ALTHOUGH many people have for years snubbed supermarkets, regarding them as the preserve of the few political and economic elite, Tanzanians are gradually embracing the retail chains as not only potential supply markets but also places to shop from, cost effectively.
Capitalising on their economies of scale, supermarkets offer most of their groceries at relatively cheaper prices than those prevailing at most of the small outlets. The imposing infrastructures from which most supermarkets operate however seem to scare many people.
"I had never dared to enter a supermarket because I perceived the place as the privilege of the wealth," concedes Issa Mwakitalimo, a small entrepreneur and one of many suppliers to Uchumi Supermarkets Limited (Tanzania).
Through his firm--Mwakitalimo Traders--Mr Mwakitalimo supplies cereals and polythene paper bags to the supermarkets firm that has just celebrated its two years of operations in the country.
And, unlike many entrepreneurs who roam the streets scouting for supply markets, Mr Mwakitalimo had never thought of trading with Uchumi or any supermarket for that matter.
"Uchumi employees used to frequent my shop to buy some items and one day they left a message to my assistant, asking me to visit their office... I heeded the call and succeeded to strike this (supplying) business deal," says the entrepreneur, hinting that he even surprisingly realised that some of the products in the supermarket were, contrary to his previous perception, cheaper than at his own shop.
Uchumi, whose internal business policy is to source all its groceries from local suppliers, has in its two-year operations in the country strived to attract domestic producers, ranging from small-scale vegetable growers to large industrial manufacturers to trade with the retail chain, which plans to expand to the city suburbs of Mbagala, Tabata, Masaki, Mikocheni, Mbezi Africana and Dar es Salaam City Centre as well as Tanga, Dodoma and Mwanza regions.
Ms Janet Mlowe, whose Ndula Products Company processes and supplies various products to Uchumi Supermarket, is proud of being among the first suppliers to the retail chain.
"I consider myself lucky for this opportunity... Uchumi has been of great help to me as far as marketing of my products is concerned," says Ndula Products' Director whose firm supplies wines and processed foodstuff.
She credits the expansive markets of her products to Uchumi, "I get a lot of supply orders from people who first tasted my products through Uchumi... I highly appreciate for the extensive marketing that Uchumi has done for my firm and products."
But, Mr Ernest Mwanzi, another supplier to Uchumi through his Ekimu General Supplies, perceive the retail chain more than the market for his products--meat, fishes, vegetables and fresh fruits.
"Through Uchumi, the quality of my products has substantially improved... Uchumi observes high standards and to supply here I had to maintain those standards as well."
The General Manager of Wema Products Co. Ltd, Ms Tinna Machibya, is grateful that through the business partnership with Uchumi, her firm products are moving fast. Wema Products manufactures and supplies mostly detergents.
"We are eagerly waiting for the expansion drive (of Uchumi), hoping that our businesses will correspondingly grow with the number of new outlets to be opened," says Ms Machibya.
According to Uchumi Supermarkets Country Manager Chris Lenana, the firm is determined to groom more entrepreneurs from the farming, manufacturing and service sectors to benefit from the business opportunities that the supermarket offers.
"We are here to work with fellow Tanzanians, we don't have an import licence because we want to buy exclusively from local suppliers.
It's an opportunity that we wish seeing our citizens exploiting maximally for their economic wellbeing," says Mr Lenana, inviting small-scale vegetable and fruit producers, chick and livestock keepers, in particular, to supply to the expansive retail firm.
Through its expansion programme, Uchumi wants to increase its retail outlets from the one currently at Quality Centre along Nyerere road to ten, with the views of reaching potential customers where they are.
Uchumi, which is on the process of cross-listing on the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange to provide Tanzanians with opportunity to own the fast growing market chain, has seen its business growing fast in the past two years because of what Mr Lenana describes as good business environment in the country.
The company that employees 200 people, has a list of 300 suppliers, all Tanzanians whom it pays an average of 300m/- weekly or 1.2bn/- monthly. But, the firm's monthly pay out to its suppliers is expected to increase ten times to 12bn/- following the expansion drive.
No wonder the company is imploring citizens to grab the opportunity by producing massively for the ready-made market. Mr Lenana says his firm is ready to work closely with small-scale producers towards grooming them into serious entrepreneurs, capable of producing and supplying to big markets.
The increase of the number of shops from one to ten will hopefully come with a corresponding increase in jobs and supplies.