Mombasa miller who grew his way from hawking porridge

Patrick Hunja has worked himself up from selling porridge at construction sites to becoming one of the leading flour millers at the Coast, with a fortune that is a stark contrast to his modest background.

The 38-year-old is the owner and founder of Ujivita Enterprises, a company that mills and markets four flour brands, from which he banks about Sh1.2 million in monthly profits.

Mr Hunja has in the past six years opened five mills in Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu where he produces tonnes of flour from maize, green grams and wheat, which retails under the Ujivita brand name.

Income from the popular flour brands is supplemented by his transport business (Patrimut Enterprises), from which he makes a further Sh400,000 in monthly profits.
His journey to becoming a big miller, with assets of approximately S0 million is a remarkable but steady one.

It began in 2002 after he completed his education at Kiarithaini Secondary School in Karatina. He worked at a posho mill for several months, taking home Sh2,000 per month, but soon quit to join his mother in Mombasa where he assisted her in hawking porridge to construction workers.

“I used to trek long distances carrying jerricans of porridge in the sweltering Coast heat. I could make a sale at one construction site and walk even 10 kilometres to the next one,” says Mr Hunja, a father of two.

His primary role was to scout for new sites, ferry porridge there and help his mother expand her customer base.

Within six months, he recalls, he had secured 100 new clients who would contact him every time they moved to a new site.

“I always asked myself what it took for a customer to buy from you and not the competition,” he told the Business Daily, adding that this takes time, an important lesson budding entrepreneurs should learn.

With time, he used his savings of about Sh20,000 to buy kitchenware and rent a room at Kongowea market in Mombasa, where he started cooking and hawking porridge independently, confident that the skills he learned as his mother’s apprentice would come in handy.

He would sell at least five jerricans of porridge every day, with a cup of the beverage going for five shillings. His total daily sales were approximately Sh600, half of which would be his profit.

Porridge hawkers

Hunja soon realised he could source for flour to sell to his mother (who was now his business rival) and other porridge hawkers.

In 2006, his third year of hawking porridge, he ventured into flour distribution. He started sourcing cereals from western Kenya and Tanzania, which he milled at third party establishments and supplied to retail shops and porridge sellers.

“I had to learn the basics of business including spotting the difference between what the market wants and what is supplied, then build a profile and propose options to fill any gaps present,” saysMr Hunja.

Three years later, he decided to do his own milling and spent Sh250,000 in setting up his maiden plant.
Since then, he has opened four other mills in Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu, all of which sit on rented property where he pays a monthly lease of Sh15,000.

These mills, with an annual capacity of 144 tonnes, churn out the Ujivita flour that retails at a wholesale price of Sh450 for a bale of half a kilogramme packets.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards-approved flour brands are common around Malindi, Kongowea, Ukunda and Watamu.

Mr Hunja also undertakes bulk milling and supplies flour to several institutions, especially schools and hospitals, and plans to expand his brand across East Africa.
His subsidiary, Patrimut Enterprises, operates five long-haul trucks that also transport his products within the Coast and as far as Western Kenya.

Mr Hunja says he got most of his financing from a microfinance lender, Micro Africa Limited, which aanced him several loans ranging from Sh80,000 to Sh5 million.
But transportation and competition from established millers have been his main business challenges.

“As a small scale miller competition from older operators in an environment which offers no subsidies for starters or tax concessions is a big challenge,” he says.

Mombasa Millers, Pembe Millers and Premier Group are ranked as Kenya’s top three millers based on corporate tax profiles by the Kenya Revenue Authority. Rafiki is ranked fourth ahead of Unga Group.

Increased activities in the formal food sector are set to stiffen competition, with rivals betting on growing urbanisation and consumer spending to boost demand.

“The packaged food sales recorded double digits value growth in 2013, thanks to the rapid westernisation and changing consumer lifestyles,” research firm Euromonitor said in a statement.

“Kenyans are increasingly demanding packaged food and moving away from traditional unpackaged food products.”