Wanjo Foods: A Failed Idea Which Fights Back to Become a Juicy Business

Wanjo delivers quality, Afropolitan food products to major events and your private gatherings.

Wanjo logo
On many occasions, when business ideas fail, the founders move on, developing other concepts, but the same cannot be said of this female entrepreneur. She revisits the idea due to her passion and transforms it into a viable business that wins the $25,000 investment prize from the Case Foundation held in Ghana, among other awards received.

Yaganoma Baatuolkuu hails from the Upper West Region of Ghana, and has been influenced by various cultures across the African continent which is something she has very much interest in preserving.

Yaganoma has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture and a Masters of Literature in Managing Creative Industries. She is passionate about the differences in humanity that also unite us as a people. This has led her into various client facing roles, making up 18 years of experience in customer service and customer relations within the fast food industry, fashion retail and religious establishment. She has also worked in a couple of non-governmental organizations (NGO) as a project coordinator/officer; a role that allowed her, to interact with people from various socio-economic backgrounds.

Miss Baatuolkuu agreed to this short interview, so that she could also share her experiences with upcoming entrepreneurs.

What is Wanjo about and how long has it been on the market?

Wanjo is a food processing enterprise that uses mainly indigenous wild crops that are not in the main stream markets. We create juices, syrups, jams, preserves and sauces out of indigenous spices, fruits and herbage. It is a social enterprise and we are looking to involve as many rural female farmers as possible in our value chain by sourcing our raw materials from rural female traders and farmers, while creating opportunities for them to gain other skills. We concentrate on using indigenous wild fruits and herbage to create food products for the modern palate. Most of our food products have traditional medicinal properties and are great cleansers of toxins in the human system.

Wanjo has been in production since 2013 after it collapsed in its initial stages in 2006 when it was registered.

So what motivated you to start this business and what gap is it bridging?

There were quite a few reasons: I needed a job, I wanted to give back to my community mainly because I was raised by an old widow – my grandmother, and also because I could not access my favourite wild fruits when I went back to the village for holidays. However I wanted to empower women in the rural communities most. This is where I had my beginnings.

I hope eventually others would follow, so that we in Ghana and Africa as a whole would take the food we have seriously and turn them into commercial commodities that communities and the continent as a whole can benefit from.

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What is the competence of your team and how is your company superior to others?

We are still working on getting a very strong and competent team. Our current team needs constant supervision, something I hope we can wean them out of very soon.

Superior? Our company is not superior; we just have a target market that we sell to. The beverage industry in this country and on the continent as a whole is playing catch up to the rest of the world, so there is a huge market where we can all be successful if one has a good strategy to implement.
Currently people contact us for deliveries or pick up the drinks themselves; however we will soon have a delivery service for corporate organizations. Our major markets now are events: fairs, festivals and bazaars, as well as private parties, weddings and conferences.

I personally had a taste of one your drinks and couldn’t resist emptying it when I realized the name Wanjo. Why “Wanjo”?

Wanjo is Wolof for bissap from Senegambia. I needed something short, memorable and catchy, and it needed to represent Africa.

Will you say the food and beverages market is saturated, which could threaten your target market?

The beverage market is not saturated, we import almost everything in this country, the number of beverage manufacturers in this country is nowhere close to saturation point. In the UK, almost every bar I visited had their own brewery, selling signature beers, they have beer festivals, juice bars made their own juices with signature juices that could not be replicated. We are not close to saturation yet.

Having been adjudged the best Startup Company recently with prize money, how will this achievement change the fortunes of Wanjo Foods?

Well, the investment is a convertible note with 2% interest over a period of 3 years from the Case Foundation but is being disbursed by Steve Case’s foundation Revolution. That said; we will be focused on growing the indigenous agricultural sector which is our raw material base as well as making marketing of our products a priority.

Who do you look up to as you aspire to become a successful woman entrepreneur in Africa and possibly the world and why?

