Mauritius: Nasreen

Date: October 9, 2019
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Juggling between a full-time job and a part-time entrepreneurial venture, Nasreen’s presentation took everyone on her journey: from breaking down the logistics of her work to addressing the intricacies that motivate her on a daily basis. During the day, she works as a caretaker of an elderly person, taking care of them, of their dietary needs, and of their house. At night and during any free time that crops up, Nasreen manages a pickle business that she started only a year ago. Fondly reminiscing the moments which led to its creation, she shared that the idea of starting a part-time business had always been lurking in her mind, but it was her boss who was a huge motivation for her to undertake that risk. During her day-time job, she noticed that the stock of fruits was always replenished in the house, but never entirely consumed. In fact, most of them were either left to rot or thrown away. Seeing large scale wastage extremely saddened her, or in Nasreen’s own words, “faire le coeur fermal.” Hence, the idea of converting unused fruits, that would otherwise be discarded, into pickle struck her mind and the pickle business saw light.

While Nasreen acknowledges the struggles of managing two jobs, she also establishes that everything is possible with appropriate planning. She highlights the importance of bookkeeping in helping her to do so, especially in maintaining a timeline to complete an order in time. Every night, after work, she devotes a few hours to the maintenance of her business, where she organizes different orders, ingredients, purchases and sales. Nasreen describes the growth of her business as a long and tedious process, which was eased by the support of her husband, kids and neighborhood. Initially, Nasreen used to give away small samples of her pickles to nearby shops, old stores, and even small restaurants so as to gauge the response of the public. Those samples were shared with other people, creating a chain of customers which gradually helped strengthened the growth of her business. However, she had no notion of how a mini-business functions let alone its management, until her participation in the Gender Links training, where she learned about effective time management and could subsequently devote equal time to her business as well her family.

Nasreen takes a lot of pride in her pickle production business being different from traditional ones and attributes her success to that difference which demarcates her products from the rest. As one may ask, what’s that special? Pickles are afterall pickles. Nasreen does not only restrict her production to traditionally acclaimed pickles- she has tested deeper waters by experimenting with other core ingredients, namely oranges, bell peppers, Le Chou, Banana, amongst others. Her decision was not due to luck’s strike but was rather a methodically calculated and strategic one. Prior to settling on the type of ingredients to use, Nasreen analyzed the competition around her by frequently observing and noting the trend in types of pickles sold in supermarkets. Since those pickle companies already have a fixed and loyal consumer base, it would be foolish to compete with their production. Hence by choosing to pickle vegetables and unconventional fruits, Nasreen avoids competition and seasonal losses, all while attracting intrigued customers. Additionally, her income does not only depend on seasonal fruits, as compared to traditional pickle-sellers. She still generates a stable income when certain fruits are not in season.

When it comes to the aspect of packaging, at the start Nasreen used to sell pickles in portions in the recipients of customers. Then, over time to as to increase the visibility of her products and increase her customer base, she started using small containers which she sent to small shops, old stores, small restaurants, boulettes stands and other food stalls. Those were the first orders which she packaged in plastic containers and delivered using biodegradable bags. Over time, Nasreen notes, those stalls emerged as her constant and most loyal customers. As her business started taking off, she decided to substitute plastic containers with glass ones, in an effort to diminish any environmental impacts. She started collecting used glass containers from her neighborhood and recycled those before reusing them for packaging. The process involves sterilization by cleaning and boiling the glass containers over high heat for a specific amount of time. Nasreen also made sure that the tags containing the ingredients and expiry dates of the pickles were stuck on the lid, compared to commercial pickles with tags all around the container. She iterated that this was a very important step, since it is vital for customers to view what they are buying.

Budget-wise, the fruits and vegetables used are easily available, free of cost, from her boss’s house, as aforementioned. While there are no costs involving the core ingredients, oils and spices need to be purchased, which Nasreen views as bearing very little capital. Taking into account the costs of production, the Judges were pleasantly surprised by the price of one small container of pickles, which can cost as low as Rs25. Nasreen highly values the fact that her prices are lower than that of supermarkets and views it as a potential stepping stone to joining the supermarket business. Pickle production is a part-time business for her, but considering the profits made, the idea leaving her current job and turning pickle production into a full-time employment seems both alluring and lucrative to Nasreen. Currently, all transactions are detailed in a diary, which are then digitalized into a computer file at the end of each month. Part of the profits is saved for her personal use, part for purchase of ingredients, and part for future plans.

Nasreen already has a small business card which she distributes to all her customers, and even drops a few to snacks and restaurants which use or sell her pickles. She believes that despite managing two different jobs, she is very accessible and flexible to her customers, taking orders via traditional phone calls or messages, WhatsApp messages, or any medium that suits the customer. As of now, one of the recent developments is that she has extended her reach of customers by selling pickles in minimarkets of her area, which have garnered good reviews and rapid sales. Hence, one of her long-term aspirations is to see her pickles cozily packed on the shelves of huge supermarkets, well appreciated by the public. Additionally, she hopes to expand her client pool to overseas by exporting pickles abroad as well as expand the business by employing a few people to assist her in the long and tedious procedure. As Nasreen says, above all, “li pou en plaisir ki sa nom mo ban produits la la konner par l’ile Maurice et dehors.”

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