Ms Nancy Kalembe’s journey to entrepreneurship seems like a fairy tale story.
She overcame personal and family challenges to refocus her energies on building a fruit processing company whose net worth is now nearly Shs260 million and still appreciating.
Beginning of Mbalimbali limited
Kalembe started Mbalimbali Limited with Shs50,000 that her sister had given her in 2012 when she was jobless.
A year later, she registered the company after it became evident that her future lay in the natural juice processing business.
“With the Shs50,000, I bought second hand jars and pineapples and I started my entrepreneurship journey,” she said.
Her clients were mostly friends whom she would supply, sometimes on order although most of the time she would do impromptu deliveries.
She would carry the jam in her bag delivering it to her friends from one office to another.
Her friends did not consider that a bother as they wanted her to get back to her feet after enduring excruciating family and personal troubles.
Despite her past predicament, the idea of selling her chunk of land in Luwero district did not cross her mind.
A third of the Luweero based land, which is about 100 acres, is now the source of the much needed raw materials—pineapples, that Mbambali Limited processes into natural juice for sale.
The pineapple jam, which is Kalembe’s first product to vend, brings in about 70 to 75 per cent of the total income, making it Kalembe’s premium product thus far.
She argues that it is the only high fibre jam in the local market which is 100 per cent natural.
“Our fastest moving product is the pineapple sip (commonly known as Munanasi). It is a healthy extract from pineapple peels,” Kalembe said in a recent interview with Prosper magazine.
She continued: “This brings in between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the total income.”
A bottle of pineapple Sip goes for Shs1, 000.
The pineapple juice brings in about 10 per cent of the company income.
School children are some of Kalembe’s biggest customers.
By the time schools close, she hopes to have pushed her sales to a much higher level as most parents and teachers prefer their children consuming natural fruit products as opposed to the artificial drinks which are currently widely available.
In addition to the market of school-going children, she supplies 23 supermarkets and shops around Kampala. More retails outlets are on her radar.
She said: “I don’t have a solid sales team yet but we are pushing the envelope hard as we try to up our sales through networking at different platforms as we attempt to have the products into small and medium size shops.”
Earnings and safety test of products
According to Kalembe, her company’s current net worth is estimated at Shs258 million. Currently, the company makes a weekly income of between Shs1.2 million and Shs2 million. This, she says, could multiply three to four times once she hits her full capacity.
This means that every month, Kalembe makes nearly Shs5 million out of her solo effort or better still Shs8 million when all goes uninterrupted.
And should she hit her full capacity as she expects to in three to five years, the proceeds will multiply.
“We would like our consumers to have confidence in our products because not only are they natural and healthy, but they also passed the Uganda National Bureau of Standards [UNBS] bio-chemistry tests (meaning it’s safe for human consumption), “she said.
She continued: “This is usually the first test all products take as you pursue the Quality (Q) mark of UNBS.”
The deal with UIRI
She said: “Our Spring Pineapple Jam, Juice and sip are prepared from Uganda Industrial Research Institute [UIRI] in the fruits and vegetables department where very high standards of hygiene are strictly adhered to.”
Kalembe has managed to take full advantage of UIRI and UNBS proximity. The two government institutions share the same premises in Nakawa where she processes her products from. That provides easy access to both the UNBS and UIRI laboratories for frequent checks on the products.
According to Kalembe, UIRI help has been handy especially on production side of the business.
She said it only took a phone call to Prof Charles Kwesiga, the Institute executive director to have her hone her production and processing skills at the industrial research institute—a feat that is important for an entrepreneur involved in the agro processing business.
She has a three-year Memorandum of Understanding with UIRI where all production is being done at no cost. After that, she is expected to meet the cost of her production, a challenge she cherishes, but is also aware it won’t come easy.
Future plans and partnerships desires
Kalembe would want to partner with an investor who is ready to invest and propel the business to another level.
Together with the prospective partner, they will establish a marketing unit, purchase a couple of vans/vehicles for transporting the products and put up a processing plant as well.
Kalembe works with four people at the UIRI factory in Nakawa and another 20 at her pineapple farm in Luwero. She said they are like family, stressing that they work for each other.
Like any other undertakings, Kalembe’s business has faced several stumbling blocks.
“Our biggest challenge is marketing. This is because it is expensive for us to comfortably afford. But once we fix this, I believe half the problem would have been solved,” she said.
She continued: “At the moment, I juggle between the farm and the factory, but as the business grows there is need to have a professional person help me manage some of these responsibilities.”
Also, technical assistance in terms of best practices in pineapple farming is scanty.
And coupled with goods sold on credit (ranging between Shs400,000 to Shs1 million every week), low production capacity (currently manufacturing 200 jars of 500 grammes and another 200 bottles of 500 to 1,000-milimetre bottles per day), implies that she is not getting the kind of income she should be raking in.
Who is Nancy Kalembe?
She studied Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Advanced level before pursuing a degree in Food Science and Technology at Makerere University.
She said the theory she got at Makerere University is now being honed in terms of practical aspects at UIRI.
Kalembe also worked with Uganda Broadcasting Corporatin (UBC)—the national broadcaster— where she co-presented news with the veteran news anchor, Mr Francis Bbale nearly 10 years ago.
She is also an actress, a former Miss Uganda participant and an Apprentice Africa contestant.
Besides managing Mbalimbali Limited, Kalembe also runs a cleaning services company called Sprinkling.
It offers a wide range of services including; cleaning and fumigation.
What others say about Nancy
Colleagues at UIRI describe Kalembe as a go-getter.
Her attitude towards work and the passion to succeed is said to be comparable to successful entrepreneurs of this world.
The Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), director for membership services, Ruth Biyinzika Musoke, said Kalembe is a fighter, implying that her resolve is much stronger than she realises.
Piece of advice from the budding entrepreneur
Always research and avoid temptations to rely on impulse because you could burn your fingers. Importantly, never let the finance issues stop you from investing.
“Start with what you have,” she said, adding: “Do not hire someone to do what you can do. This is crucial in the initial stages of your business as you seek to harness resources and cut costs.”