How Couple Cracked Open Tough Coconut Venture

A young couple sold their property in England for Sh50 million and founded a manufacturing company in Kenya. A year-and-a-half later, the duo is running a business that has defied many challenges to become a powerhouse both locally and internationally.

   Navida Natural Foods founders Daniel Mwai and Mette Larsel show some of their products during the interview with the Business Daily at the Nairobi International Trade Fair last week. Salaton Njau

Navida Natural Foods founders Daniel Mwai and Mette Larsel show some of their products during the interview with the Business Daily at the Nairobi International Trade Fair last week. Salaton Njau

Daniel Mwai and Mette Larsel say the future initially looked grim but their resilience is now paying off through Navida Natural Foods Limited that is based in Bamburi, Mombasa.

The firm deals with the production of oil, soap and animal feeds from coconuts extracts. The pair saw a jewel in the manufacturing industry and went for it.

“Our closest friends laughed us off when we sold our property and land  in England to come back to Kenya and start the coconut business,’’ Ms Larsel, one of the founders told the Business Daily at the Nairobi International Trade Fair where they were exhibiting last week.

She says they saw the potential in the market and moved to seize it.

“I had been involved in the food industry for over 20 years in the United Kingdom where I ran a restaurant. Being a regular visitor to Kenya, I saw an opportunity to try a new venture that many investors had not exploited,’’ Ms Larsel said.

The first assignment, she said, was to identify space to set up the structures, including a processing plant.

Today, the firm that started with a handful of workers can stand to be counted among top processing companies in Kenya, drawing clients from as far as the United Kingdom and Tanzania.

‘“When we started, we had less than 20 employees and it was really challenging given that few companies make profit during the initial stages. We banked on marketing and referrals and within four months of dry business, we started trading both in Kenya and Tanzania,’’ she says of a situation that almost saw them close shop.

Today, most supermarkets and high end hotels have embraced their products but a price had to be paid-—perseverance.

Mr Mwai, who is one of the founders of Navida Natural Foods, notes the advantage of venturing into an industry that you are compassionate about.

“My passion for coconuts was kindled when I went to a hospital in Norway and the doctor prescribed coconut oil for my arthritis. The product worked well and this motivated us to pursue the same path,’’ said Mr  Mwai, who is also a professional event organiser.

Today, the two entrepreneurs have numerous products in their stable thanks to passion and hard work.

“Our products include virgin coconut oil, coconut water both natural and flavoured, Lite Coconut milk, Coco Feed for poultry, fish and rabbit, massage coconut oils and soaps,’’ said Ms Larsel, adding that they intend to introduce more products into the market.

But she did not disclose what type of products they intend to add to their range.

Mr Mwai says as the company grew, so was the need  to diversify to products that would keep the businesses running if others failed to pick.

“Any business venture requires a clear plan on what you intend to achieve in the market. There must me a fall-back option because you cannot be certain how the product will perform,’’ said Mr Mwai citing proper market research and quality products as one of the fundamental factors that made them survive the initial hard times in the market.

He says they are aiming to produce 10,000 coconuts a day as the markets for the product has grown tremendously because coconut extracts are known to contain health and nutrition value.

A litre of coconut oil from Navida Natural Foods goes for Sh650 in local supermarkets while five litres sell at Sh2,500.

Navida Natural Foods is currently working on methods to attain Organic Certification from Europe that will enable it gain more international markets and establish a presence in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Mr Mwai cites Europe as one of the prime destinations for coconut given the huge demand by manufacturing companies that use coconut extracts in their products.

“Coconut oil can be used for cooking, baking, skin, anti-fungal and even to treat arthritis ’’ said Mr Mwai, who also studied business administration at a local college.

The company also works with farmers whom they supply with seeds to enhance harvest besides buying their produce.

“We are currently dealing with 100 farmers who supply us with coconut, this ensures that we don’t run short of raw materials,’’ said Ms Larsel.

The company is now eyeing export markets including the individuals who want to maintain a healthy diet.

‘’The industry is big but the supply sometimes becomes a huge challenge. More people have entered the trade but the market remains vibrant,’’ added Mr Mwai.

He was, however, guarded when I asked him how much the business makes in profit.

“We cannot complain, we are doing well and we are aiming to hit Sh36 million in terms of profit,’’ said Ms Larsel without divulging details.

The company employs 200 employees both directly and indirectly.

Both Ms Mette and Mr Mwai believe in hard work and patience, a virtues they attribute to their success.

“Have patience and think long term while giving your business a chance to grow,’’ they said as a parting shot.

– Business Daily