Jaco Maritz, editor-in-chief of How we made it in Africa, recently visited the Jus Délice pineapple juice factory in Togo, his first trip to the small West African country. He shares his experience below.
Jus Délice produces pure organic pineapple juice and supplies it in bulk to European clients, from where it goes to individual juice brands. I find this business model interesting because it is simpler than creating and marketing one’s own consumer juice label in a competitive industry.
In November, I visited the factory near the town of Tsévié, about 45km from Togo’s capital Lomé, with Nigerian journalists Damilare Dosunmu (TechCabal) and Aanu Adeoye (Financial Times).
The road to the factory was in good condition and the scenery consisted mostly of small urban settlements with many shops, bars, and informal retail activity. As we moved further from the capital, the landscape became more green. Along the way, I noticed the following:
- The Plateforme Industrielle d’Adétikope (PIA), an industrial park focused on the local processing of cotton for the export market. The facility was developed by ARISE Integrated Industrial Platforms, which is building industrial parks throughout Africa. I’ve been keeping an eye on this company and I’m glad I caught a glimpse of their Togolese facility.
- Trucks with number plates from neighboring landlocked countries like Burkina Faso. Togo has positioned itself as a logistics transit hub for surrounding countries. Lomé port punches above its weight when compared to the size of the country. (More info on how Togo became a trade hub here.)
- Numerous billboards and other branding for the Itel smartphone brand, owned by China’s Transsion Holdings. I’m continually impressed by how this company, which also owns the Tecno and Infinix brands, has captured the African market.
The origins of Jus Délice
Upon arriving at the factory, we were taken to a boardroom and given a presentation about the business’ history and operations. The company officials spoke in French, but Nicolas, a communications consultant who organised the visit, translated in English for me.
Jus Délice co-founder Gustav Bakoundah was trained in finance but has always dabbled in agriculture. In 2012, he started a company called Label d’Or that sources and exports pineapples and other organic crops grown by Togolese smallholder farmers. As time went on, he wanted to add more value to the pineapples locally instead of just exporting it in raw form. Bakoundah began researching products he could make from pineapples. He considered dried fruit but eventually settled on juice. However, he didn’t want to start his own retail brand. Retailers’ lengthy payment terms were unappealing to him, so he decided to go the business-to-business route.
He brought onboard a French partner Jean-Paul Cassin, who had experience in setting up factories, and registered the business in 2017. The next step was to find the money to build the factory.
The owners were unable to secure financing from Togolese banks, but eventually connected with Moringa, a French investment fund that focuses on agroforestry projects in Africa and Latin America. Moringa invested €3 million to build the juice processing plant, which became operational in 2019.
Convincing buyers in Europe
After about 30 minutes into the presentation and two glasses of the company’s pineapple juice, the co-founder and president Gustav Bakoundah joined the meeting. He speaks relatively good English, which made things a bit easier.
Bakoundah explained the initial difficulties of finding buyers in Europe. At the time, pineapple juice from Costa Rica dominated the European market. To secure clients, Bakoundah hired retired industry salespeople in France who had the necessary connections to buyers.
One of the hurdles it faced is that the juice produced from one of the most widely available varieties of pineapple in Togo is a lighter colour compared to the juice from Costa Rica, which the market was used to and has a richer, golden colour. Jus Délice addressed this by mixing it with the juice of another pineapple variety, although colour issues continue to be a minor problem.
Jus Délice highlighted the story of its product to buyers – a juice with a unique colour and flavour profile, produced from pineapples grown by smallholder farmers instead of large plantations.
Initially, to gain a foothold in the market, Jus Délice sold its juice at a lower price than Costa Rican producers. However, it has since increased its price. Bakoundah said challenges in Costa Rica’s pineapple industry in recent years have benefited Jus Délice. Some Costa Rican pineapple farmers have been accused of falsely labeling their fruit as organic when it was not actually grown according to organic methods.
The factory employs 55 people, but the processing plant is largely automated and only requires a few workers to feed pineapples into the system and replace the barrels of filled juice at the end of the process. I did not see any other human involvement in the juice-making process.
The company faces challenges such as delays in obtaining spare parts and logistical difficulties with sea freight, among others.
Financials and growth opportunities
Jus Délice became profitable in 2021, posting earnings of €66,770. In the 2022 financial year, it recorded a profit of €400,000.
The company shared the following financials with me. The figures on the left represent revenue, and those on the right are profit:
Bakoundah highlighted growth opportunities in producing more juice concentrate, which is in demand by some customers, particularly those who want to mix pineapple juice with other produce such as passion fruit.
Invest now, Mercedes-Benz later
After touring the Jus Délice facility, Bakoundah took us to another one of his factories on a property next door. Inside, workers were finishing up machinery that would soon process nuts from the shea tree, a native African species. Shea butter is a type of fat extracted from the tree’s nuts and is used in cosmetics, skin care products, and sometimes in cooking, particularly in West African cuisine. Bakoundah explained that the shea venture is unrelated to Jus Délice.
As nightfall approached, we had to return to Lomé. Our driver started our SUV, and Bakoundah prepared to get into his small city car. One of the journalists was surprised by his modest vehicle and jokingly asked if his Benz was at home. Bakoundah replied that he only owned this car and a pickup truck, which was useful for transporting things. He added that now was the time to invest, not to spend money on luxury cars.