In 2015, Barbra Ninsiima started a business with a product she was more familiar with - juice.
I say “familiar” because she had observed throughout her childhood in Kanungu District that every peak season, fruits went to waste.
“People threw away mangoes in January and July while I was growing up,” she says, “I then saw Splash and Minute Maid, so, I went to the market and bought several types of juice, took them to my house and tasted all of them and deep within me, I thought though I had less capital, I could compete and make something better,” she says.
Ninsiima produced the first cartons of juice in her kitchen and hit the market. Soon, at a youth event presided over by President Museveni in Kololo, she was asked to showcase her juice and she admits making good sales.
“The first batch was 250 litres from which I got 833 bottles and I made sales of Shs800,000, each bottle at Shs1,000,” she says.
She learned she could earn more so she produced five batches and approached supermarkets.
Acquiring shelf space was not hard and soon sales grew. However, then came the disappointment in 2016 as her business was almost wiped out.
“I gave birth to twins. I had actually started a little and then failed,” she says during our first encounter at Uganda Industrial Research Institute in Nakawa, Kampala.
“Some of these businesses, when you are away, the quality of your product is compromised,” she says, explaining why she abandoned production.
As she looked after her babies, she engaged in research trying to find something that would work better.
In July this year, the 31 year old social works graduate made a comeback with Neicy Investments, a company that processes pulp when fruits are in plenty and produces fruit juice using mangoes, tangerines and passion fruits.
The Shs12m startup capital she used to buy packaging material, fruits, labels, sugar and preservatives was a loan from her husband and a friend.
“I bought three tonnes for the first batch, with each tonne at Shs1.2m,” she says “At first, the juice would get spoilt when I didn’t know what to do. The spoilage stopped as I produced more.” Part of stopping the spoilage necessitated training. So for days, Ninsiima worked shoulder to shoulder with a trainer at Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI).
UIRI curves small ideas into successful businesses so Ninsiima applied and got accepted onto the institute’s incubation programme.
“I put 30 per cent of fruit pulp in the product. Weekly, I produce two batches and I get 144 cartons. I load them in my car and move around distributing, sometimes among old customers or I approach new places,” she says.
The programme has helped Ninsiima to improve the quality of her products and acceptable in the market.
“From Entebbe Road to Kitoro, I have 15 selling points. Up to Gayaza, I have five, in Bombo Town alone, I have four points and in Kawempe, five points,” she says.
Being confident and managing business on her own, she says, are responsible for the little success so far.
“When you are there, you know the challenges, so I use the participatory to produce quality products,” she says.
Ninsiima is now a rising woman in business and during the Rising Woman business expo, she was recognized with a fourth position in a business proposal writing competition.
Her hope is to learn more and network with successful businesswomen.
Whereas Neicy Investments has been open to pursing several markets around central Uganda, she has found challenges.
Marketing through samples has snatched some sales from her, she says and only hopes by the end of next year, the trend will be different.
“I would have made sales of Shs8m from the three tonnes but failed because of giving out samples and spoilages,” she says. Additionally, she says, supermarkets delay payments so it is still a long wait for profits. Sustainability does not come easy too. “You go to market and then you find out the money is not enough to re-invest,” she says.
However, she continues to hang in with the help of grants. Sometimes the company receives orders but cannot supply. “A person says they want 10,000 cartons per week but you bought two tonnes of mangoes. Two people walked away because I did not have the capacity to supply,” she says.
Ninsiima is now contemplating using loans to increase the company’s production capacity. With equipment provided by UIRI and seven employees, some processes such as sealing bottles are still done manually but this must change.
Since July, total sales remain at Shs5.2m. Neicy Investments now plans to increase fruit tonnage to nine for half-year production.
“The January mangoes have 70 per cent yield meaning if you buy a tonne, you get 700 litres and I will be hoping to make 30 batches out of this,” she says.
Should this come to pass, she says she will be able to distribute to more major towns in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. “I think putting 30 per cent of fruit pulp will keep me in the market. I am never worried of the market because Ugandans drink. I hope to introduce Zena in 500m and also introduce busheera (porridge) on the market,” she says. The incubation at UIRI is supposed to last a year and should she purchase a pasteurizer and a fruit pulping machine in two years, she should be on her own.
Her best advice to fellow women is to set aside the fear to start business. The manufacturing sector is very competitive and this she says, only makes one more innovative.