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Le Manager article: A Passion for Fruits

January 31, 2019

The euphoria to start their project, the enthusiasm to change things in their regions, and … a real passion for fruits bring together Marwen Bejaoui, manager of Fraichi and Dalila Jemni, founder of Jemni Dattes. Both supported by the program Mashrou3i, intrepid and motived, they overcame obstacles in the system, attracted by an exciting entrepreneurial ecosystem. Today, they intend to be part of it, both locally and nationally.

Through Fraichi, Marwen relies on the well-known but often forgotten seasonality of fruits and vegetables, respecting agricultural practices and the climate cycles to get the best quality produce. Dalila, on the other hand, wants to awaken consciences. Date transformation is a good way to manage waste and to add value to this product which deserves more attention. Making good use of the support received by Mashrou3i and inspired by the challenge of entrepreneurship, their life projects are taking shape.

When vocation and ambition are one

By paying attention to the local market, with a desire to create and to carry on the know-how, Marwen Bejaoui, native of Beja, quickly found out an important need in the region: the absence of industries specialized in the conservation and processing of fresh fruits and vegetables. Born with a “why not” mentality, he capitalized wisely on his curricula, expanding his area of ​​expertise on the modes of conservation of natural resources and natural therapeutic substances, and the potential of the region in fruit and vegetable production. He launched Fraichi with two partners, thanks to a no-interest credit of 150,000 Tunisian Dinars, financed as a pilot project on social and solidarity enterprise, initiated by the Ministry of Employment. “This funding was suited to our ambitions and our standards,” says Marwen steadfastly. “Fraichi was the first company to produce fresh fruit juices in the Northwest,” he says proudly. After one year of development and establishment, they officially launched the business in April 2017. Since then, the machines are in full swing, and Fraichi is supplying shops and individuals. Currently, Marwen enjoys a leading position in the market. “There is not much competition,” he informs us. “We have two indirect competitors and a new direct competitor arrived this year near the region, 50 kilometres away in Jendouba, but that does not bother us so much for the moment. “You have to work and continue to excel,” says Marwen. To do this, there is no miracle recipe. The young entrepreneur relies on two competitive factors: price and quality. “The price remains the first concern for customers, so we have to offer attractive prices. At this level, our strong point remains the supply. Here in Beja, we have the advantage of being able to stock up in big quantities, which allows us to buy produce cheaper than our competitors. We have cold rooms, and freezing that respects industry standards. Another point: quality. Our employees have been certified to process juices and compotes by the State Food Center of Tunis in El Khadhra. And so far, everyone is satisfied with our quality. In our sector, fresh juices, standards of health and hygiene are fundamental requirements to follow,” he explains.

Kebili, the promise of a real date derivatives industry

Dalila Jemni has always been obsessed with the enormous shortfall of date derivatives, especially in Kebili, a stronghold of national production. “The date processing sector is still in its early stages, especially compared to international markets,” she says. This traditional and family know-how has not evolved over the years. With the support of her sister, specialized in the study of dates and its derivatives, Dalila intends to remedy this by developing production and applying manufacturing processes at an industrial level. She will focus on the processing of date waste in Kebili, that still remains artisanal in the region. With the help of a loan from the BTS, that she has just obtained, Dalila has acquired equipment and laid the foundations of an industrial company for date derivatives, making robb (date syrup), jam and coffee. It’s the first steps in the transformation of the date sector. “Currently, I work in a traditional way, like most people. I try to make my products known and appreciated by the local market. Abroad these products are successful but there is still little local awareness of their benefits. Now I am focusing on developing my business and establishing a larger work place,” Dalila informs us.

Projects that trigger an entire ecosystem

Fraichi, as a social and solidarity company from its very beginning, operates its whole value chain locally: suppliers, customers, local employees, indirect and seasonal workers. “We started with 7 employees. We are now 11 and continue to grow, which means more direct and indirect jobs,” says Marwen. A new store has just opened in Beja. In total, Fraichi has created around 30 jobs. For the young entrepreneur, the social impact on the region is clear: many retailers and farmers are no longer going to the markets to sell their products and are assured of selling their stocks. “A lot of local producers are now using us to sell their produce. We guarantee opportunities for their production. More importantly, there is no waste. Everything is resold. On the other hand,” Marwen informs us, “the three partners are active in the management of the company, each fulfilling a part of the mission: technical, commercial, accounting.”

There is no doubt that the sector for date kernels roasting is still missing a strategy, resulting in huge waste. Dalila doesn’t give up and takes on the mission of building an industrial fortress in the region and providing work for a lot of people. “Currently, and when the activity increases I build a team, but its only seasonal employment.” She plans to build a full-time team in early January, workers and engineers, to handle cookers, robots and cream machines and develop step by step her business. “My plan is to open a large factory and boost the region as much as possible”. On the other hand, this sector will take full advantage of second and third-choice dates and remedy waste. Beyond the taste, these products are organic, excellent for health thanks to their fiber and vitamins. “They have incomparable health benefits, and they are local products, based on local know-how,” says Dalila.

Mashrou3i, a flawless diagnosis and promises of success

Advertising is a vital element of any entrepreneurial project … but very expensive. For Marwen, the intervention of Mashrou3i was a great success, especially before launching his company. After several field visits by the experts, a precise diagnosis clarified the need to conduct nearly seven technical trainings for Fraichi employees, especially in marketing, sales, renewable energy, energy resources and waste management. Likewise, in 2016, Dalila learnt how to prepare her business plan and manage her project thanks to training provided in HP LIFE. “Mashrou3i also allowed me to start, fine tune and finalize the technical analyses of my products, robb, jam and coffee. An essential step for this type of project,” says Dalila. She continues to strengthen her participation in fairs and exhibitions under the guidance of the experts, to raise awareness of her products.

“Several field visits were made by the Mashrou3i representatives. They were also present at our new store. There is precise follow-up and careful control by the team,” said Marwen. There was also support in communication. “Mashrou3i has helped us to significantly improve our advertising, especially through radio interventions, and to make our brand known, which allowed us to increase the audience and boost orders,” he says with enthusiasm. “Advertising was a big obstacle for us, Mashrou3i helped us through it, it was extremely beneficial for our project which was only starting,” insists Marwen. A lot of gratifications which, according to him, should not forget the challenges to still be overcome: “We still have obstacles financially, but also in terms of business activities, which remain mostly seasonal. In winter, there is a strong drop. The peak is from March to September, and sometimes extends to October. Today, Fraichi has many ambitions. The three partners want more than ever to diversify and to launch activities in another sector are still in negotiation. “We’ll start in a year,” says Marwen proudly. An extension will see the business in another city, probably the capital city. “We have, of course, planned to strengthen our team and increase our machine fleet, in addition to a certification project under study: ISO 9000 and the Halal certification, which Mashrou3i is our main support”. For Dalila, Tunisia deserves a place on the international podium but we must offer certified products and nationwide consumption first.”