After working in the corporate sector for 12 years, Deborah Jones found herself nurturing seeds of personal discontent.
Two things were eating away at her: a desire to do more with her life and to leave a legacy for her children and their children. How she could achieve this, she did not know.
In 2019, after careful consideration and wise counsel, she took a chance, freed herself from the golden handcuffs and decided to move abroad with her family and pursue further studies.
“It was not an easy decision because I was very comfortable. I had an incredible employer and a good salary and benefits. Let’s not forget I had the cloud of “what-if-it-all-goes-wrong” hanging over my head,” the mother to two says.
As fate would have it, the pandemic happened months after resigning, throwing a wet blanket over her relocation plans. Aware she was living in the forest of her dream, she sought a plan B.
At the time, the internet was awash with people trying out new food recipes. A self-proclaimed foodie, all this food talk reminded Mrs Jones of a dessert she had eaten at her cousin’s house while vacationing in the UK - Greek yoghurt.
She continues: “When I got back to Kenya, I really tried to find Greek yoghurt but found none. Three years later, I still hadn’t found it.”
Then it dawned on her. She hadn’t just been served dessert. She’d been served a business idea. “I abandoned the quest to find Greek yoghurt and decided to make it. After all, I had the time.”
With zero experience and skills in yoghurt production, the 38-year-old devoted herself to learning the craft from YouTube and web articles. As she shared samples with close family and friends, the feedback was better than expected and demand grew.
Fully convinced that she had a good product, in 2020 she registered the company, Mtindi Dairies.
Mtindi Dairies is a food start-up company that produces Greek yoghurt, which is different from regular kind in taste, texture and nutrient combination.
“The result is a yummy, healthy scoop of yoghurt goodness that is thicker, has less sugar, and contains real fruit and double the amount of protein and calcium found in regular yoghurt. Our yoghurt also has extremely low lactose levels,” the CEO of Mtindi Dairies says.
“Furthermore, it packs probiotics and is good for heart health, digestion, and weight loss.”
Two years later, Mtindi Dairies has made considerable strides, strides made possible with the support of her husband, Mr Jones, whose networking skills she greatly admires.
Pulling together resources from savings and loans, the business that started in the family’s home kitchen now boasts of an accredited facility in Nairobi’s South ‘B’ that produces 1,000 to 1,200 litres of Greek yoghurt weekly. The total production time is 24 hours.
So far, it has seven different yoghurt tastes created by Mrs Jones herself, in packets ranging from 100g to 300g. To ensure environmental sustainability, Mtindi’s products are made from locally sourced milk and fruits such as pineapples, passion, mangoes and a different assortment of berries.
It has also entered the local retail and food market selling in several supermarkets and online markets.
“One of our consumers tweeted about our product. This caught the attention of our partners, Lisha Fund, who have been instrumental in enabling us to expand our distribution channels,” she shares.
In terms of employment, the company has trained and employed seven full-time staff. Recently, the company was nominated under the “Most Promising Founder” category in FOYA 2022.
But it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. One of the challenges they faced when they went commercial was that of their product’s shelf-life which was short. This is because they don’t use preservatives.
“To overcome this, we engaged food scientists whom we worked with and come up with a natural way of extending the shelf-life without using preservatives,” she says, adding that they also produce on order to avoid wastage from expired products.
Because of its nutritional benefits and low lactose levels, this first-of-its-kind yoghurt in the country has become a hit among health-conscious consumers, bodybuilders, weight watchers and lactose intolerant and diabetic individuals.
A good problem
“We’re still a small company so demand is always higher than supply. A good problem that we’re currently addressing.”
And then there’s the matter of the rising costs of the factors of production.
However, these challenges have done little damage to the entrepreneur’s spirit. The acceptance their products have found in the market stirs up in her and the team, passion and commitment.
For the first entrepreneur in her family, the future can only be bright and the legacy she desires is slowly coming to life.
What plans do they have for the future? “Our current goal is to expand our production capacity and enter into more retail stores.”
And as Mtindi Dairies grows, they aspire to expand their dairy offerings to the market. According to Mrs Jones, “dairy has so much potential” and we’re yet to tap fully into it.