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Maritim’s answer to career women’s cooking dilemma

Mary Maritim started a business that sells pre-cooked legumes after facing a hurdle many women in the workforce face –how to juggle a job and prepare a healthy meal for the family everyday

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

In the rat race to success, working women are torn between the need to push their careers ahead and the desire to be the perfect mother. Preparing nutritious food for the family is part of the equation to being a perfect mother, but sometimes it is impossible to juggle a demanding career and still be a culinary master.

As we celebrate the international Women’s Day today, we celebrate Mary Maritim, a woman who has solved this puzzle for many mothers by founding a company that prepares pre-cooked frozen foods.

The theme for this year’s celebration is #press for progress. Maritim’s found her way to press for progress when she was caught up in the dilemma many women find themselves in. One evening in 2007 she was held up in her secretarial job at the Ministry of Agriculture. When she got home she did not have any idea which quick meal to prepare for her family.

She opened her fridge and discovered beans she had pre-cooked, put in the freezer and forgot. “I quickly grabbed the beans made stew and boiled rice and within no time we were enjoying our supper.

This is when I realised that there was a gap somewhere, which needed to be filled,” she says. That night she couldn’t sleep because she wanted to turn this idea of making and selling of frozen beans into a viable business. After doing all her calculation and even coming up with the name of her brand she was ready to give it a trial.

“My passion is in natural and nutritious food for families and I wanted to providethese foods conveniently and affordably,” says the sales and marketing bachelor’s degree holder.

The following day, her business journey started. Armed with Sh400 (Sh200 went into packaging and Sh200 into buying grains) she visited a printing shop and designed her brand name.

“My idea was to start with pre-cooked beans, but I ended up including green maize, githeri, black-eyed peas and pigeon peas on my packaging bags,” says the 51-years-old, mother of three.

She bought one kilogramme of each product went home and boiled them before packaging and sealing them using her iron box. She then refrigerated them. The following day her food was ready.

She then borrowed a cool box from a friend and presented her products at Nakumatt Supermarket. Little did she know that there was a process one needs to follow when venturing into food business.

She was required to get Certificate of Incorporation, Kenya Bureau of Standards Certificate, VAT Certificate, and barcodes for the products and listing application letter. Through the help of a lawyer she managed to get all the certification. “I started my business casually with no business plan at all.

I just walked into a project with only my kitchen skills. Lack of a business plan greatly slowed down my business growth. I also missed out on prospective funding that would have propelled the business growth,” she says.

After securing all the requirements, she was given an opportunity by Nakumatt Supermarket to showcase her products in their two branches – Nakumatt Mega and Lifestyle for a period of 60 days.

Even before the pilot project was over the orders started flocking in. “The brand’s name is Cherubet, the reason I named the brand Cherubet was because it was my mother’s name and I had lost her in my house earlier on. It took me a long time to get over the loss, I constantly thought about her and her name came naturally when I was naming the business venture,” she reveals.

The business, which started in her kitchen later expanded and she had to look for bigger premises. Since then she has included other foods and currently she is selling githeri, nyayo beans, farm fresh corn or green maize, njahi, mbaazi, mothokoi, yellow beans, wairimu beans, muitemania beans and peas. The prices range between Sh100 and Sh135 per kilogramme.

The company recently introduced fermented ready to drink porridge. “It took me a few years before I quit my job. I started by attending to my venture after work and during weekends.

It became challenging later on because sometimes I worked till 3am and had to wake up to go to work by 7am,” she adds. Currently her production capacity is good enough to sustain retailers such as Chandarana, Carrefour, Naivas, Tuskys, Uchumi, Quickmatt, Souk Bazaar, Choppies, JDs, Eastmatt and Tumaini supermarkets.

She has also employed 12 people and bought two cold delivery vehicles that transport the products to the supermarkets and a delivery motorbike for home deliveries.

“I bought the first delivery vehicle in my second year and later acquired the second one. I introduced the motorbike recently. Before buying them I used the boot of a car my husband bought me,” she adds. However, Mary says some people don’t see the use of frozen foods. They equate their products to those boiled and sold on the roadside.

Also supermarkets take long to pay them and this greatly affects their cash flow and that is why they have started home delivery considering that even banks have their own stringent measures when it comes to overdrafts.

“The future plan is to expand the market to reach the people who need these kinds of foods the most. I don’t understand why malnutrition exists in Kenya considering the abundance of resources we have,” adds Mary.

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