Leaving a KSh 1 mln corporate salary behind
How a former corporate executive ditched the corner office and a six-figure salary and breathed life into one of Kenya's oldest juice brands

Text: Simon Ciuri
Photos: Edwin Ochieng, Depositphotos, and other sources

Leaving a KSh 1 mln sallary behind
Story of a former top manager breathing new life into the Treetop juice brand

Text: Simon Mburu
  • Photos: Edwin Ochieng, Depositphotos, and other sources
They say, life begins at 40. For Bernard Njoroge, at 44 years, life started when he left a plum job and plunged into full-time entrepreneurship. Today Njoroge is known as the Treetop man. And here is his story.
The beginning: corporate career or entrepreneurship
When Njoroge confided in one of his closest friends that he was contemplating resigning from a lucrative job at Del Monte, a multi-national firm, the instant reaction from his friend was for him to immediately go for a check up to confirm his sanity. Perhaps his friend thought he was going through mid-life crisis, the time men do irrational things.
Who in his/her normal state of mind walks away from a juicy six figure executive pay, fat perks job? Who?
Njoroge was taking home over KSh1 million a month and was a high-flying marketing honcho overseeing operations in East Africa. To the world, Njoroge seemed to have it all - the money, the influence and the status.

So on the morning of November 2014, perhaps after many sleepless nights, Njoroge made up his mind. He submitted his resignation letter and walked away from the comfort of a regular source of income and ventured into the musky sea of entrepreneurship where a regular income is not a guarantee for a start-up.
"The only weapon I had after quitting Del Monte was blind optimism, faith and millions of potential risks"
Bernard Njoroge, proprietor of Sky Foods Limited
Going into full-time business
Three years before Njoroge left Del Monte, he had bought the Treetop juice trademark from Unilever in 2011. His motivation to resign was so he could concentrate on reintroducing the brand back into the market under Sky Foods Limited.

Exactly seven months after kissing Del Monte goodbye, Treetop was born. Njoroge relaunched the beverage brand back into the Kenyan market in June 2015. He refuses to reveal how much he paid for the Treetop trademark.

Way back in the 90's, Unilever had phased out the Treetop juice concentrate after it made massive losses. The brand was last sold in Kenyan shops in 1995. After two decades, Njoroge decided to wake a sleeping giant.

For anyone born in the 70's and 80's, Treetop was the drink of choice in many homes in Kenya. During family events, the drink was served with a sense of pride. Children knew it was a very special day if their parents brought home Treetop.

Njoroge still had "Treetop hangovers" and he wanted to make money in the process. He got into the same business space with his former employer and set up shop less than three kilometres from Del Monte.

It was not the first time for Njoroge to try his hand in business. Before, he had attempted his hand in business and even burnt his fingers in the process. In 2004, then working for Coca-Cola, Njoroge started a company called African Garden Limited that processed and packaged pickled gherkins (cucumbers). He wound up the company after the supplies from farmers declined because of drought. Unbowed, he started another one for selling sun-dried tomatoes.
The rebirth
As the business grew, more capital was required to sustain the supply and the company had to scout again for the funds to enable expansion.
"After identifying all the aspects that were required including factory costs and workforce, the next step was sourcing for capital. This was the hardest moment I have ever encountered in doing business"
Bernard Njoroge
Proprietor of Sky Foods Limited
He admits that very few people thought he was ready for the challenge. Njoroge observes that most commercial banks approach entrepreneurs after they have succeeded not when they are needed at the start up stage. "I think no one likes to associate with risks," Njoroge quips.

The re-entry of Treetop was made possible through funding from the Industrial and Commercial Development Cooperation (ICDC), a government owned agency that supports small and medium enterprises which exhibit potential growth.

ICDC gave Sky Foods Limited KSh100 million in exchange for a stake. Njoroge later sought other unnamed partners who topped up the funding to KSh 500 million. This is the money he used as seed capital.
The new-look Treetop juice
Treetop juice is available as ready to drink and dilute to taste variants. Under the ready to drink category, the drink is available in mango, orange, apple and tropical flavours. The dilute to taste concentrate is available in orange, mango, tropical, pineapple, strawberry and banana flavour that mostly targets the youth.

The juice is packaged in one litre to 20 liters plastic bottles. This is a departure from the "old" Treetop that was sold in glass bottles.

For the mango brands, the fruits are sourced from local farmers while the orange, apple and tropical flavours are imported from Germany.
Sky Foods Limited employs 630 workers and produces an average of 14 million liters of juice annually. It sells its products through a network of distributors spread out across major towns in Kenya. Now a little over a year in the market, Sky Foods has expanded its footprint to Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Workers at Sky Foods ltd.
The juice making process includes mixing sugar and water into a simple syrup. The next stage involves adding fruit emulsions and fruit pulps. The mix is then homogenised, pasteurised and cooled before bottling.
Future plans
Njoroge has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Nairobi. He says a lesson he has learnt in business is to invest in a sector that one understands.

On his cards is to diversify into packaging bottled water.
"My background in marketing beverages has helped. I was able to avoid pitfalls that an entrepreneur new in the business and with no experience in the sector will not see".
Bernard Njoroge
Proprietor of Sky Foods Limited
However, he has made some mistakes along the way.

"I wish I started packaging Treetop in small plastic bottles targeting the young and the middle aged instead of family packages. I have noticed that the informal sectors control the market but we have learnt from our mistakes and we are now ready for the big shift."

So if you have been bitten by the entrepreneurship like Njoroge and you are scared of venturing out, you will never know how the sea looks like until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
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