- The ice cream making company, which was founded by Kitomari, has been operating for eight years now
Dar es Salaam. In a tropical city like Dar es Salaam, starting an ice cream trade is definitely a brilliant idea – if only because there is always this urge for people to swap water for something they consider more refreshing.
Also, as life rapidly changes – especially in the nation’s commercial capital – people tend to adapt to global norms, including a full course meal that invariably ends with a desert. When attending parties nowadays, such as wedding and birthday parties, there is a good chance for one to find ‘an ice cream corner.’
Despite this rising trend, however, the idea of one starting an ice cream company from scratch has not been as popular as starting other businesses. SME Digest seats down with a young Tanzanian lady, Mercy Kitomari, who left London in the United Kingdom to come back to her motherland and start an ice cream business.
Ms Kitomari, 37, is the founder of ‘Nelwa’s Gelato:’ an organic ice cream business company that produces and markets premium ice-cream products – and has been running for all of eight years now.
‘Gelato’ is an Italian-style ice cream. And, as Ms Kitomari says: “We recreate the Italian gelato experience by maximising on the availability of natural fruits, spices and flavours available in Tanzania by blending them into our gelato buckets offerings.
“We are locally-incorporated, with years of experience in producing rich and ethnic gelatos in a bucket that meet our clients’ requirements.” According to her, they “satisfy the growing need for flavourful, Afro-centric, locally-sourced, healthy and delicious gelato that is unlike anything else in the market. Nelwa’s Gelato is both a B2B and a B2C business, serving whole sale: 1kg tubs can be incorporated in supermarkets, hotels and restaurant menus.”
Ms Kitomari says starting the ice cream business was inspired by her summers in London where she lived and worked before moving back to Tanzania to start her own business.
“I was inspired by the trend of summer in London, through my part-time job as a tourists guide, I would frequently observe the ice cream shops in London. The shops were always crowded and they had plenty of different flavours.” Eventually, in due course of time and events that included visiting ice cream parlours, Ms Kitomari decided she had had enough of all that, and wanted to create the same experience in her own country, Tanzania.
And, when planning the envisaged business, she had one of her main goals as ensuring that she would have a variety of flavours in her ice cream business.
In what would have been her last summer in London in 2011, Ms Kitomari returned to Tanzania where she tirelessly worked on her idea. In 2013, after she had raised enough capital from trial sales, small loans and support from family, she started producing and selling Nelwa’s gelato organic ice creams in restaurants.
Since then, the business model has evolved over the years. As she notes, throughout the eight short years of working hard, Nelwa’s Gelato has become a definitive business model, producing and distributing to major ice cream outlets, currently reaching 1,200kgs per month, up from 180kgs a month when she started the business.
Just like many other small and medium size enterprise, Nelwa’s Gelato faces challenges – especially in the areas of capital, investment partners and raw material such as heavy cream and industrial sugar,
Nevertheless, Ms Kitomari is very hopeful for her business. In the next five years, she says, the goal is to grow as a premium ice cream brand across East Africa, which would produce an estimate of three million kilograms (3 million litres) per year, to be distributed in East and Central Africa.
Nelwa’s Gelato has not only been helpful and impactful in Tanzania, but in other countries as well, she says.
“After understanding the challenges in the ice cream production business, we decide to share the knowledge on how best to produce ice cream using best practices and quality inputs across the market,” she says.
“Most importantly, the knowledge encouraged those who have dreams of also going into the ice cream business. We did this by answering such questions as how to make different ice creams, from where to get the raw materials. We have trained many budding entrepreneurs not only in Tanzania, but also in Malawi, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana – and, now, in Nigeria after an interview with a Youtuber Tayo Aina”.
Ms Kitomari names her “best trainees” as being VIP Ice Cream in Mwanza, Tanzania, and Franchessca in Cameroon.
Through her knowledge sharing and training sessions, they have started making their own ice creams and distributing them across their respective markets.
As we conclude the chat with Mercy Kitomari, she oozes encouragement by advising aspiring entrepreneurs “to start just where you are, and ensure to focus on brand equity to create a mark in the market – and aim for the longer term.”
Through researching on Nelwa’s Gelato, other than the tremendous products that influence the sales, we also learned that Ms Kitomari and her team appropriately utilize their social media platforms.
In an interview with BBC on their series ‘African Dream,’ Ms Kitomari shares different tips on how one can best utilize social media platforms to grow one’s business. She says her company is active on social media for three different reasons, namely: to increase brand awareness by growing their reach; to build customer loyalty by providing more support; and, lastly: to increase sales by getting more people to habitually purchase Nelwa’s Gelato products.