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Setting the bar for local wines

By Agnes E. Nantaba

Prudence Ukkonika is the founder and executive director of K-Roma Ltd, the producers of Bella Wine. She spoke to Agnes E. Nantaba about her entrepreneurship journey and pertinent issues in the local beverages industry

What are the key elements in your management style as a manager?

Over time, I have come to realize that being a manager is about much more than just giving out orders and telling people what to do. I therefore use a strategy of leading by example through setting standards and working hand in hand with the employees to achieve the targets. For instance, I always make sure that I am the first person to arrive at work very early in the morning, which sets the pace for my team to move in the same direction. For every part of production in the business, I am fully engaged to motivate the team and achieve results within the set time frame. Being my own business makes it part of me so while for other people the main motive is to make money and earn a living, it remains upon me to ensure sustainability and profitability of the enterprise. There are many challenges in business which can only be dealt with through team work.


What is your assessment of the performance of the local wine production industry in Uganda?

Getting to where we were and being part of a rapidly growing industry is a privilege and one of my greatest achievements. When I started making wines on a small scale in 2000, there were some few others already in the business but the quality was questionable.  I therefore got an Italian recipe that I took to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) for further development and in the process, we developed a product that can compete with the imported wines, which had for long dominated the local market.

On top of that, I went back for further studies for six years to study wine making and business management. I am the first entrepreneur to package wine that can compete with the imported products, which has since opened up opportunities for Uganda to flourish in local wine making. At the time we rolled out, the local wine industry was only at 1% of the wine products in the country but we have worked to improve standards that can grow the industry. For instance we formed associations with the Uganda Small Scale Industries Association which is helping more to build standards in packaging and mentorship programmes. We are currently somewhere above 60%.

What does it take for an intending entrepreneur to start and manage a successful winery enterprise in Uganda?

Making quality wine is an expensive, time-consuming endeavor and returns on investment can take years, if not decades, to realize. The first key element is to make sure that you know what you are getting into. This not only requires training and grasping the ideas of wine making, but also taking on a course in food safety.  In wine making, hygiene is number one priority. You cannot go far without this.

How do you rate your share of the market in Uganda’s local wine industry?

I can say that we command 80% or more of the local wine market in Uganda and Rwanda. We are working on exporting to DR Congo. What major challenges hamper the growth of the local wine industry in Uganda?

Wine is a ‘luxury’ product so many people can do without it when the economic conditions get tough. To make matters worse, the packaging materials are all imported, which largely reduces the profit margin when the exchange rate fluctuates. Also, the mindset of Ugandans is still negative towards locally-produced wines yet we have worked hard to narrow the gap in quality.

What impact does imported wine have on the growth of the local wine industry?

The gap is narrowing as the local winery industry works to improve standards. During my study tours to other wine-producing countries around the world, I discovered that what is exported to Africa in terms of quality is not what is sent to the market in those countries.  This is an opportunity for the local wine industry in Uganda to work on the few pending issues so as to out-compete the imported products.

Uganda was ranked among the top consumers of alcohol in Africa. What opportunities does this present to the local winery subsector in Uganda?

What is most important is the positive perception towards locally-made and organic wines. Organic wine is healthier for the body.

What is your outlook  for the local wine industry in the next few years?

Ten years from now, the demand for imported wines may be no more and more if the local producers concentrate on improving quality and standards.

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