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How city graduate is minting money from traditional porridge

After graduating from university last June, Kendi Kimathi opted to concentrate on preparing and selling traditional millet porridge as a career; a decision which unsurprisingly did not bode well with many of her friends and family.

Some of her classmates at the Kenya Methodist University (Kemu) hailed the 23-year-old’s decision for its uniqueness as a business venture but many rubbished it.

Her mother, Jennifer Kimathi, was lost for words.

“She was of the opinion that I first seek employment, save money for a business and start off while still employed,” Ms Kendi told Enterprise during an interview at her mother’s house in Lang’ata, Nairobi, which also serves as her production centre.

“Mom felt I should only quit employment to concentrate fully on my porridge business once it showed signs of breaking even.”

The idea of Uji Benda, her company, popped up when she was still in school. She used to sell porridge to close friends and family.

PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
PHOTO | SALATON NJAU

Thereafter, demand started growing through referrals, giving her the motivation to start marketing her product at events in church and at her clients’ parties (mostly traditional ceremonies such as payment of bride price).

However, Ms Kendi, who holds a human nutrition and dietetics degree, did as her mother advised and got a job with a local telecommunications firm, working as a customer relations attendant.

WHAT SHE LOVED MOST

She quit five months into the job, citing insufficient pay and the fact that working for six days a week left her with little time to do what she loved most — preparing gruel.

Using her savings and financial help from her mother, Ms Kendi travelled to Meru to buy a grinding stone in order to concentrate on her porridge business.

The porridge is made from two main ingredients, pearl and finger millet, which she grinds.

The porridge, which is normally left to ferment for a couple of days, is sold in two versions — cooked or uncooked.

Ms Kendi said her product, which is quite popular in her hometown, has great nutritional value including being a source of calcium, phosphorous and has high fibre content.

She also asserts that her porridge creates an alkaline environment in the stomach and is therefore suitable for stomach ulcer patients.

Some of her first clients were elderly people who require meals rich in anti-oxidants to aid digestion.

UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLE

“We need to revive traditional meals if we are to save this generation from an unhealthy lifestyle and resultant diseases,” she said during the interview.

“This porridge is also good for lactating mothers. It enriches their milk.”

PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
PHOTO | SALATON NJAU

As orders picked up, Ms Kendi employed one worker to grind the millet, have it fermented and cooked as she concentrates on the sales and marketing bit of the fledgling business.

Many people hardly believe that porridge has health benefits, she said, adding that some strangers agree to buy the product once she mentions that she is a nutritionist by profession.

She sells her products in three, five and 20 litre jerricans.

A five litre jerrican of cooked porridge retails at Sh1,000 while the pre-cooked version of a similar quantity will set one back Sh750. A 20-litre portion of cooked porridge has a price tag of Sh 4,000 with the raw form is Sh1,000 cheaper.

During festive seasons Ms Kendi said she rakes in up to Sh60,000 monthly. In other months she makes about Sh30,000 from the business which she promotes on social media.

“Our goal is to standardise our porridge and distribute to supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, gyms and hospitals. We also aim to have a production centre where we can produce the porridge in large quantities,” she said.