I could say my grandmother and mother even though they are not entrepreneurs, they are very resilient and persevere in every aspects of their lives. My grandmother was widowed when my mother was pregnant with me. Though being a farm hand and my mother mixing her education with petty trade, they were able to raise up a young family.

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Their persistence and integrity in all of lives situations taught me a great deal about life. They are also both very generous to a fault and too polite. I am not that generous, in case you are wondering but I believe that I am kind and mostly polite. I try to be humble most of the time too, hahahahaha, (Let me know if I am). I believe Esther Ocloo is another woman, I can say set the pace for agro-processing in Ghana.

What life or previous job experiences do you apply to your company to make it succeed?

People management and customer service, I respect my customers greatly, without them I would not have a business. I am not very good at keeping in touch with them, but I make sure that every encounter with the company is a pleasant one. I address all complaints immediately. For that I will not muck about with it. My products have reached where they are now due to customers constant feedback and constructive criticism and we keep innovating to meet their needs.

Also I do not put anything into the market that I personally do not love.

For anyone hoping to succeed in the foods and beverages market, what will be your advice?

  • Identify the specific industry, if beverages, what kind? If food what kind and how do you package it?
  • Get a niche and a target market.
  • Make sure you know how to prepare that particular item well or get someone who can do it excellently and partner with them. Create the recipes with them. Do not hire them, because they can walk away and you might lose your business.
  • Survey, research and collate information about your potential market.
  • Be willing to give samples away, they do not always pay off immediately but soon you will start to reap results because it becomes a marketing tool.
  • Packaging is key. We import well packaged charcoal into this country, that should tell you that even charcoal has a premium price if well packaged.

Success comes with some mistakes made. Share lessons you learnt from your possible mistakes.

  • Never start a business and expect family to help you run it. Put together a team of like-minded people.
  • No amount of money is too small to start. Start small and grow it and when you have traction, then go out a look for the funds.
  • A business plan is not really necessary but jot down the things you want to achieve on paper, in a book, on your electronic device.
  • Pay yourself a salary even if it is one cedi (GHC 1.00) and do not under any circumstances take business money for personal use and ensure you keep accounts. I did not keep very good accounts at the beginning.
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What is your philosophy for doing business?

Create something amazing that you love from your heart with as much passion and enthusiasm as possible and people will create a market for you. I did.

How soon can other African markets begin to enjoy Wanjo products?

We are looking at the close of 2016, We will start with our neighbours in Nigeria, possibly, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia especially since it is such a green market.

Where do you see your company in a few years to come?

In five years we are looking to have our vegetables in every chain store in Accra and Kumasi, our beverages in the renowned bars in Accra, a couple in Kumasi and have our products in the five and four star premium hotels in the city. Also we will look forward to signing a contract for our first franchise in another African country.

How has being your own boss been for you?

Three words, exhausting, frustrating and liberating. I keep odd hours. Being a creative, the business side of Wanjo is very frustrating but the production side is a breeze and a walk in the park.

Seize this moment to inspire the budding entrepreneurs out there across Africa and a message to your loyal customers.

We at Wanjo pride ourselves in creating quality, afropolitan food products that people love. We achieve this because we believe in what we do. So believe in your dream. Dream huge, but start small and reinvest everything into the business until you have reached where you want to be. Invest in knowledge; read, read, read and learn to take criticism. It is the fire beneath businesses and when you fail the first time don’t give up, pick yourself up and start again. Determination, enthusiasm and passion will make you thrive.

Thank you, Yaganoma.

Wanjo Drink
You can locate Wanjo within community 18 in the Baatsona/Lashibi Environs in Accra – Ghana. You can connect to get your flavored drinks on facebook – Wanjo Foods / on twitter – @wanjofoodsgh
Website: www.wanjoafrica.com
Order Wanjo Foods on +233203388449

Are these business lessons part of what you have learnt from Yaganoma?

  • Opportunities are abound for the beverages industry but the right strategy is required.
  • Respect your customers.
  • Allow for customer feedback and criticisms.

If you want to share your experience as a startup founder on TSH to Africa, send a brief detail of your business to mystartup@thespiritedhub.com

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