Kajuju Kiogora, 25, started her food business after adjusting her diet to be rid of severe acne. She talks to Florence Bett-Kinyatti about the genesis of her business.
“I developed acne when I was 18. My face had been smooth since adolescence and through high school – I didn’t understand where the acne was coming from at this age. I broke out in painful blisters and scarred. It was so bad that strangers on the street would wince and comment, giving me tips on what I could do to clear it. It hurt my self-esteem.
"My mother took me to see countless dermatologists. They wrote me prescriptions. I applied creams, swallowed tablets for my hormones, washed my face with medicated soaps, there was even a doctor who told me not to wash my face. It was exhausting and depressing, to tell you the truth. I wore a lot of make-up to cover the acne but make-up blocked my pores and worsened it. Not once did any doctor ask me about my diet.
“I relocated to the UK in 2012 for my degree in law and business management. I needed to address the acne so I researched online about how diet affects our skin and overall health. I gradually made positive changes to what ended up on my plate. Most people don’t make this dietary change gradually, that’s why they end up failing at it.
“I noticed a change when I cut out dairy. First, I cut out yoghurt, which I absolutely loved, then I cut out cheese, butter and milk. After dairy, I cut out red then white meat. I made sure I got my nutrients from plant-based proteins like cereals and legumes such as beans. I cooked my food in my hostel using olive and coconut oils. It’s unfortunate that these healthy oils cost as much as they do, because it limits the ability to eat healthy for people within a certain income level. For my face, I also used plant-based cleansers and toners – aloe vera gel, grape seed oil, apple cider vinegar and rose water.
“The acne went away completely by 2015 and started me on this path that ultimately led me to my passion and purpose. Being in the UK gave me access to products that supported my lifestyle change. I launched a blog in 2016 called Healthy Kajuju where I shared recipes of my healthy meals. I experimented with different combinations of different foods. My audience was receptive because the food and recipes I was sharing were simple, delicious and made from healthy ingredients – none of that dull and difficult-to-make stuff usually associated with healthy eating. One of my favourite recipes was for baked sweet potatoes, a dish I still love.
“I did my post-graduate at the London School of Economics immediately after graduating University of Leeds. I returned home in late 2016 and got straight into my business. My parents were supportive of my idea because they too are part-time entrepreneurs. Doing an undergraduate in law and business also gave me a sound base to build my business.
“I began by making fresh juices, I’d sell them at the organic farmer’s market on Sundays. I was also making snacks like energy bites, granola bars and breakfast cereals. I was eager to invest in a high-end juicer but my parents advised me to be patient and give the business time to grow. It was sound counsel because a year later, I stopped making the juices so I could focus on growing the snacks arm. I was disciplined enough to reinvest every single shilling I made back into the business – reinvesting financed my growth.
“All our products are made fresh with oats imported from Russia and UK. The oats grown in Kenya are for animal consumption. The quality of the seed is not that great either. I bake granola, muesli and wholegrain clusters from oats, dried fruit, dates, honey, peanut butter and coconut oil. I don’t use any artificial or processed ingredients.
“We’re not yet KEBS certified. On the one hand, KEBS doesn’t support cottage industries with a license. On the other hand, reaching to meet their licensing criteria pushed me to get a commercial kitchen and invest in equipment.
“I eventually want to use brown paper instead of plastic, for packaging. I also want to expand our product line and have more flavours. That takes time. Our granola recipe, for instance, took three months to get the sweetness right.
“I’d been doing everything in the business alone: I was baking, managing sales and marketing, and doing deliveries. I remember once staying up all night to bake for one of the farmer’s market and I was drowsy as I drove there. Now I have two bakers and a rider for deliveries. Delegating frees up my time to engage with our social media audience and approach stockists.
“We’re stocked at a handful of shops and gyms. I learned an important lesson here: I’d been worried because we weren’t making good sales at the markets. So one day, I put products in the boot and drove around gyms in Gigiri. I told them who I am and what I’m selling. It was the last gym that gave me a chance to stock our granola bars. As an entrepreneur, you must go out there and talk to people because nobody knows who you are.”