Twenty six years ago, fresh out of university, Sukhwinder Jandu was working for an importation company supplying products to Gilani’s, a butcher shop located at ABC Place in Nairobi.
The shop’s proprietor, a Mr Gilani, advised the young man to set up a vegetable shop. The shopping centre had a butchery and a supermarket but lacked fresh produce.
Taking it to heart, Mr Jandu convinced the supermarket owner to let him a small space within the store to sell fresh produce.
With the space ready, and Sh35,000 in savings, he embarked on the task of buying fresh produce. Mr Jandu and his only employee made a 4am trip to Wakulima Market in search of the stock.
“We bought the things we needed then a gentleman at the market convinced us that he would deliver the produce to the shop at ABC,” explains Mr Jandu.
They returned to the shop and seven hours later the produce was yet to arrive. “We were sure we had been conned. Then the guy showed up with a hand cart at 11.30am,” says Mr Jandu. Realising that it would not work out, the following day, he was at the market with his old pickup truck.
That was the beginning of the business that would grow to Zucchini Greengrocers. The grocery has grown from a single employee to five stores across Nairobi, with about 200 employees.
Zucchini operated out of Continental Supermarket until 1995 when Mr Jandu decided to cut out middlemen and source produce directly from farmers, which has ensured a steady supply of vegetables and fruits at better prices.
Zucchini works with farmers within Nairobi and surrounding areas. Java House had also set up shop at ABC Place and sourced fruits and vegetables from Zucchini. This created a friendship between the two proprietors.
“The owner of Java pushed me to open my first branch. He said that you are not a brand unless you are more than one store,” says Mr Jandu. The conversation resulted in the opening of a branch at the Junction Mall, coincidentally right next to Java.
“This was our first branch. I had to learn to put systems in place to run the store when I was not around,” he explains.
The entrepreneur found not being at his store challenging given that he started off running the grocery alone.
Eventually, he opened branches at Village Market, Garden City and the latest at The Hub in Karen.
“We have been fortunate to expand organically. The growth has been carefully calculated to ensure that each store is operating at its optimum,” he says.
“It is better to have five good stores than many which are not successful.” Grocery shopping in most experiences is marked by produce laid on mats with the combination of smells from fresh to the not so fresh.
Usually, sellers work under the sun hoping to dispose the produce before it wilts away.
This was a scenario that Mr Jandu aimed to do away with.
He instead wanted to make grocery shopping personalised and comfortable, complete with a personalised shopper in store.
The stores have also incorporated a cheese deli, salad and juice bar as well as a bakery and mini coffee shop known as Tiramisu, a sister company to Zucchini.
“It is a feel good thing. People want to be healthy and fit and we saw the need and added value to shopping for our customers,” he says.
The stores sell 400 tonnes of fresh produce per month.
“We move about one tonne of tomatoes in a day and 10 tonnes of watermelon in a week,” explains Mr Jandu.
Tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrot and greens (sukuma wiki, spinach, and cabbage) are the fastest moving products and are always in demand all year long.
According to Mr Jandu, 90 per cent of the produce is sourced locally including blue berries, which he opts to sell to the local market rather than export. “Demand is available locally,” he says.