Uganda: Business With a Touch of Healthy Nutrition

Welcome to the world of a young nutritionist making money using soya protein ingredients to enhance the nutrition, functionality and economics of meat and bakery products.

As a third year student pursuing a Bachelors’ of science degree in Food Science and Technology in 2007, Martin Ssali embarked on a three-year rigorous research and development of a new soy food for the market.

Presently, they produce marinated tofu popularly known as soya meat locally. “This product when fried tastes like fish fillet for some and beef muchomo for others,” the 27-year-old entrepreneur, now employing eight staff, adds.

On October, 1, 2010 they made their first breakthrough, selling their first product. “Since then we have never looked back,” the entrepreneur who has taken his innovation another step confesses.

“We have developed the very first soya sausage in East Africa. This is a project that has taken us more than a year in development, due to the technology involved in structuring non-meat products to give a meat product taste and feel,” Ssali, the technical director, Smartfoods Limited, explains.

The product will go fully commercial by April this year. They are also catering for vegetarians through vegetarian burgers. “These are soy-based but will leave one asking for more,” he adds.

His latest innovation is canned beef in which you will have 25 per cent beef, 15 per cent soy protein powder and 60 per cent water. The product is canned and heated at high temperatures.

In the canned beef he is providing a nutritious meal at a price half that of imported canned beef.

But all this began with his aspiration to do food business differently from what some local producers do– copycat products. He wanted to introduce well-researched products suited for consumers’ tastes and preferences.

He also had the interest to tap into the untapped food industry. “… and this was the soy foods industry that was already big in Europe, America and Asia, an industry that is well researched globally due to the health benefits soy-products offer people and filling the gap in Uganda’s convenient food and health markets,” he says.

The only soy foods on the Uganda market during his research were in flour form yet the global industry has soya bean in meat products like beef sausages and canned beef with alternatives like vegetarian sausages and burgers.

“I was also inspired by lecturers in Makerere like Mr. Abel Atukwase, and Prof. John Muyonga who always implored me to develop strategic developments that would steer Uganda’s food industry and stimulate the economy,” he recounts.

The winner at last year’s Young Achievers’ Awards in the Business and Trade category, advises.

Ssali also maintains financial discipline as the spine of his business. “We only keep cash on hand to run the daily cash operations. The rest is always banked as soon as we get it from our clients. Bank withdrawals are only by cheque and for specific purposes,” he adds.

Ssali’s Smartfood Limited runs an hour production two to three times a week at the Food technology Business incubation centre, Makerere University. “The other days we deliver products to supermarkets and collect our payments too. We supply Tuskys, Quality supermarket Ntinda and Lubowa; Capital shoppers, Nakawa and Ntinda; Millennium, checkers, Super Supermarkets Bukoto and Ggaba and Italian supermarkets among others.” He never tires from thinking and researching. “We are in a competitive environment where customers just shift to another product,” he shares.

Other milestones

“We won the Innovations at Makerere (I@MAK) innovations business award in 2009, worth $ 5,000 (about Shs11.7 million) which helped us improve our research and take products to the market,” he recollects.

His Smartfoods also won the East African, University, and Agribusiness Innovations Award in November 2010, at Hilton Hotel in Kenya where his business was recognized a month after commencing. He was also recognized at the World Initiative for Soybean in Human Health Conference in Illinois.”Due to my work and specialized interests, I was also voted last year to head the National Soyabean Network- a national umbrella NGO that promotes production, utilization and marketing of soya in Uganda,” he adds.

His journey has had bumpy points, “A good idea deserves funding, but in Uganda, it is still hard. Most financial institutions have high interest rates and are unwillingness to invest in new business ideas, for fear of their failure,” Ssali points.

Source: All Africa.Com – 21 Feb 2012