Tabitha Mukami Muigai-Karanja is a Founder and CEO of Keroche Breweries, the first fully Kenyan-owned beer manufacturer. and the second largest in the country. Tabitha’s heart is in beer making and she is the only woman in Africa to have founded a beer company, this being an industry that is largely considered to belong to the big boys.
Hers is a classic entrepreneurial tale: She has battled with banks unwilling to part with desperately needed start-up capital, wealthy and exclusive competitors, uncooperative Government officials and even a shut-down of her offices! Yet 19-years since its inception, Keroche Breweries has successfully navigated all setbacks and today is a key player in Kenya’s beer market.
Tabitha will be the first to acknowledge that she could not have made it on this journey alone. Even with the support of a closely-knit family unit, Keroche Breweries has become a household name due to what she says “support by Kenyans who were willing to give a new home-grown player an opportunity to prove themselves”.
Currently, Keroche has in its stable two beers, two ready-to-drink vodkas, four Crescent range of spirits and three table wines.
The soft-spoken mother of four is a shrewd businesswoman at the helm of a grand, multi-billion, world-class brewery. Keroche Breweries has firmly cemented its position as the first and only brewery in Africa to use cutting-edge, ultra modern and high tech, 21st Century brewing technology to produce high quality, premium beer that is natural, sugar-free and has no hangover effects, namely Summit Lager and Summit Malt.
The company is poised to firm its status in the Kenya’s alcoholic beverages industry following the commissioning of the multi-million expansion scheme by whose conclusion will expand its capacity and ability to supply 20% of the market.
Besides these flagship brands, Keroche Breweries also caters for spirit drinkers through the extensive Crescent brand range of spirits that includes Crescent Vodka, Crescent Whisky, Crescent Brandy and Crescent Gin. Wine drinkers are catered for through the Valley Wines brand (Chenin Blanc – White, Sauvignon Blanc – White, Pinotage – Red); while Keroche’s original commitment to the low-end market continues through the production of Viena Ice Lemon Twist and Viena Ice, both ready to drink Vodkas that are mixed to precision for moderate drinking.
Tabitha plans to introduce more liquor brands into the market that will cater for various consumer needs. At the same time, plans are underway to expand her beer market across Africa, beginning with the East Africa region where consumers and business owners have already expressed interest in her products.
Tabitha is famed for her strong mind and stronger resolve. Her resilience, tenacity and sharp business sense has won her numerous accolades, top among them being Africa’s Transformational Business Award 2014 presented to her at the annual Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in Morocco; the Forbes Africa Business Woman of the Year 2014; the Forbes East Africa Business Woman of the Year 2014; the honorary State Commendation of Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear that was awarded by the President of Kenya on 12th December, 2009 for helping to liberalize the liquor market in Kenya; and the Golden Jubilee Award presented by His Excellency the President of Kenya Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta during Kenya’s 50 years of independence celebrations (12th December, 2013) for her tremendous achievements in manufacturing.
Tabitha’s vision for the country, and entrepreneurs in particular, is gigantic. She is determined to stamp her footprint not only in Africa but also across the global market. Tabitha’s drive is her strong belief in herself and whatever she is doing.
Tabitha’s foray into the liquor business began in 1997, following the liberalization of the alcohol industry that also removed Government controlled price ceilings, and which exposed a critical market imbalance especially within the middle-level and low-income segments that were not well catered for by the existing multinational. Tabitha then chose to address this imbalance through development of affordable local products that are hygienically packaged and that met international standards.
Armed with a paltry Kshs.200,000 from her savings and a 30-acre parcel of land in Naivasha that she owned together with her husband, Joseph Karanja, Tabitha started manufacturing fortified wines from a one-room facility. The fortified wines, which were well received by the public, targeted the neglected low-income market with superior quality and hygienically packaged products. Within a span of five years, the product range had grown to three new brands.
This successful leap was, however, not without its challenges. Her competitors came out fast and furious to stem her rapid traction into the market. They engaged in unethical practices aimed at reducing public confidence in her products and ultimately forcing her to shut down her business.
But the indomitable Tabitha was not to be stopped. She was already on a gigantic roll, ready to fight all those who attempted to deny her rightful place to conduct a business of her choice. Tabitha fought her battles in Government, in the courts and on the floor of the august House of Parliament, where members of Parliament took her to task over the rumours and smear campaigns surrounding her products.
With a tenacity rarely seen in women, Tabitha stood by her products and defended them with fervor. Her victory came swiftly and smelled sweet. To her pleasant surprise, Tabitha discovered that majority of Kenyans were enamoured by her fighting spirit and backed her efforts to not only cement her space to conduct business, but to trail-blaze a path for all Kenyan entrepreneurs who were cautious, even afraid to invest in their ideas due to the perceived hurdles from the big players, including Government.
In appreciation of the public support that proved a game changer in the battle to take up space in a previously monopolized industry, she, in consultation with the company’s its inner core staff and long term associates founded the Keroche Foundation.
Today, Tabitha’s legacy is firm, having made history not only in Kenya but also across Africa. With the launch of the Keroche Foundation in 2014, Tabitha is giving back to society by giving a helping hand to upcoming and established entrepreneurs who have the desire to grow and expand their businesses. Through the aptly named ‘Hand-Up Initiative’, Tabitha shares her powerful experiences and lessons to a select group of young entrepreneurs through an intensive five-month mentorship and training programme.
The foundation aims to develop a experience sharing forum that can enable the learning curve be shorter for young Kenyans resolved to take the entrepreneurship journey and those.
“Some of the challenges and obstacles encountered by the Kenyan people are unnecessary”, says Mrs. Karanja. “Sharing knowledge will shorten the learning curve for those seeking true entrepreneurship. What the people who seek to build from their imagination need is a “Hand Up” not a “Hand Out”.
Mrs. Karanja adds: “We all need to bear in mind that whatever success we have achieved and the leadership positions we occupy today would not have been possible without the support and encouragement that we received from others at the critical stage of our development.
“It is only fair and just that we also offer our hands of support to those who are in need of it to discover and develop their full potentials,” she concludes.