Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Bernard Njoroge: Man who quit Sh1 million salary job to sell juice

When Bernard Njoroge informed a friend that he was quitting his lucrative job at Del Monte, he was advised to go for a checkup to confirm his sanity.

The businessman however had a plan that with time proved to be fruitful. For over 15 years, Njoroge had worked for some of the top juice brands in the country including Coca-Cola and Del Monte.

With a rich marketing background, Njoroge was in charge of overseeing Del Monte’s operations in East Africa, taking home a monthly salary of over Sh1 million.

He was part of the marketing team that introduced Del Monte to the market. He served as Del Monte’s  Director of Sales and Marketing for Sub-Saharan Africa from September 2008 to October 2014.

In November 2014, the businessman decided to resign from his lucrative job determined to succeed in the unpredictable entrepreneurship.

“The only weapon I had after quitting Del Monte was blind optimism, faith, and millions of potential risks,” he said.

Njoroge would then start his own company Sky Foods Limited for purposes of venturing into juice manufacturing.

His top product is the Treetop juice which he had bought from Unilever in 2011, three years before he left Del Monte.

Unilever had phased out the Treetop juice concentrate after it made massive losses. The brand was last sold in Kenyan shops in 1995. After two decades, Njoroge decided to re-introduce it back to the market.

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His decision to re-introduce Treetop juice back to the market was inspired by consumers’ interest in the brand.

He revealed while working at Del Monte he would hear customers mention Treetop every time and thought of buying the brand.

However, according to him, his employer was not interested in the brand, prompting him to negotiate with Unilever on his own to acquire the trademark.

”When I was at Del Monte every time I did focus group interviews, consumers would often mention Treetop. I started thinking of buying the brand and reintroducing it but my employer wasn’t interested.’’

”So I decided to negotiate with Unilever on my own to acquire the trademark. I approached more than ten financing institutions and eventually after nearly two years, I raised over $2 million for this business,’’ he told howwemadeitinafrica.com.

He explained that one of the financiers, the Industrial and Commercial Development Cooperation (ICDC) gave Sky Foods Limited Sh100 million in exchange for a stake.

Bernard Njoroge: Man who quit Sh1 million salary job to sell juice
Businessman Bernard Njoroge. photo/COURTESY

Treetop juice made a comeback as ready-to-drink and dilute to taste variants. Under the ready-to-drink category, the drink was re-introduced in mango, orange, apple, and tropical flavors.

The dilute to taste concentrate was, on the other hand, re-introduced in orange, mango, tropical, pineapple, strawberry, and banana flavors.

Packaging was also revamped with the juice packaged in one litre to 20 liters plastic bottles, a departure from the “old” Treetop that was sold in glass bottles.

Njoroge, a Bachelor of Commerce graduate from the University of Nairobi says a lesson he has learned in business is to invest in a sector that one understands.

“My background in marketing beverages has helped. I was able to avoid pitfalls that an entrepreneur new in the business and with no experience in the sector will not see,”he said.

He however admitted some mistakes along the way.

“I wish I started packaging Treetop in small plastic bottles targeting the young and the middle-aged instead of family packages. I have noticed that the informal sectors control the market but we have learnt from our mistakes and we are now ready for the big shift.” He said.

The businessman whose company has expanded its footprint to Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda bets on diversifying into packaging bottled water.

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