Fredrick Macharia: Selling porridge revived my hope for a bright future

Fredrick MAcharia

Mr Fredrick Macharia attending to Josephat Korir in Nakuru in this photo taken on January 9, 2023.

Photo credit: Richard Maosi I Nation Media Group

Can you imagine making over Sh100,000 a month selling porridge (uji)? Well, Fredrick Macharia doesn’t need to imagine this; it’s the reality of his porridge enterprise.

 “I started selling uji, months after graduating from college and the decision predictably did not bode well with many of my friends who despised it. Just like many young people, my colleagues felt I was on the wrong path. But years later l have proved them wrong.”

After graduating from the Nairobi Technical Training Institute in 2018, with a certificate in Food and Beverages, Macharia tarmacked for a while without any success.

He began doing menial jobs including the popular’ mjengo work’ at construction sites in Nairobi for about six months. It was at these sites that he stumbled upon the idea of selling uji.

“Whenever we were working at a site, people would come with flasks and food dishes to sell breakfast and lunch to us. I found the idea of doing the same to be appealing because the money I was getting as a mjengo guy was never enough to cover rent and buy food. Life in Nairobi is very expensive.”

To start with, Macharia who is an orphan, liaised with his foster sister to start the porridge business. They moved to Nakuru and set up their trade, hawking delicious porridge in the streets.

“My sister Elizabeth and I started with selling normal uji, the one made of flour sugar and water. After some time, we discovered another type of porridge that was becoming very popular in the market. It was made of organic ingredients such as yams, Sorghum, ground nuts, milk, bananas, simsim, stinging nettles and omena. We pooled our resources and raised Sh7,000 to purchase a blender then borrowed a further Sh3,000 to buy the ingredients.”

With the Sh10,000 capital, Macharia and his sister began making the ‘super’ uji which became an instant hit among their customers.

 “After the first taste of the special porridge, we got permanent customers, who gave orders several times a week. That is how we grew to where we are right now. We have competition from other porridge makers, but somehow our customers stick with us and even refer others to our uji.”

After some time, it became necessary for them to get another partner—a mutual friend-- so the venture is ran by three partners.

“We have varieties based on customer’s preferences. Some ask us to omit omena or the stinging nestle, we do so and the uji still tastes great.”

Marketing efforts

As their popularity grew, so did their marketing efforts. The trio began supplying the uji in offices across Nakuru City, in churches and in home parties (mostly traditional ceremonies such as payment of bride price.)

From a small store near Gate Iguru stage, in Railways, Nakuru City, they prepare the porridge in largescale, store it in Jerri cans and visit offices selling it with special thermos flasks and cups.

They have hired three employees who help them sell the porridge in offices and other establishments within Nakuru City and its environs.

Ruth Sarmwei, one of Macharia’s clients says the product, which is very popular in Nakuru City , has great nutritional value including being a source of calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients.

“Once you have a taste of the porridge, you will keep asking for more, it is delicious and quite filling.”

She adds that the porridge is subtle, unlike the fermented option and is therefore suitable for stomach ulcer patients.

The cost of the porridge per bowl ranges between Sh70-Sh100 depending on the ingredients used.

“On a good day we make up to Sh5000 just selling the uji. I am happy that people are slowly realising the importance of going back to traditional food such as yams, sorghum and the ingredients we use to make the porridge. These foods are very nutritious will help keep lifestyle diseases away.”

According to Macharia, the porridge is also popular among lactating mothers who claim that it helps them produce more milk for their nursing babies.

Given the success they have enjoyed so far, Macharia is optimistic that soon they will afford to open a restaurant where they can sell other healthy meals along with the popular uji.

“With the rising cost of living, most of our ingredients have also gone up. However, we are hopeful that business will do good and our dream to expand will soon be a reality. We are happy to know that by offering nutritious products, we are helping our customers take good care of their health.”