The second part of my interview with Kahenya Kamunyu involved my follow-up questions that mainly hinged on the quality of ingredients used in the yogurt and on this whole discussion about whether the food in Kenya is really organic (i.e. with no real testing standards how do you know what your getting?)
You mention that Virn Instruments is providing the funding. Who is Virn? What do they do? & how and why are they able to provide the funding?
ViRN Instruments is the Application Service Provider I run which is trying to move into more non-online businesses and SME micro finance to women. It comes from our own income which we use to invest in other businesses.
You said you deal mainly with packaging, i.e. you don’t make the yogurt from scratch. So, are you more of a marketing company trying to sell yogurt or are you a manufacturing company?
We have our mix, we have our blends, our menu, and we could easily make it ourselves and probably will down the road, but anyone can make yogurt. Like Coca Cola, we supply the map and Patricia and Simon provide the results. We then package and distribute. But its based on what we want and believe and Patricia and Simon have to follow the map strictly. We are financing the operations at Patricia and Simon. Either way, it makes sense cause ViRN Instruments does not employ individuals but rather partners with them. That way, they are independent to follow their dreams and grow, which is better than locking someone down. Provided they meet their contractual obligations, we are good.
You mentioned a company called Patricia and Simon that does the blending. What exactly does blending mean in relation to the yogurt business?
I use blending to mean that they take the raw ingredients and mix it up as per the map and we have a final solution.
Also, if you are not actually making the yogurt (this other company, Patricia & Simon is doing it) – what exactly is your contribution to the taste and quality of the yogurt? i.e. how can you ensure standards of quality if your not actually involved in the making of the product?
We make the map. Patricia and Simon pretty much provide the manual labour. There is an agreement in place, from hygiene to certain parameters that they have to follow. And everything is tested before we package it.
Does Patricia & Simon have a yogurt manufacturing company in Kenya where the blend your yogurt?
Yes, they have a manufacturing unit in Kenya.
Do you know if they source their ingredients, e.g. milk, fruits, sugar, etc, etc from Kenyan farmers?
Everything is local as part of our agreement and we source the ingredients for them, so all they do is get raw product, mix it and bring it back.
Also, you said the yogurt is 100% organic, but if the milk used in the yogurt is coming from cows that are injected with synthetic hormones, does that impact the “organic” nature of your yogurt? This is why I asked about sourcing because I know that many organic food companies pay particular attention to the source of their ingredients because they want to ensure its purity. So, for example, if they’re making yogurt, they’ll only buy milk from farmers who don’t use synthetic hormones when raising their cows. I’d like to get your view points on this.
We use 100% organic/natural stuff. There are no hormones. The only preservatives we ever have with our yoghurt are the vacuum seal and the container. Thats it. Our farmers are in agreement that they do not supply us with hormone milk. We have a test system that elaborates on milk brought from cows with hormones and milk that mixed with water which can ruin the overall quality. So are the fruits and sugar.
Finally, who is Patricia & Simon. Are they a Kenyan based company?
Patrica and Simon is a company that makes yogurt in Kenya. That’s as much as they wanted me to say.
You mentioned a test system that checks the milk from cows to see if they contain synthetic hormones. Is there any real way to “prove” that the milk is fully “organic”?
For example, they are no real standards even in America to check on the validity of organic food products. It’s really all based more on faith and more on farmers who, driven by their own passion for pure foods, decide not to use these preservatives or growth hormones. So, if in the west, they are no real standards to check on the authenticity of the organic food movement, how in Kenya, would you check? Especially since the government isn’t interested in it and because most people are just out to make money (not to mention all the corruption).
My point is, are you selling this idea of organic products without really knowing what it is you are getting? I’m just finding it hard to believe that dairy farmers in Kenya, would skip out on using growth hormones when they know that’s the key to increasing their milk yields and ultimately cash flow.
We do a simple matchstick test. You dip a matchstick into the milk and you try light it. If its too watered down or too oily, then the match won’t light which means then its most likely watered down or adjusted to appear whole (the fat content usually would be high). Kawaida milk would not really affect a matchstick. My grandfather taught me that trick. He was a farmer and herdsman for 70 years.
Fat content is pretty much the check. Too much fat, problem. Too little fat problem. It is a 50/50 with the match stick test. Its basically if the stick is too slimy, it won’t catch fire, but then again, if the cow is just healthy, well, we have a problem.
Am I planning to provide my own own milk? Its not a sustainable option even though I would prefer that. However don’t over read this hormone business. Most of the people supplying us with milk cannot even afford to buy hormones. Supplements and feeds with supplements is more common and these are not per se harmful.
I”d like to thank Kahenya Kamunyu for graciously taking the time to answer all of my questions, which I continuously sent to him over the course of two weeks. These responses by people like Kahenya and even Nick Nesbitt at Kencall are really allowing me to continue my lonely, but personally satisfying journey of trying to find young, Kenyan entrepreneurs who are committed to making clean, honest money, through their own production, hard work and sweat.
I have more interviews lined up with other young Kenyans who have also agreed to share the stories of their entrepreneurial journeys here and they will be coming up periodically.