From Kitchen Counter to Market Leader: The Success Story of GreenForest FoodsOctober 2, 2023
At a glance, it registers that he is a blend of jocund and vision-oriented entrepreneur. Two newspapers dangle in his left hand as his presence marks the room. Then it dawns on me that he is the brains behind the GreenForest Foods when he finally throws in a witty introduction of himself.
For Mr. Athanas Matheka, his business success journey took the first stride from a small kitchen counter in Umoja, circa 2000. He had accumulated Ksh15,000 from his previous employment, which he injected into the honey business. At the time, his wife, Catherine Matheka, was operating a small supermarket in the same area.
Matheka would experiment with various honey-refining techniques from the kitchen then add it on the shelves of his wife’s supermarket with hopes of making a sale.
“It didn’t pick up immediately but overtime, the buyers gained our trust and from there we had repeat customers. Word of mouth spread real quick,” he asserts as a grin flashes across his face.
He adds that as the months rolled by, he realised that the profits accrued by selling of the honey were way higher than the other commodities. With this lightbulb moment, Matheka and his wife decided to fully venture into the honey business. He would frequently make trips to Kitui to buy honey then repeat the refining process from his kitchen.
As the business continued to thrive, they moved to a bigger space and spread their wings to other regions. Matheka then expanded his product offering to include roasted peanuts, peanut butter, food-grade beeswax and cashew nuts. This roundly escalated his profit margins and has since been able to supply in retail outlets such as Naivas, Quickmart, Carrefour among others.
The products have also found their way into the East Africa and Southern African markets through distributors serving hotels and through regional restaurant chains.
“In 2010 we moved from Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE) to here, where we now have the production of all our natural nutritious-related food products,” he removes his glasses to scratch his eyes, then continues, “We have machines that make the work efficient in the production process. Last year (2022) alone, we processed 1500 Metric Tonnes.”
With the large number of production, the company has created employment opportunities for over 90 people across Kenya and the East African region. Among them, 80% are made up of youth, women and young mothers. Matheka also works with 5,000 bee keepers from Kenya and Tanzania to ensure the supply chain is reliable.
As an agro-processing company dealing in natural products, it has been quite a challenge to source groundnuts in Kenya with acceptable aflatoxin levels.
A study done by Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) shows that In Kenya, the minimum threshold for total aflatoxin levels in peanuts is 10 ug kg−1. The research further states that rates above the minimum threshold increase risk factors to consumers.
“We use sustainable production processes to ensure that our consumers get safe nutritious food. We also work closely with farmers who help us to track and deliver the quality products from farm to fork.” Quality Assurance manager at GreenForest Foods, Irene Kendi avers.
As a result, the company sources over half of its groundnuts, shelled, from aggregators in Malawi. In Kenya, GreenForest sources its raw groundnuts in-shell directly from the farmers at stable and predictable prices resulting in superior quality control. This has totaled up to over 7,000 smallholder groundnuts farmers from both Kenya and Malawi who work directly with GreeenForest Foods.
Despite the massive growth, Matheka laments, “just like any business, challenges must be present. Our major challenge is the multiple taxes we encounter on raw materials, county government and regulatory bodies.”
The taxes, Matheka adds, makes the final product expensive and uncompetitive in export markets. To add a pinch of salt onto injury, access to credit has been an uphill journey for the company. Seemingly, many financial products are vendor driven and end up shutting down the dreams of many small and medium enterprises.
Despite the hurdles, GreenForest Foods has also cracked partnerships with impact investors among them USAID, the European Union and Slovak Aid to support smallholder farmers and beekeepers.
The company also established a successful relationship with a Netherlands-based cooperative and social investor Oikocredit which has escalated the company’s operations. With the partnership which was inked in 2014, GreenForest has been able to access efficient packaging equipment and working capital.
“We are looking into adding new products in the future and also ensure that we continue to offer quality, safe and affordable nutritious products to our clients. With that in place, we shall be sure to increase income for our small scale farmers and also create more employment opportunities,” Matheka says in conclusion.