Partnership Helps Kenyan Woman Expand Food Business

Meet the owner of a business that supplies affordable, ready-to-eat frozen foods for a growing number of city dwellers in Kenya.

Meet Mary Maritim, the owner of an innovative food business in Kenya. Before launching her own company, Mary had a secretarial job as a civil servant. She would come home in the evenings and promptly need to feed her children. Mary realized that there was a large market for affordable, ready-to-eat frozen foods for a growing number of city dwellers.

With this idea in mind, Mary started Cherubet Foods. She borrowed a cooler and brought some samples to the office of Nakumatt, a Kenyan supermarket chain. Mary met with a manager, who was impressed with the products and offered to stock them in two stores on a trial basis. But when he asked for her business papers, Mary was at a loss.

“How can someone like me have a company?” Mary asked. “I knew what it involved. I wasn’t really imagining I could do that.”

With help from her husband and three daughters, Mary formally launched her business and discovered that there was a strong demand for her products. But she lacked industry knowledge and faced challenges in technology and management. For example, Mary’s lack of experience in finance often resulted in cash flow problems. She had no business plan, and her production processes were ill-equipped to keep up with Cherubet’s growth.

To help overcome these challenges, Mary began receiving assistance through the African Alliance for Improved Food Processing, a partnership between Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and TechnoServe. Humphrey Otita, a finance expert and General Mills PFS volunteer, worked with TechnoServe to help Mary develop a business plan for Cherubet. The plan has given Mary a forecast for her business and future growth. She hopes to double production by 2014, and has recently acquired a boiler as part of the company’s growth plans.

Cherubet employees have received training on Good Manufacturing Practices, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) and aflatoxin testing and control through AAIFP sector-wide trainings. The trainings were organized and facilitated by TechnoServe, with assistance from PFS volunteers in developing the training manuals. TechnoServe recruited experts in the field to conduct the training sessions.

Other projects in progress at Cherubet include a financial management system and improvements in production that will help the business produce higher-quality products at a lower cost. Mary is happy that she has found “someone to walk with” in her business.

“TechnoServe and Partners in Food Solutions have taught me how to grow,” she says. “I have stopped being satisfied with doing business in a small way.”

In a society where men typically provide for families, Mary is proud to be able to support her family through her own business. She sources her grains from smallholder farmers, who earn a better price by selling directly to Cherubet instead of middlemen. And Cherubet now employs 10 people, with plans to create new jobs as the business grows.