Stephen Sembuya is the CEO of Pink Foods Industries that makes ‘Uganda chocolate’ from the largest single owned cocoa plantation Uganda. He spoke to the Independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about the potential of Ugandan- made chocolate and the future prospects.
What are the key drivers in your management philosophy?
Working in teams is my core winning element at all levels, be it at the farm, factory as well as at the offices.
All the major updates on activities are reported to me every single day. Passion is what has got us to this level given the fact that we deal with a product that is largely considered luxurious.
Having come from a background where my grandfather and father worked throughout the week; it is the same trait I have taken on. I am often engaged in the day to day running of the business, motivate the team, and ensure that delivery is timely.
You recently launched an Ecotourism drive on cocoa farms. How does the programme work?
We started Eco tourism where we get both foreign and local visitors, take them on a guided tour on the farm and also guide them on how to make chocolate.
We started the programme last month in partnership with Great Lakes Safaris and Ondaba such that people get to see where the chocolate comes from.
The tour gets them involve in harvesting cocoa, fermentation, drying of the beans and making the chocolate bars. The intention is to change consumer perception about chocolate being a luxury and penetrate the local market.
What is your assessment of agricultural processing and chocolate market in Uganda?
The government has in the past ten years not concentrated on the promotion of cocoa. However, over the last one year, Operation Wealth Creation and National Agricultural Advisory Services have heavily invested in supplying over nine million cocoa seedlings to the farmers.
This will literally earn the country an addition of about 10,000 tons of cocoa beans in the next three years from about 26,000 produced in the country today.
Cocoa has been earning the country $72 million annually making it number four amongst the high earning cash crops in the country. And with the current promotion efforts under the umbrella organization for cocoa farmers where they are taken through the right process, we hope to grow the figures.
In most developing countries like Uganda, chocolate is a luxury product purchased largely by the middle class. How are you working to penetrate the market characterized by such consumer patterns?
It is true that the main reason Ugandans have not been eating chocolates is because it is expensive but now that we started making chocolate, the prices are expected to be lower because we will have cut out some costs. The strategy we have in place is to dwell on quality such that there is no reason to ask for imported chocolate. We also have customized chocolate which we can deliver within days, which is not possible with imported chocolates. We have also made partnership with restaurants and hotels.
Uganda Chocolate was launched in 2014 as the first to be locally produced in Uganda? What is your rating of the reception in the market?
Ugandans never believed that chocolate can be made home. But this has since changed. Our major concentration has been hotels and restaurants because they purchase instantly and use it a lot compared with supermarkets and shops.
However, we plan to roll out the chocolate in shelves in a month’s time. There has not been a standard for chocolates in Uganda but we are working hand in hand with the Uganda National Bureau of Standards to develop it and once it is done, we shall get to the certification level.
We currently make and supply over 400kgs per month and now plan to increase our production as we expand our market to shops and supermarkets.
Uganda’s agricultural sector is largely dependent on natural weather which has been changing over time but also hit by price fluctuations. What is your strategy to avert this and maintain relevance in the market?
It is important to note that cocoa grows under the shade or forest cover. So we encourage cocoa farmers to grow trees. For instance, in an acre of land covered by 400 cocoa trees, we advise farmers to put 70 shade trees. So far, more people are getting engaged in cocoa growing as one of the highest paying cash crops.
Where do you see Pink Foods industries in the next few years?
We expect to be one of the big food processors in Africa, creating more jobs for the many unemployed but skilled Ugandan youths.