Originally published on May 18, 2015.
Considering Blessed Dairies’ initial struggles to establish its nascent yogurt business in 2012, the company’s owner still marvels that only three years later, his company’s brand has become the dairy company of choice aboard the nation’s largest airline carrier, RwandAir. But through Blessed Dairies, Ltd.’s recent deal with a Nigerian in-flight catering company AASL, Ltd., they are now supplying yogurt, fresh cream and mozzarella cheese aboard RwandAir’s 18 routes, spanning Central Africa, East Africa, West Africa, and the Middle East.
In March 2015, RwandAir added Blessed Dairies' yogurt to their in-flight meal service.
Blessed Dairies’ owner Milton Ngirente, 41, started off as a dairy farmer in Northern Rwanda’s remote district of Gicumbi. After recognizing his business acumen, Milton ventured into milk transportation and marketing in 2004. From that time until 2012, his business just focused on buying milk from rural farmers and selling it to retail outlets and to Inyange Industries, a large processor based in the capital of Kigali. Unable to sell all the fresh milk due to a milk surplus, he decided to begin his own processing unit that would pasteurize milk, and process yogurt, fresh cream and mozzarella cheese.
“We encountered business losses, and it was also disheartening to see disappointed dairy farmers, whose milk was dumped due to a lack of a market. To create a reliable market for dairy farmers and absorb milk surpluses, I decided to venture into processing dairy products with a relatively longer shelf life,” he explained.
When the company first started processing in 2012, 1,000 liters of milk was allocated to production each day. As the market demand has increased over the years, they have now grown to a stunning 3,000 liters processed per day. What’s more, this expanded capacity has resulted in new jobs: Blessed Dairies had 15 staff running its processing unit in 2012, which has now grown to 44 permanent staff in 2015.
Beyond this direct job creation at Blessed Dairies, a study by SNV/Rwanda estimates that 50 jobs are created for every 1,000 liters of milk that goes through the dairy value chain between on-farm jobs and in milk transportation.
From a business standpoint, displaying my brand aboard RwandAir carries more significance than the revenue we are getting from the airline company.
Milton attributes his business’ success in large part to its collaboration with the Rwanda Dairy Competitiveness Program II (RDCP II)
, a project funded by USAID and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development. With the program’s technical support, Blessed Dairies became the first Rwandan dairy processor to secure Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification in 2014 – a fact which undoubtedly made the company a more attractive partner to RwandAir.
In addition to this food safety HACCP training, RDCP II technical support also included providing the company with an insulated 8,000 liter milk transportation tank, milk testing kits, and training in food safety, cheese production and butter-making.
In 2013, RDCP II also sponsored Milton and other dairy Rwandan stakeholders to attend the East and Southern Africa Dairy Association (ESADA) conference in Zimbabwe, where they were exposed to modern dairy sector technologies and partnerships. As a result of this visit, Milton secured more knowledge on dairy processing technologies, and established business contacts with dairy processing equipment manufacturers.
As a result, in 2014 and 2015 Milton invested US $150,000 in the purchase of modern processing equipment, including six cooling tanks, a batch pasteurizer, a second mobile insulated tank, and an automatic filling and sealing machine for yogurt production.
In addition to processing, Blessed Dairies collects milk from 8,000 farmers
In addition to processing, Milton's company now collects milk from 8,000 dairy farmers and supplies 30,000 liters of milk every day to the country’s largest processor, Inyange Industries.
With the new deal in place with RwandAir, Blessed Dairies is now supplying 600 yogurt cups, 30 kilograms of fresh cream and 7 kilograms of mozzarella cheese to RwandAir each week.
In the past three months, sales to the airline have generated a gross revenue US $6,200, on top of the $62,000 they’re generating each month from sales to the hospitality and retail sectors in Kigali and populous towns including Musanze, Rubavu, Rusizi, Rwamagana and Huye.
Beyond the numbers, Milton recognizes that there many other less quantifiable benefits that come from selling Blessed Dairies’ products to the national airline carrier, and he believes it will open up additional opportunities from the high-end and export markets. “From a business expansion standpoint, displaying my brand aboard RwandAir carries more significance than the revenue we are getting from the airline company. It gives us more than that, which is a great promotional platform to grow our brand even beyond Rwanda,” he said with pride.
When asked about his future plans he looked upwards and said, “The sky's the limit!” By May 2015, they also expect to start producing butter for the local market and to export to Uganda, Kenya and Burundi.