The Mistress ofPickles
Hajuri Bista, the proprietor of Hajuri Khadya Udyog that specializes in producing pickles of Nepali taste had never imagined that her venture would come this far.
It all started when a housewife at 39 thought she could do something productive with her free time. Starting an enterprise was something she had always been interested in, and so she got involved with a few of her friends to start a venture that delivered dairy milk to households. Business was good but then her other business associates could not give time due to various problems, and it did not seem feasible. “I decided that I had to start a business venture on my own. So I started looking for training programs,” says Bista.
It took her nearly six months to find a training program that could help develop her skills. She saw an advertisement about WEAN(Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal), a multipurpose co-operative that was providing training for women regarding food processing and preserving. “The idea of starting a pickle business was initiated by the discussions we had during our training and I and my friends decided to start the business and named it Navaras.”
Unfortunately, her friend passed away soon after and she had to work on her own. “During our initial stage, we brought out many varieties of pickles to understand consumer taste, but now we focus on bulk production.”
“The pickles are marketed under the Navaras brand, which is under WEAN. But I produce more than 46 varieties of pickles at my factory, Hajuri Khadya Udyog.”
Time management is a skill she had to learn in her start up days. “Every morning, I would first finish my household chores, and after everyone left, clean my kitchen and turn it into my workspace and become an entrepreneur, and every evening before my family came back home, clean it up and become a homemaker again.”
With the increasing success of her products she slowly started expanding her business. In order to expand her venture, Bista understood that a market survey was needed to understand consumer behavior. To do this, she participated in various foods expos, both in the country and outside. “When we first started out, we found out that hardly any of the pickles in Nepal had a Nepali taste We found out it was marketable. It’s important to know your consumer taste, especially in the food business. Although I do attend expos, I also hire people to survey consumer preferences.”
For entrepreneurs, expanding their business is both exciting and challenging. When Hajuri Bista decided to expand her venture, the first thing she needed were workers. Although she had not planned on only hiring female workers, most of the people who came to her were women. The women were mostly migrant workers from out of Kathmandu. It was a challenge to not just teach them the trade but also to help and manage their personal hygiene and ensure a secure working environment so that they wouldn’t leave the job after a few weeks or even months.
She currently has a staff of almost 20 people, most of whom have been working with her for nearly 19 years.
“I feel proud that a simple homemaker has managed to hire 15-20 people. I have seen how they have changed personally and financially. They used to bring their small children to work with them and now most of their children are pursuing higher studies. I’ve helped do my part in increasing the human capital of the country.” Furthermore, all the raw material Bista uses are from the local market, so her business has been able to add value to other people’s lives as well.
The next challenge was money. Plans of expansion increase pressure for investment, for getting new technology and maintaining the old ones. Although, she didn’t face too many hurdles getting access to finance – with her family and friends helping her out – getting loans from banks was slightly difficult. It was difficult to decide what to put up as collateral for small loans.
This is something every women entrepreneur in Nepal faces, because despite the schemes brought by the Nepal government for women entrepreneurs, Bista feels people at the grassroot level still do not have access to it, and it applies to men as well because of the negative connotation of the word ‘loan’ which is especially difficult for women .“ For small loans you have to put up collateral and a majority of women do not have property under their name. They need to get permission from their family members, which at times hinder their growth.”
A significant part of Bista’s business is in Nepal, especially in Kathmandu. “For food products such as ours, I believe we should target domestic business first. Although I have started exporting to some countries, my main business is in the domestic market. When people get acquainted with good taste they do not forget it so easily and because of this, I have strived hard to maintain standard quality.”