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Fruit vendor who introduced Kisumu to apples

everlineEverline Atieno, 46, has seen it all in the fruits market in Kisumu. Ms Atieno and her late sister Céline Adhiambo started supplying apples in the lake side city when the business was lucrative.

Ms Atieno is based at Jubilee Market, which is neighbours with the busy bus terminus and the teeming Jomo Kenyatta Grounds. She has stalls which she rents out to her fellow traders.

They began the fruits trade in the 1980s, and ventured into apples business in 1987. Then, the duo got supplies from Mt Elgon Orchards Limited in Kitale.

Started in 1922, Mount Elgon Orchards Limited produces flowers, offers roses and calla lilies, and majored in growing indigenous apples in the early 1990s.

“When the then supplier of indigenous apples from Mt Elgon approached me to introduce the fruits to the market, I was excited and took a sample of the apples; the results were awesome because the fruits attracted tourists and foreigners from the region who did not bargain but bought the goods in bulk and demanded more,” says Ms Atieno.

The apples though new in the region, were locally grown in Kitale and supplied within and outside the Kenyan market. Residents of Kisumu considered it a strange fruit and only “people of class” could bought.

She told Business Daily that even supermarkets had not ventured into the exotic fruits market, so regional customers flocked to her stall to buy the fruits.

“The apples came in various sizes and I was purchasing a box of apples at between Sh400 and Sh700 depending on the quality. I packaged them in fours that went for Sh50 a kilogramme, Sh100 a kilo and others at Sh20.”

Because of less competition, the business was more lucrative then than today, she told Business Daily, making her “a rich woman” at the tender age of 20 years and she saw no need of seeking employment.

“A box of apples generated profit of between Sh500 and Sh700, which was good money. We also had losses because when the goods went stale we would just throw them away or sell them to wine makers at a lower price,” says Ms Atieno.

She sold the apples which came along with pitches from Kitale for about eight years, attracting customers from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda who bought her stock in bulk to sell in their countries.

Imports then hit the Kisumu market and Ms Atieno started selling samples from Nairobi-based East Africa Growers, an importer of fruits from South Africa, Egypt, Israel and parts of the European market.

“I shifted focus to Nairobi because their apples were quality and came in different colours and tastes. There were golden delicious apples, green sour apples, red apples and pink lady apples.”

She sourced the East African Growers apples from the City Market in Nairobi and transported the stocks on pick-ups to her Jubilee market base.
East African Growers are the region’s leading growers, processors, packers and exporters of Grade 1 vegetables, fruits and flowers to premium markets within Europe and East Africa.

A box of apples in 1992 retailed in Nairobi at Sh1,800 but Ms Atieno says she sold at Sh3,000. Apples supplied by East African Growers were sold at Sh50 each “because they were rare, fresh and came in variety; furthermore, I was the only supplier in Kisumu, so customers had no choice.”

Supermarkets and regional hotels were also on the list of her customers, a rich clientele that buoyed her to try other fruits like grapes, pitches, oranges and litches. Grapes, for instance, sold at Sh600 per kilo “and the prices are still stable to date.”

Prices of apples have, however, dropped down and are now at Sh30 per kg from to Sh50 due to increased supply. “Vendors everywhere are now selling the fruits, supermarkets and here at Jubilee are full of imported fruits, so it is no longer a preferred trade.”

In the ‘90s when the demand and competition favoured her business, Ms Atieno made a profit of Sh200,000 a week. She, however, recognises the see-sawing of the market period reflected in booms and low seasons.

“Sometimes the retail prices went up without warning because of the fluctuating dollar against the Kenyan shilling, this prompted us to increase prices and led to lose of some customers,” Mrs Atieno said.

She supplied Uganda for a long period of time then later, as recent as 1994, other traders ventured into the business, including street vendors.

She explains how the change hit her business hard and she recorded lower profits. Ms Atieno has, however, held onto her main customers who buy goods from her to date because of her “good customer service.”

Her profits have dropped to as low as Sh10,000 a week, prompting her to trim stock to reduce the chances of making losses.

“Now, I do not sell much of imported fruits, I mix them with indigenous but quality ones. Retail prices of apples of late go at Sh4,000 a box while brokers have also infiltrated the market and sell a box at Sh4,500 to those who cannot travel to Nairobi.”

During the elections period, she sold a whole box at Sh5,200 and a piece at Sh40 due to limited supply, due to uncertainty.

“When we started, profit was good because we were a few dealers and buyers were many; of late, there are uncountable traders dealing in the same so we take a few apples, people don’t buy a lot anyway. It is no longer a lucrative trade.”

Talking with Business Daily at her stall, she, however, confessed being a “proud business woman who started the trade in 1985 selling bananas and mangoes.” Her high moments were “when I got as much as a million shillings in a few weeks owing to the imported fruits trade.”

She has educated her 11 children to university level “and in the best schools in town, I lived a good life”. She also owns assets but declined to reveal.-Business Daily

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