How Baguma spins wine cash from 'omulondo' roots [Daily Monitor, The (Uganda)]
(Daily Monitor, The (Uganda) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) You have seen hawkers in town selling it. In taxis or on streets, you will see men chewing on the yellow roots commonly known as omulondo. Some claim they are an aphrodisiac. Thirteen years ago, Solomon Baguma figured out how to make wine from these wild roots.
Baguma, a Computer Science graduate, who found love for Food Science, is the face behind House of Russa— a firm that deals in alcohol beverages with flavour extractions. He makes juice and liqueur out of omulondo roots.
Many Ugandans take it for depression, arthritis and impotence, and are willing to pay an extra buck for it.
He explains, "It is one alcoholic drink that you can take as a pleasure drink at the end of the day to unwind just like you would take a beer. But people attach it to an aphrodisiac. Others say it works as medicine."He estimates the worth of his company at Shs200 million.
Demand outstrips supply in firm
Baguma is working towards establishing himself in the market. He packs his drink in used bottles which might bring him patent infringement challenges.
"We buy the bottles from the traders, clean them and recycle them. These are not our bottles so our mode of packaging can cause us legal problems, says Baguma adding that his company intends to get its own bottle.
He hopes to rectify this in half a year in order to grow his customer base. "We want to improve on our packaging, change the label and have a standard product. Right now, without independent bottling, we are hindered from entering markets across the border," he adds.
Baguma employs six people who help him through the process of production from cleaning to sorting out the roots and bottling the wine."Three [employees] clean and blend while the other three help in packing," he says.He also says the playing field in the market is not levelled for a starter like him.
"There are better alcoholic drinks that are as unique as mine and have better packaging as well. I do not have enough capital to scale-up so that customers can find my product in different places," he adds.
Sometimes, demand for the wineexceeds what Baguma can supply.
Ploughing back profits has grown capital
Baguma explains, "We get these roots, wash them and make sure they are clean. After, we blend them before preparing them for flavour extraction. We blend this extraction with alcohol and later add a little sugar. We then pack the liquor"However, Baguma makes two types of omulondo liquor; one with sugar and one without sugar.
"We started by bottling six bottles then later 70. From 70 to 200 bottles, that was within a year and a half. Then we moved to 1,000 bottles per production and this year, we have made more than2,000 bottles," he reveals.The pricing is according to different bottle sizes that the omulondo is packed in, the young entrepreneur explains.
"The 750ml bottle goes for Shs30,000 in supermarkets while the 300ml bottle goes for Shs20,000. There is a smaller bottle of 200ml which goes for Shs5,000," he explains the pricing of his products.
He sells the bottled product at Uchumi chain shopping malls, Standard Supermarket above the old park, Friendly Supermarket, Super supermarket in Bunga and a few wineries and retail shops.For now he is not looking at enjoying the profits but rather re-investing it to grow the business.
He says, "Apart from paying for the costs of production and marketing, most of the money I earn is ploughed back to expand our production scale."
How the 'omulondo' idea grew into a business
Although Baguma is a graduate of Computer Science, he has a fetish for Food Science.
As a boy, he recalls harvesting omulondo roots and eating them for their appealing flavour.
"After Senior Six, I thought I could make use of this flavour. But the challenge was its extraction, stabilisation and use. So I found the most appropriate way of extracting the flavour and keeping it under different conditions while observing its stability," he recollects.
Luckily his father was doing this business on the side. He thought this was an idea that could be run as an established idea. His father had continued to advise him."Thereafter, I embarked on developing a product flavoured with the omulondo flavour and the most successful one was the liqueur," he recounts.
He adds that this idea was unique. "It was the first time the omulondo flavour was extracted from the root to be used in making a beverage. So I proceeded to apply for a patent for the process of extraction of the flavour and its utilisation in making beverages.
With this I was able to put the omulondo liqueur on the market. All this happened before the company came in place," he explains.
He, thereon, registered House of Russa. He had just finished his form six.The beginning was about obtaining the flavour from the roots and formulating the product. And once the product was developed, Baguma was ready to start.
He began production with a 20-litre jery can, which he supplied to friends and within their circles. They gave him feedback.
Advice to young people"You will realise that starting is even harder than finding employment but it pays off after. I would like to market my product to most parts of Uganda... Youth should desist from being biased about the kind of jobs around them"
THE SOURCE OF ROOTS
His start- up capital was Shs800, 000. "We spent Shs250,000 on buying the omulondo roots. We needed a flavour extractor, which is spirit, and we bought it at Shs200,000. We used the balance, of Shs350,000 on labour and sugar which added to the liquor," he explains.
He says they buy the roots from farmers who are at the stage of cultivating their land to start growing crops. This root grows wildly and is a crop a farmer will easily earn from.
Baguma says, "Most of them bring it to me and for others I organise transport to pick the roots from them, but that is mostly for bulk suppliers. Most of these farmers are in areas like Kyegegwa, Nakasongola and Gulu.
He buys in bulks of sacks. "We then measure how many kilogrammes are in the sacks and pay the farmers. We buy each kilogramme at Shs3,000," he adds.This is fairly good money since the root grows wildly in damp areas.
LESSONS FROM BUSINESS
Do something you find challenging. "I have learnt to deal with targets which I challenge myself to. Research about consumption trends. "I have had to research and learn about consumer behaviour in order to plan well," the managing director of the House of Russa adds.Keep an eye on your finances.
"I have also learnt how important finances are to a company and that if mishandled the company suffers," he adds.
Delegating does not cut it all the time but physical presence matters. On several occasions, he has to physically be present to market his product."I hold a few promotions in bars and supermarkets where I supply in order to boost the sales of the product.
Not everyone will appreciate your product. This requires me to identify the individuals who will appreciate my product and make sure they become loyal customers," he shares.
Paying salaries. He spends close to Shs1million on paying salaries to his staff but he rewards himself with a modest salary of Shs200,000.
"I put myself at a minimal salary scale to leave enough finance to grow the company and remunerate my workers better so that they are encouraged to keep working hard," he says,
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