Ruth Damar’s unexpected journey to becoming businesswoman
24-year-old Ruth Damar started her spice making business about six years ago, while still an undergraduate at the University of Jos. Meeting at her newly opened Tea shop at Bisham Plaza in Jos, she recalls starting the business in order to ‘double her school fees’ so as to be able to secure accommodation off-campus.
She had just gotten to her second year at the time, while studying political science, and was fed up with staying in the school hostel. When her father gave her the school fees for that session, which came in quite early, her mother came up with the bright idea that has now become her source of livelihood.
“My mum was like, this one your dad is giving you your school fee fast; let’s see how we can get more money. Lets double the money,” she recalls her mother advising. Her father had provided tuition and hostel accommodation (in school), which she did not want and had confided in her mother.
“I wanted to stay off campus,” she recalls. At first, she kept poultry birds, and then later, took N5000 from the money given to her for tuition to make Chilli seasoning, by learning from a woman her mother connected her with. She packaged the product and was off to school to sell, recalling it was “really nice”.
“My friends were buying and I thought; since I’m passionate about people eating healthy it means I can do other things that have to do with spices,” she recalls. From the proceeds, she bought ginger, and did the same thing. Initially, it was meant to help her make quick money to secure a private accommodation, but then, passion came into it and the rest is history.
Damar now finds herself playing in the direly needed value addition side of Nigeria’s agriculture value chain, and through her company, Baku Foods, produces an array of spices including; Chilli seasoning Mix, Garlic Powder, Cinnamon Powder, Barbecue Rub, Curry Powder, Ginger Powder, Turmeric Powder, Jollof Rice Spice, Soup Spice, Stew Spice, Pepper soup spice.
According to her, these are organic spices, sourced from farms where no chemicals have been used in the crop production process. While these often attract a premium, this, she says is the niche market she has chosen to operate.
“It is a healthy food brand that is 100 percent organic,” she says. Explaining further, she stressed that organic is when something is without chemical, and in particular not grown with any chemical. “From farming, we make sure the raw materials are grown with either animal dung. Suppliers are painstakingly selected to meet the criteria,” Damar says. All raw materials are sourced locally, except for the Cinnamon spices, which she describes as a tedious process of sourcing from outside Nigeria.
Her spices are currently home-made, and are sold to people that package for retail. She also sells to restaurants, and directly to individuals (which gives her more money). Even though she studied for a political science degree, graduating in 2017, she says there has always been a passion to connect people with healthy food.
But, why the interest in the ‘healthy food’ tag, which is almost now a cliché? Damar explains that she comes from a home where her mum (who also inspired the business) has had a certain health need for some years. “I realised her ailment most times was because she was taking an excess of foods that have chemicals,” she says. Most seasonings are going to be among major causes of things like cancer, some of them have gluten in them, she further says.
“For me, it is about removing anything chemical or unhealthy to the body,” she adds. Almost six years ago when she started the business at 18 years old with just the Chilli seasoning, the business now has an offering of about ten spices.
Asked if she ever considered a 9 to 5 employment, she responded, “I actually tried taking a job last year but it was a distraction to my hustle so I just left it.”
But, does the business give enough in terms of revenue compared to formal employment? “Very well!” she retorted with excitement. “I know I’m not exactly where I want to be but it has potentials, and there’s room for growth. If I were to work somewhere, how much will they pay me?”
The N5000 that she started with, according to her estimation returned about N20,000 to N25,000. But did she repeat the process to get more money for her private accommodation that inspired all of this?
“Part of the proceeds ran into my money, some of it, I flexed, last last, the money didn’t give me my accommodation,” she says. “That was the challenge in the beginning; I didn’t put the money back. I just had N5000 to N6000 to repeat the process. Eventually, I learnt if I want to grow, I had to be accountable with money.”
While she would not give figures on what she currently earns, she says the business nets her maybe double or even triple what some civil servants earn, which is the most available job in Jos.
She is still operating on a small scale while looking to process NAFDAC registration, at which time she says; “I will be able to sell more, even in the supermarkets, and can also export my goods.”