Oshione Igwonobe resigned from her day job to start making pure juices using her mother’s blender. She moved from making juices in her mother’s kitchen to start her own brand; The JuiceLady , where fresh juices with no concentrates, preservatives, sugars or sweeteners, are produced, a business she started at a local Buka and at some point she and her team hawked the products just to make sales, today Igwonobe supplies big malls and outlets across Lagos. She shares her inspiring story in this interview.
My upbringing played a large role in my line of work. Growing up, my mother always sought to experiment with our meals introducing different healthy options. As kids, we’d grumble and complain but she created delicious recipes we all loved eventually. Baking and juicing were regular practices in our home and I took after that. After quitting my day job in 2009, I experimented with cooking healthy meals and preparing juices, supplying offices in my neighbourhood. After a few months I realized I would have to focus on one aspect as I didn’t have the resources to grow both aspects of the business. I stopped catering and focused solely on making juices using my mother’s blender in her kitchen. At the time it was pretty small scale but I’ve been able to grow it significantly.
My name is Oshione Igwonobe and I am the Juice Lady. I am from Edo state; the first child from a family of six (6). Most of my formative years were in Warri then my family moved to Lagos in 1997 where I continued my Senior Secondary School and University. I’m quite passionate about healthy living, I absolutely love food, traveling and adventures. I produce 100% fresh fruit juices under the brand The JuiceLady. Our juices are fresh, not from concentrates, no preservatives;, no sugars or sweeteners. Simply no additives: just juice.
The JuiceLady started off as an affectionate moniker when I started producing and supplying juices about 6 years ago. I would carry my juices in my cooling bag and head off to offices and parks and the receptionist would announce my presence like “Hey guys, the juice lady is around o, in case you want to buy juices” (Laughs). Most of my clients didn’t even know my name; everybody just called me The JuiceLady. So, the name just stuck and I decided to build a brand around it. Anytime I see it now, it reminds me of the days of humble beginnings, of hauling a cooler bag down corridors and offices, of a determination to carve a niche and succeed against the very heavy tides of frustration at the time.
My YOUWIN Grant Experience
It was an enlightening experience really. Beyond the grant, I gained a deeper appreciation of the business. We passed through intensive business training sessions organized by the Enterprise Development Center (EDC) and participated in the Youth Enterprise with Innovation Program and these training have helped me move the business forward. The people I met at the time also increased my network; I keep in touch with them today and I’ve done business with a number of them. YOUWIN boasted a number of innovative people and it was a creative space where you could tap off the energies of other brilliant minds. So yes, I had a great experience.
It’s been interesting. Starting off wasn’t easy. When I decided I was going to focus solely on juices, opportunity came in the form of The Lagos Carnival and I thought, here’s a huge crowd to test our product. My parents were out of town and had given me money for upkeep. I convinced my dear siblings to support my cause and we even borrowed extra money to produce our first ever large scale batch of juices. I mean, a large crowd of thirsty people under the Lagos hot sun, of course we would rake in lots of money. We were going to make a killing. We were all so excited. The challenge then was that our production process was largely manual so before we could finish up and head out it was already 2pm or thereabouts and we got to the carnival at about 3pm. Not surprisingly, the ceremonial activities had come to an end. Here we were, six of us with about 200 bottles of juice and no crowd (Laughs). I think we ended up selling about 15 bottles. It’s safe to say that for that period when our parents were away, my siblings and I drank juices until we were fed up of it (Laughs).
After this episode, I decided to scale back and convinced a neighbor to set me up at his office in TINCAN Apapa. I would set up a cooler at the Buka where the tanker drivers, bus drivers, and others came to eat. And from there I would haul my cooler bag into the offices. My clients ranged from tanker drivers to directors and executives at the company (MRS Oil) and they were very encouraging. There were times we had to literally hawk them on the road to sell out.
From Tincan, I moved to several offices in Victoria Island and now we supply key stores like Farm City in Lekki Phasse 1, Café Neo outlets and several other stores. Only last week, we attended our first major food exhibition (Flavours of Lagos) and we had a lot of people truly enthralled by the quality, taste and price for our juices.
On Giving Up
Only about a million times (Laughs). Truth be told, there is a limit to how far passion can take you. Many start-ups believe that passion is the balm that heals all wounds. The reality is different. If we are to discount the attendant challenges of any business across the world, the Nigerian system is designed to frustrate SMEs. This is because we are a society orchestrated to administrate and not to produce.
I remember when I was seeking machinery for juicing. I went to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO). I paid for training and was told we had to wait to be a certain number. This was in 2013. I’m still waiting for that training. I was referred to a consultant technician who fabricates machinery and he gave me a bill of about N10million to set up my factory. I visited another agency to make enquiries about the process for certification, I was told by an official to ‘look for something else to do” as processing/manufacturing was too difficult for a woman.
There are periods where it just seems like anything that can possibly go wrong, does go wrong. Periods I made huge losses financially, or I’d see my peers and it felt like I was wasting time and everybody else seemed to be ahead. When faced with these trying situations, I dug into a reserve of strength I never knew I had and found the resolve to move on. Failure is just not an option. My Plan B is to find ways for Plan A to work.
Honestly, the praise of a new consumer. It is one thing to know that you have a good product, it is another to be validated time and again when someone tries the juices and they call me to rave about it. It is a new feeling every single time and that beats any achievement I’ve had thus far.
The High Cost of Setting Up a Factory
(Sighs). The challenges are many-fold and I touched on some of them earlier. Financing is a mammoth challenge. I got a break with the YOUWIN grant but there’s the timidity of our financial institutions when it comes to partnering with start-ups. Financing needs to be scaled to the level of the business but our banks simply don’t understand that. Also the lack of technical capability in Nigeria made it a nightmare to set up my factory. Sourcing for machinery is such a herculean task, especially when you’re an SME. Importing machinery is very expensive, then there’s the added cost of bringing in a technician to train your staff on how to use the equipment, maintenance and the rest. I ordered an equipment two (2) years ago that I’m yet to receive.
Nigerians View on Women in Your Line of Work
In my experience, there is an active conversation on women in business and this is increasing the perception positively. My line of work largely sees women as the forerunners and there has been an increased respect for the profession. I do understand that women in other fields may not be finding it as easy and that is the reason why I am actively engaging women for raw material supplies, production and delivery. The conversation is significantly bigger than me and I am consciously ensuring I play my part in the empowerment of the Nigerian woman.
I am a Woman of Rubies
One word: Tenacity. I have been through a lot in my line of work and I’m still standing. I believe firmly in the future and I believe that it can be shaped by the actions of the present. Regardless of the obstacles, I am determined to raise the bar for women in agro-processing and this is what makes me a woman of Rubies.