tea Masala, Pilau Masala and Mixed Spices.

However, Machua disclosed plans to introduce ten other products to the market, noting that they are the certification stage with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

The products are Curry Powder, Beef Masala, Chicken Masala, Paprika, Turmeric, Black Pepper, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Ginger and Garam Masala.

Challenges that they face include lack of machinery such as driers which forces them to co-share at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute.

“Being in a shared space means you are at the mercy of someone else’s whims and fancies. And, of course, access to market is a challenge,too. We do not have a lot of rotating capital and if everyone wants goods on credit,then production will be constrained

“If I was given a chance to supply a major supermarket today, he says, and I was paid after 120 days, it means I would have a lot of capital tied up [that I could have used] to produce for other markets,” he explained.

Awards

Machua has been conferred several awards and scholarships.

They include the African Leaders of Tomorrow (2019),Chevening Award (2018), UNLEASH Silver Award (2017), and UN- Habitat Emerging Community Champion (2016).

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