There is a time for everything. In 2016, Dr Mubiru turned 50 and it was time for her to leave the employment world. She was found ready. She knew it was coming and she had already planned on what the next of her phase of her life was going to be.
The nights of the years leading to her retirement had always found her working long in to the night as she came up with a recipe for a sweets she wanted to have on the market. With her research background, putting in the time was not the challenge. She was already used to that. The only thing she needed was a working recipe.
You see as a child, Sarah loved sweets. Let’s put it this way; as a child, her dear father introduced her to eating sweets. She tells me; “Our dad used to buy us sweets, we were 8 kids but you can imagine buying different kinds of sweets and each child gets like 4 of them.”
The love for sweets stayed with her through her school and her adult life. As a school girl, she always had a sweet in her bag or at least one in her desk locker. But like the Bible says in 1 Corinthians13:11:
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I understood like a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
For Dr Mubiru, one of the reasons of putting away the childish ways was informed by her experience as a researcher. She attained her first degree, a bachelor of sciences in Agriculture and her masters from Australia in a similar discipline before pursuing her PhD in natural sciences also from Makerere University. Most of her work was in line with research and consultancy which also meant attending so many workshops and conferences.
Like is the culture in many conference cases, tables are laid out with bowls of sweets which tend to disappear by the end of the first session. Dr Mubiru was concerned. First as one the people who ate the sweets but secondly the amount of sugars that all the conference attendees would have eaten by the end of the day.
This sparked off a wakeup call to find a healthy sweet for people like her. She wanted a sweet she would eat without feeling guilty at the end of the day. A sweet she would lovingly share with her family and friends without an expectation of a side effect. A sweet that would speak the language of the fellow sweet lovers and live in harmony. A sweet conference organisers would gladly give to their guests to keep awake.
At the time she was working with SNV, a Netherlands agency that worked with agro based companies that were exporting dried fruit. She suggested to them the idea of making healthy sweets using their fruits but they were not ready to veer off the road they knew best.
However, her concern was to find a raw material that was sweet in nature that could not need to use sugar. Honey was the closest she could get and honey it was.
There was an extension on her home kitchen that was rarely used. She turned that into her laboratory. Her husband and children had to endure trying out all the test results.
All this started in the early 2015. That was to be her last year in employment as well. Six months later, after many trials and errors, she came up with a magic recipe which gave her a very good sweet. When she shared it with her colleagues at work, they were as excited as she was or even more that they immediately demanded for some more. That marked the journey of producing Aroma Honey Toffee.
2016 was a good year to look up to. She turning 50 and a candidate of receiving her NSSF retirement benefits. When the money came, she already knew what she was going to put it to. It is said that 98% of the beneficiaries of NSSF retirement packages are broke after 2 years. Dr Mubiru is not in that category. She already had a plan of how she was going to spend her hard earned savings.
The plan was to construct a factory that would make the sweets. Only then would she get certified to run. And running she had to. The sweets she was making manually in her kitchen extension were already enjoying community acceptance especially within her circles and networks. But there was so much she could do manually. Also given that the sweets are made form a natural product, they needed to be refrigerated to be able to stay longer on the market.
However the cost of setting up the factory ate away all the savings and she was not yet done with the work, with support from a number of organisations, she was able to get grants that made it easy for her to expand.
In 2019, she participated in the Friends For Benefits campaign run by NSSF to reward people who put their savings to good use, she won the category of the judges’ award. The award also came with some money which she re-invested into the business.
The journey has not been one without challenges. The work has been slow but gradual since she had to find out a number of things. She had to learn on the job. Through BioInnovate Africa, she was able to team up with two partners one from Kigali and another from Nairobi who supply her with the honey.
She had to find easier ways of packaging the toffees in packages that could easily be cheaper and accessible. The earlier plan of packing 50 sweets did not work out. It was very expensive.
But through it all, she is happy to have walked the journey. With all the approvals and certifications, Aroma Honey Coffee is finally on the market. It can be accessed on jumia. Like many other businesses, covid was an uninvited guest in the corner of doing her work.
To all those who intend to engage in the manufacturing business, Dr Mubiru advises you to make your research. Know your market, product and customers. And find mentors. She is grateful to the mentorship she received from AWARD and other organisations she has worked with over the years.
Also for those at the starting stage, start with little capital. There is a lot to learn and acquire beyond the money. From her experience, when you have money at your disposal, you might invest in things you don’t need.
Aroma Honey Toffee will be launched on the market on the 10th September 2021.