In 2016, Juliet Kennedy was a new mother preparing to wean her firstborn. She was eager to give her baby a firm health foundation but the more she considered the food options in the market, the warier she grew.
“At the time there were articles about antiretroviral (ARV) HIV drugs being injected into chickens to make them grow faster. I remember going to large supermarket chains and asking where their meat had come from but I wasn't getting satisfactory answers,” she says.
So the family started sourcing the food from individual farmers after vetting their production processes. It was a tedious process, she says, but adds that it was a small price she was glad to pay to guarantee her family’s food quality.
Then one day in the middle of a conversation with her husband she had a light bulb moment.
“I said I wish there is just one place where I could find all these products. I love buying from small producers and I don't want to ask someone to collect these orders for me from all over the place. I just wish there was someone who could deliver to the house. We looked at each other and realised that was an amazing business idea.”
That was the birth of Greenspoon, an online grocery shop that connects consumers with pre-vetted organic food producers.
Before investing Sh1.2 million in the venture, Juliet did her homework. Back then, there were quite a few online grocery stores and a lot of people shared their concern about not knowing where their produce was coming from.
On the flip side as producers grew, handling the increasing orders became a logistical headache, one they were only too glad to have third parties like Juliet ease.
Juliet started Greenspoon from a 20-foot cargo container and later opened up shop in Hardy, in Karen, nine months after delivering her secondborn.
“In the first five years, we had no investors. We were completely bootstrapped. It was a tough journey. We had promised suppliers that they would get their pay in 30 days, unlike most big supermarket chains which pay after 90 days and even then many still find it challenging. It put us under a lot of cash flow pressure,” Juliet says adding, “we grew 60 percent year-on-year, almost organically. We spent very little on marketing and instead relied on word of mouth while staying true to what we are all about."
Greenspoon began with 15 suppliers and today has 90 and counting.
Looking back, Juliet says it’s the personal touch alongside staying true to their mission that has seen Greenspoon scale from a small grocery store to a multimillion-shilling enterprise.
"I remember the first day we opened and we got our first order. It was the most exciting thing ever. I had spent a couple of days making cookies so anyone who placed an order got a small bag to say 'thank you' with a handwritten note. I was genuinely grateful, and I still am, to anyone supporting Greenspoon it makes such a big difference,” says Juliet who had made a career in marketing long before venturing into entrepreneurship.
“We try to keep the personalisation in a cleverer way. We make a point of connecting with our customers when they buy from us and try to understand what their motivations might be and how we can support them," she points out.
As climate change continues to become a big concern among customers and informing their buying decisions, Greenspoon has benefited.
"People buy from us for the convenience, the quality, the connection to the producer, but also because we are a sustainable, environmentally and socially conscious business. A lot of people are happy to support Greenspoon because they know the bigger picture with us is that we are a business for good,” says Juliet.
To make the business more sustainable, Juliet says, “We don’t deliver if the order is under Sh2,000, because we don’t think that it’s very good for the planet for us as humans to have small things delivered all the time.”
To cater to such customers, Greenspoon has locations all over Nairobi where they can collect their orders.
At Greenspoon, meat is one of their biggest performing categories, but popularity is also fast increasing among the plant-based and vegan categories.
“We want to be people's weekly shop, and that's why we've had this massive product expansion from September last year where we had 900 products to over 2,000 currently, to make sure we have staples for people," says Juliet.
The firm has 47 employees from 12 in December last year. Juliet terms this as "very exciting”. “I believe we have some of Kenya's brightest people working in this warehouse and we are blessed to have them here and honestly, most are much brighter than me at different things. You read about that in the books, if you want to be a great business leader or entrepreneur, employ people who are smarter than you. Our average age here is 30, I love it because I believe it's led to a very dynamic team. We're into being super agile.”
The Greenspoon app, launched mid-last year, has seen a rise in the number of downloads and consequently an increase in the orders coming through it.
Juliet says "The future is the app" adding, "if you're going to be somebody's weekly shopping, you need to be on their homepage, as soon as they open the phone they see it, oh yes, let me make my order."