The tamarind is a tropical fruit that is used in traditional medicine – it contains a variety of nutrients that can boost your health, making it popular among health-conscious groups.
The bean contains a sour pulp, which is used to produce a variety of sauces, and is an ingredient in many dishes across the world.
With more people becoming health conscious and aware of the importance of what they eat, the tamarind and its byproducts is increasingly becoming a popular ingredient in many households, with the food processing market also cashing in on its popularity and demand.
It is from this knowledge that Ann Wangui, 29, started her business, Umai Organic, in 2020. The business produces a variety of products made from the tamarind fruit.
“I saw an opportunity to provide wholesome products, and tamarind was a perfect choice because of its versatility. You can make a number of incredible products using the fruit, from tamarind candy, sauce, chutney, juice, tea and even soap,” she says.
With an initial capital of Sh10, 000, she bought cooking gas, pots and a few kilos of tamarind and got to work.
After a month, the business was able to buy itself other basic items such as a blender and bigger pots.
Wangui later got a loan from her family that enabled her acquire training at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), thereafter getting KEBS certification for her products.The name of her business, Umai Organic, was coined from a Japanese word that means something tasty and delicious.
“I found the name a perfect description of ukwaju, (tamarind in Swahili) which has the ability to deepen the flavour of any meal. As for the name organic, it is because tamarind is in every essence organic, it grows naturally in the wild.”
The wide range of culinary uses of tamarind encompasses a flavouring agent for chutneys and curries, and due to its sour taste, it is used as a pickling agent.
Ms Wangui, a graduate of broadcast journalism from Multimedia University, has created employment for five full-time employees, and once in a while, when the need arises, she engages casual workers.“
One of our products is tamarind sauce, popularly known as ukwaju wa pilipili, another is tamarind juice, tamarind puree and tamarind jam – some of our products cost as low as Sh150 depending on quantity.
""She sources tamarind beans from the Eastern region of Kenya, specifically Makueni and Kitui and sometimes Baringo depending on the season.
Ms Wangui, however, grows some of the other ingredients that she uses in her products, such as carrots, onions, mint and chillies.
Good manufacturing practices are at the core of the company’s growth strategy.
“We understand that to consistently and safely develop high quality products, it is necessary to establish and maintain a dependable supply of good quality fruit. Once the fruits are harvested, we transport them to our facility for pre-grading and storage and also check the fruits for pests, rot and maturity.”
Once pre-graded, the good quality fruits are stored in clean air-tight containers awaiting final grading. Any poor-quality fruits that may have been missed during the pre-grading or any fruits that develop deformities during storage are removed at this stage.
Only high-quality tamarind fruits make it to the washing stage, which proceeds the production stage.To ensure no cross contamination takes place during production, only one product is developed at a time.
“Extreme sanitary measures are carefully followed according to laid down standard operating procedures. Our cook-book is also promptly filled during each production to ensure that all raw materials, product sources and batches are traceable.
Packaging is done separately for each product. "Our packaging bottles are food-grade. We then put packaging labels and put in double containment (box and packaging papers) before transportation. For products that may be prone to breaking such as glass jars, we use bubble wrap to cushion them,"she says.
Product quantities, lot or batch numbers dispatched are recorded promptly to ensure their traceability.The company’s brand of tamarind juice comes in six flavours – plain tamarind, mint, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger.
The juice is sweetened with honey or stevia for people with diabetes or those trying to cut down on sugar intake.
As for the sauce, it is made with natural spices, chillies and herbs, while the spread is perfect for bread, pancakes, burgers and hotdogs.
The tamarind paste is made from the fruit pulp and is good as a marinade since it tenderises and deepens the flavour and colour of meat. It is also used in porridge to achieve a sour taste.
“Currently, we produce 400 litres of tamarind juice a month, but we have the capacity to produce 3,000 litres a month. For the sauce, we produce 150 litres a month but have the capacity to produce 1,000 litres a month, whereas for the paste and jam, we produce at least 100 litres a month with a production capacity of 1,000 litres a month,” says Wangui.
The business has a walk-in shop in Nairobi along Tom Mboya Street, but also retails online on its various social media platforms as well as online platforms such as Jumia.
“My products are for the common mwananchi who is looking to eat healthier, organic and deeply nourishing food. I am grateful for the support I have received from the chefs I have partnered with, they believed in my products just as I was starting out and that support got me KEBS certification.
She has worked with brands such as Leo Tunapika, Pretty Basic Kitchen, Mama’s Plate, Chef Moses, Mapishi Plug and Kui’s Kitchen.
As with every upcoming venture, hers has not been without challenges, the most challenging being certification.
“Being new in the manufacturing world, I had to figure things as I went by.
Getting products listed in supermarkets was also a challenge, since most supermarkets were not listing products post Covid-19, it also required lots of financing, machinery and labour that I could not afford at the time.”
Wangui has now focused on selling her products online, a factor that has its unique challenges, including getting a reliable and efficient delivery service provider.
In the past, they have processed orders from as far as Rwanda and Germany, thanks to social media reach.
“We also get countrywide orders – we have clients from Mombasa, Marsabit and Kisumu for specific products, these clients believe in the product so much, they don’t mind that the parcel fee is almost equal to the product being purchased. But this factor has also limited our reach to mostly in the Nairobi metropolitan, but to resolve it, we are working on getting stockists in major towns around the country.”
She says that through her business, she is economically improving the lives of people in villages who get to sell their tamarind fruits, which have been going to waste as most people did not know what to do with them or how to store them.
"Besides this, I am committed to championing for a healthier, more natural lifestyle - we can heal most ailments with a nourishing, natural diet," she adds.
“I want to create a brand that lives on and keeps giving, I want to show more people that there are many healthier alternatives to the carbonated and sugar filled products in the market and that healthy doesn’t have to be boring. You can still get nourishment and enjoy nutritious meals affordably.”
Her focus now is on structuring the business, to expand the product range and increase market share by ensuring continuity and to remain relevant in the evolving market and appealing to their customers.
“I look forward to the day that my business won't depend on me to run. I want Umai Organic to outgrow me, and to get there, I need to automate most of my production processes.”
At the moment, everything is produced manually, a factor that limits the volume and speed of production.