Margaret Njoki: The woman milking cash from yoghurt

 Njoki Ngugi

Crystal Creamery Director Njoki Ngugi at her milk bar in Ngara, Nairobi, on July 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Inside the shop in Ngara, Nairobi, several milk products are lined up on the shelves. The products include a variety of yoghurt flavours, from strawberry to pineapple and banana.

Then there is ghee, butter, cheese and ice cream.

Margaret Njoki, the owner of the shop, fills 500ml containers with yoghurt so that her customers, who keep on flocking in, find them ready to drink.

"I mainly make yoghurt products. Our brand is called Tarahji. For flavoured yoghurt, we make mango, blueberry, banana, vanilla and strawberry. For fruit yoghurt, we have strawberry, blueberry, passion and pineapple," says the agriprenuer, who trades under the name Crystal Creamery.

Margaret, 39, ventured into the value addition business in 2015, then doing it as a side hustle in Naivasha.

“I started as a milk bar, then moved to production of yoghurt and other dairy products. I had one employee who was manning the shop during the day and I would come in the evening. I used to do production on Saturday and Sunday, which would last us the whole week,” says Margaret.

“The business was giving me more money than the salary that I was earning. This made me believe I would make more money if I do it full-time," she adds.


 Njoki Ngugi

Crystal Creamery Director Njoki Ngugi at her milk bar in Ngara, Nairobi,  on July 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

In 2016, when her contract as a human resources and administration officer was not renewed at a Geothermal Consulting firm, she fully went into the business.

"I relocated it to Kabati in Murang'a County and worked harder for it to grow. But as the volumes increased and I started supplying the goods to other businesses, production and storage became a challenge. I lost a huge stock of yoghurt products to infection,” says Njoki.

According to Margaret, the stock was worth Sh400,000.

"To add insult to injury, my employees stole the remaining products with the car they used to distribute them in Kangemi, Lucky Summer and Githurai. But we later found the car."

Before the loss, Njoki would process 700 litres of yoghurt per day, and would sell the stock in two days.

She was compelled to close the business in 2017, but reopened in 2018, hoping to get things right this time round.

But as fate would have it, she lost products worth about Sh600,000 due to theft early last year, forcing her to close again.

"I almost went into depression, but I found friends who encouraged me. I started afresh soon after," says Margaret, who adds she has so far invested over Sh1 million in the new business. The money went on rent, equipment such as pasteuriser and chiller.

Njoki says she has been sourcing milk from one farmer since 2016. Currently, she buys at Sh55 a litre and processes 200 litres per day.

"I do the processing in Kabati but sell the products through my shop in Ngara. I have seven employees, three in Ngara and four in Kabati."

She packs the products in various sizes from 150ml to five litres and supplies to various customers at retail and wholesale prices, including to Top Mart Supermarket in Kabati. She has also started selling on Jumia, and there is a supermarket that she sells to in Kabati.

“Our walk-in customers are mainly students who live in Ngara and we also do home deliveries,” says Njoki, whose products are certified by Kenya Bureau of Standards.

Njoki Ngugi

Crystal Creamery Director Njoki Ngugi during interview at her milk bar in Ngara, Nairobi in this photo taken on July 13, 2022.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Thanks to the value addition course she did at the Dairy Training Institute in Naivasha, her new products include chocolate yoghurt that she says is doing well.

While she blends her yoghurt with various fruits like strawberry, pineapple and passion fruits, she reveals that most people like the blueberry variety.

She sources passion fruits from a farmer in Nyahururu and strawberries from Thika.

She buys strawberries at Sh300 per kilo, five kilos of blueberries at Sh1,500, passion fruits at Sh80 per kilo and pineapples at between Sh50 and Sh180 per piece.

For wholesale, we sell 12 pieces of 150ml yoghurt at Sh400 and 12 pieces of 250ml at Sh600.  “For 500ml, there are six pieces that go for Sh600,” says Margaret, who is called Mama Milky by her customers. On the other hand, a 250ml glass of yoghurt for walk-in customers goes for Sh60 and half-litre at Sh100.

More money for her comes from people she trains on how to make yoghurt for commercial purposes, charging them depending on distance.

“I’m a trainer, mentor, consultant and a producer. I charge Sh5,000 per product. I normally have a course outline that I share with clients. I also have online classes, which I charge Sh3,500. It lasts 2-3 hours,” she says, adding that she has had trainees from Mombasa and Meru. Her dream is for her products to be a household name in the next five years.

 Kevine Otieno from the Department of Dairy, Food Science and Technology, Egerton University, says yoghurt goes bad if there is gas formation, or if the yoghurt thins out and separates (syneresis).

“The former is attributed to hygiene issues associated with poor handling, while the latter is mostly due to poor processing. This usually happens when the workers rush against time to push the day’s volume, thereby taking shortcuts, forgetting that inadequate processing will backfire later. Milk and milk products are unforgiving,” he says.

The expert adds that in case the yoghurt fails to thicken during processing, then the quality of milk used in processing and the incubation conditions must be checked.

“This problem can be attributed to the presence of antibiotics in the raw milk used in processing. Antibiotics in milk will kill the culture bacteria rendering them useless, hence fermentation will not take place,” he explains.

“Also, when the incubation temperatures are not met, the culture will not work because yoghurt culture works within a specific range of temperature. Finally, one factor that some manufacturers may overlook is adding too much sugar in the mix with the presumption that it will be sweeter. Excess sugar in the mix will destabilise the ecosystem by reducing the water activity of the medium (remember sugar can be used as a preservative in effective concentrations).”

According to him, the first thing anyone thinking of venturing into the yoghurt business should know is that milk is very unforgiving.

“You make a small mistake upstream and it cascades downstream, ruining the entire batch. Therefore, it is important to ensure that standard operating procedures are followed and that your market will absorb your stock adequately (demand forecasting,” advises the expert.

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