The Entrepreneur Exchange has been behind a large number of business successes in the Sheffield area, but one of the more unusual involved slow-dried, sun-soaked pineapple being farmed in Uganda and sold in independent health food shops in the UK.
Moses Kibuuka Muwanga started his business, Jali Organic, almost a decade ago after inheriting 500 acres on the tropical island of Bussi on Lake Victoria. “I was struck by its beauty, wildlife and the community of farmers classed as ‘squatters’ who would have been evicted if I had sold it. It also had an abundance of great-tasting fruit, especially the pineapples, which many have said are the best in the world. The land has ideal growing conditions – it is right on the equator and it has always been farmed by traditional rotation methods without the use of chemicals.
“I looked into ways of turning the land into a business, working with the community and seeking mutually beneficial ways of linking them to the people of Sheffield. I realised that sweet-tasting, organic dried fruit from Africa could help improve the diet of children in the UK, while paying Fairtrade prices to the farmers would improve the community’s education and health provision.
“With a lot of help from the villagers, I built a drying factory on the island that meant we were able to establish a slow-drying method that retains all the flavour.”
But finding the right market outlets for his Fairtrade product was proving difficult. Ugandan-born Moses, a documentary filmmaker from Sharrow in Sheffield realised what he really needed was an experienced business mentor in the UK food sector.
He put his request to the Entrepreneur Exchange, where Enterprise Relationship Manager Jim Lawson introduced him to Emma Killilea, the founder of the successful Sheffield-based gluten-free food company Delicious Alchemy.
Moses says: “Jim asked me what I wanted to achieve and what help I thought I needed. A little while later he rang me to say he had found someone who he thought would make an ideal business mentor for me.
“He introduced me to Emma and she was able to offer some intensive business support, in particular suggestions about routes to market and how to make an effective sales pitch.”
Moses says Emma has also helped him persevere with the project when “everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.
“She was happy to be available by phone or email to give me ongoing advice. When you’re setting up a business, it’s a very lonely process and it’s great to be able to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through and can help you avoid some of the pitfalls. If you can learn from other people’s mistakes, as well as what they did right, then it can set you off on the right track and save you lots of time and money.”
After years of planning and work towards achieving Fairtrade and Soil Association accreditations, Moses was able to bring his product to the UK market. In the meantime, as part of his commitment to the growers, Moses has provided a water tank for the village in partnership with the board of trustees of St Mary’s Church in Bramall Lane, Sheffield, and he sponsors free primary school education for the children.
Jali Organic dried pineapple, bananas, jack fruit and mango are now selling at around £1.40 for a 40g pack in health food shops in Sheffield and London, and Moses hopes to increase distribution over the coming months and establish online sales via his website.