Bernard Njoroge re-invented Treetop, a product with a footprint of nostalgia in virtually every home across the country and generations
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
For anyone born in the 1960’s 70s and 80s, Treetop was the drink of choice in many homes in Kenya. During family events, it was served with a sense of pride. Children knew it was a special day if their parents brought home Treetop.
But the drink was phased out after the manufacturer suffered massive losses in the 1990s. However, three years ago Bernard Njoroge left a cushy six-figure job at Del Monte Kenya and the security of a regular paycheck to revive the brand.
The proprietor of Sky Foods Limited, the company that revived Tree top juices, quit his job not because he wanted to make more money, but because he wanted to build a value for himself.
“Having worked with different multi-national companies, I looked at the value I was building for them yet I didn’t have shareholding and I realised that I had potential to start my own company,” he says.
As Shakespeare once wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Njoroge thought of reintroducing Treetop juice in the market. This is because in today’s marketplace, brand recognition and positive association is paramount to getting a leg up on the competition.
“Reviving an old brand often beats spending months and millions on creating a new one, with a lower risk of failure. If something has worked before, there is a good chance it will work again,” he says.
The idea was borne while he was still working for Del Monte. He would frequently get feedback during juice tasting events about how the product tasted like Treetop. Despite pitching the idea to his boss about reintroducing the juice as part of the company’s product, his sentiments fell on deaf ears.
This is when he decided to negotiate with Unilever, the company that was manufacturing the juice before to sell the trademark to him and they agreed. In 2011 he bought the trademark for an amount he refused to disclose.
After acquiring the Trademark, he approached several lending institutions looking for starting capital, but most of them were a bit sceptical about his idea so they didn’t buy it.
This process took him two years, but he refused to be discouraged.
“I knew somehow I would get funding. After all the struggle I managed to get Sh100 million through an equity stake by the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC), a government-backed agency that finances small and medium enterprises to accelerate their growth. Several other investors topped up the funding to Sh500 million,” he adds.
After getting the partners, it took him exactly one year to plan and in November 2014, Njoroge submitted his resignation letter.
Seven months down the line he relaunched the brand with a production capacity of 2,000 litres per hour. Currently, he is producing 4,000 litres of juices and another 4,000 litres of drinking water per hour.
But this was not the first time for Njoroge to try his hand in business. He had tried before, but burnt his fingers. This was in the early 90s, immediately after graduating from university with a Bachelors of Commerce Degree.
He started a food kiosk in Githunguri, his home town with only Sh5,000, a business he held for one year before joining Lwanda Foods Limited for internship as a brand ambassador. By then he was only 21 years.
“I worked there for three years before joining Standard Chartered Bank as a clerk for a year. After that I joined Orbit Chemicals where I worked for three years before joining Del Monte as sales and marketing coordinator. Then I was 31years old,” he says.
At Del Monte, Njoroge rose to become the manager in- charge of sales and marketing. In 2003 he started a company – African Garden Limited– with Sh500,000.
The company processed and packaged pickled gherkins and sun-dried tomatoes. Though the company was doing well with Sh1 million turnover, it only lasted for five years following decrease of supplies because of drought.
In 2006 Njoroge left Del Monte to join Coca-Cola where he worked up to 2009 before going back to Del Monte as the Director for Marketing sub-Saharan Africa, a position he held until his resignation.
Treetop juice is available as ready to drink and dilute to taste variants. Under the ready-to-drink category, it is available in mango, orange, apple and tropical flavours.
The dilute-to-taste concentrate is available in orange, mango, tropical, pineapple and strawberry and banana flavour.The juice is packaged in one litre to 20 litre plastic bottles. This is a departure from the “old” Treetop in glass bottles.
“Currently, we are importing some of our raw materials, but we want to focus more on fruits, which can be locally produced such as passion. We are investing on mobile processing units to ensure that we will have farmers from all over the country and our fruits remain fresh for a longer period,” he reveals.