On Monday I spent the morning chatting to local shopkeepers about juice in the town of Kasungu. The general response was that people want healthy drinks and that most people don't know that concentrates aren't healthy for you. There are loads of South African imported concentrated juices available already so I was hoping that with a bit of market analysis, I'd have a better idea of what price we could suggest for the juice once I got to Chigwirizano.
So, Alfred and I hopped in one of the Microloan cars and headed through a game reserve/jungle to get to the lakeside town of Nkhotakota. We took a turn off the main tarmac road and arrived at the Chigwirizano Juice Co-op.
After a week of research, this was one of the main reasons I was here. Again, we were greeted with lots of singing and general happiness and, without sounding too gushing, it was a sight something everyone at innocent and all our drinkers should be pretty proud of.
After introductions, I told the ladies there all about innocent. That AGM booklet I'd nabbed before leaving has been so useful to explain to people here about what we do (you can have a look for yourself here)
We then had a tour round the old juice factory and the new factory, which has been built through MicroVentures. Some of the money for this new factory was donated by the innocent foundation. MicroVentures is part of the Microloan Foundation and helps people with bigger projects or projects that require more capital to start (for example, beehives and sewing). It was really great to see something clearly tangible as a result of the funding. The new factory has a tin roof which means it’s a lot less dusty and the floors are of a much better quality of compressed concrete which makes it much easier to clean and therefore more hygienic.
The ladies had prepared a load of Bwemba and Malambe fruit for us so we walked through the process from start to finish. It was quite similar to the process I had seen before with a few minor tweaks. I'd never seen Bwemba before. Again, it is a crop that is grows in abundance in the local area. As well as the loan from MLF, the co-operative have also been trained for free in good juice making practice by a government agricultural department team. Everyone wears hair nets and aprons but with my fat head, I had to settle for this rather fetching scarf instead.
Crushing and squeezing the juice pulp from the stones. Here we are making Bwemba.
The tour made it very clear that capacity wasn't the issue to increasing the sales. They can make a lot more juice than they are currently making so we needed to come up with a few new plans for the business. Before doing that though, I shared a few of the learnings I had picked up in the last week.
One of the items that got everyone really excited was the Baobab jam I had picked up in a small refinery in Blantyre. This is made from the seeds of the Baobab and is therefore another useful side product that could be sold within the co-op. I bought a jar for my mum but everyone wanted to try it so out came the spoon and the chairman of the group dished us all out a huge clump (sorry, Mum). It was pretty funny watching everyone getting involved in the jam and lead to even more singing. You'll have to wait for the video for that.
I also picked up a few mini plastic bags from a bottle supplier I met when I was down in Blantyre. I thought might serve as an alternative to plastic bottles as bottles are expensive and not in regular supply. So, we packed juice into these bags for the first time ever and will be running a trial this week in the market to see if they take off.
More updates in my next blog.