With a population of 37.58 million (2013), Uganda relies on a number of imported consumer products, owing to its landlocked status.
Soap is among the (most) widely used commodities besides salt and cooking oil. Mukwano Industries, is the main producer of Laundry bar soap (Star, Chapa Mukwano and Chapa Nyota brands). The Ugandan market is also home for a few imported brands from Kenya made by BIDCO and KAPPA oil refineries. (Actually, Mukwano Laundry soap brands alone can never satisfy the Ugandan market even as the Kenyan manufacturers export (on small quantities) to Uganda under strict in-house budget policies and under duress-just to maintain their presence in the country).
Besides the high population, Uganda is, unlike Kenya, endowed with local resources for soap making. Palm oil, among other oils is found in abundance in the vast western parts of the country along Uganda/Congo boarder at Kiburara township. All the way in Bwera, Kasese up to Kilembe, you will find local farmers vending cheap crude palm oil freely along the road sides.
However, much of the Ugandan palm oil is found in Bugala islands in Kalangala district-off the coast of Lake Victoria- where thousands of hectares (over 20,000) are under plantation of Palm Oil trees. (This project was initiated by the Ugandan government in collaboration with a Malaysian company-Wilmar Group, BIDCO and World Bank in 1992, illegally displacing hundreds of farmers that inhabited the neighboring environs). Sunflower oil, produced in abundance in Tanzania also finds its way easily into the Ugandan market. Sunflower is cheap and one of the best raw material for soap making.
With one company (Mukwano Industries) dominating the lucrative business, (supplying over 37 million consumers on daily basis) and a few other brands from Kenya trying to augment the national supply from Mukwano, upcoming local investors in this field stand high chances of cashing in on this lucrative business. All a new entrant needs is to gather little courage, and extend similar services and products to the very customers Mukwano supplies!
Unlike bathing soaps, Laundry bar Soap is a commodity that requires little start-up capital and marketing tricks. Customers are easily buoyed by a new product or low priced products, and this is the only magic you have to rely on to give the old guard a near run for his money! If you can produce a foaming, lathering product with good cleaning abilities, potential customers won’t mind the producer or origin of the brand.
What else is required for a new entrant in this business to succeed? Of course some knowledge in manufacturing (actual formulation) and a few marketing tips. The right machinery (either for small or medium scale manufacturing) is not an option. An engineering firm in Kenya sells some of the most efficient and advanced soap making machines in Africa. The types, such as SSP-133™, SSP137™, etc from Express Marine Engineering Corporation are fairly priced and come in handy when a manufacturer-to-be anticipates supplying over 200 dozens of bar soap every week.
An added advantage for soap production in Uganda is that the producers can supply their proxies like Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, South Sudan, etc, citing the good regional economic ties and favorable cross border business policies between these states.
It is interesting to note that even with as many as 1,000 medium scale producers of varied brands of Laundry bar soaps, the optimum supply of the commodity on this vast market cannot easily be achieved.
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