Veggie Delight!

Healthy eating can be a challenge when you are busy. But now there is another option between takeout and visiting the local market, finds Nishitha Shrivastava

Blood red peppers, crunchy green lettuce, flaming orange carrots, velvety purple eggplant, baby pink onions. This colourplay is often all it takes to whet your appetite. And you don’t have to be Nigella Lawson to have a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. But this necessity could turn into a quandary in a new city. Where to buy, will it be good quality, how much to pay, are just a few excerpts from that thought bubble. The good news is, an increasing number of organisations are now providing organic vegetables and fruits at your doorstep.

“Expatriates do not really have sufficient knowledge of where to source these items locally or may not be familiar with the local markets, coupled with the language barrier. About 80 per cent of my clients are expats, 20 per cent Ugandans,” states Calvin Ochendi, who started Hello Fresh Uganda in 2015. But the CEO remembers a vivid struggle. “It was really hard at first. I started out with about three clients, but only one was on a weekly basis. It was that one client that really taught me the importance of quality, consistency and timely delivery. She was a big influence on my clientele growth, as she recommended the service to her colleagues who also did the same and so on. Coupled with consistent adverts and the customer satisfaction each time we delivered, I should say client growth has been 101% and still rising,” says Ochendi. Bountiful Basket Uganda did not have expats at its core when it started in 2013. It was a form of community supported agriculture (CSA), but today it is a service enjoyed by expats, blended families and Ugandans. Speaking about this endeavour Lee Koelzer, Director of Grassroots Uganda- Empowering African Women (the umbrella organization of Bountiful Baskets) says, “It is a form of farming where the consumer essentially buys into part of the harvest of the farm in advance. Traditionally, in western countries it tends to be for a several month period of time. We did not follow that plan here, as our primary market is expats and blended families, and those people here are often quite transient.”

The idea of Bountiful Baskets, she says, is to connect consumers to producers, which ensures freshness and quality. They also cut out the middlemen, so they can pay our farmers a higher price for their produce, “which is still lower than standard retail price. We then pass these savings on to the consumer,” says Koelzer, who is also an American expat living and working in Uganda for just over 10 years.

Apart from their demonstration farm in Mukono, they also work with other partner farms. In addition to fruits and vegetables, each basket also comes with 6 yellow yolk eggs, and a locally made artisanal food item.

“People do not get to choose what is in their baskets. It is what we are harvesting at the moment and everyone gets the same with few variations,” states Lee, as she is fondly known. The latest entrant to provide this service would be FreshGo International, which will officially start operations this month. “After a tiring day at work, you have to stress about what to cook, and before that what ingredients do you have at hand.

This is where we come in. Our aim is to be a simple company that makes people’s lives easier, at least in terms of shopping for food,” says Marcello Akoko, managing director, FreshGo International. Post their soft-launch in March this year, they have successfully established themselves amidst the Asian community.

According to Akoko, they mainly source their fresh produce from farms in South Western and Northern Uganda. So has the service gained ground in Uganda?

While Ochendi reiterates his 101 per cent client growth, Koelzer states that from 11 subscribers in their first delivery, they now have about 65 families subscribed, averaging about 45 baskets per week. I am happy with that number as we do home deliveries around central Kampala. If we get too many subscribers, I’ll need to re-evaluate our business model!” quips Lee.

Technology, evidently, plays a huge role in their operations.

While FreshGo International has its presence on email, and even social media platforms, Hello Fresh Uganda has an online shopping portal and has recently partnered with Jumia Foods to stay competitive. So how do they remain cost effective? “We do not store or stock these items. We distribute directly from our farmers, hence we do not have stock that may need storing and also in cases where the items go bad, it does not affect us.We use bodas to try and make delivery fast, though we don’t own our own fleet yet, since it might be really costly to service and fuel,” shares Ochendi.

But for Lee, it is not about the cost. “This is an empowerment initiative, not a money-making scheme,” she says, adding, “so the standard breakdown is UGX 25, 000 per basket= UGX 10,000 fruits and vegetable, UGX 10,000 specialty item, and UGX 5,000 eggs and fuel. If the specialty item costs less than that, we make it up with extra fruit and vegetables to make up the difference.”

Given the nascence, what are their current predicaments?

“Our main weakness right now is logistical. At times we get so overwhelmed with orders and some orders tend to reach a bit later than we had promised the client and also some items being misplaced and not delivered to the rightful owners, but of course we are improving our system to better tackle this challenge,” avers Ochendi.

While Lee states, “Some people don’t return the baskets, which it totally not cool. I like that we are a CSA and an empowerment program. That is important. The downside is that sometimes communication between our partner farmers can be less than accurate.”