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First Person: Raising a glass to ‘Mama Cheers’

Julian Omalla, who is widely known as “Mama Cheers” after the popular juice brand “Cheers” that her company Delight Uganda produces, is now planning to expand with the construction of a new factory in the north of the country.

“When I launched my company, Delight Uganda Limited, in 1996, I didn’t know much about running a business. I started it from scratch, and had to overcome many challenges.

I remember walking for many kilometres, on bad roads, and working in my garden from morning to night. One of the low points came when my business partner ran off with all of the money I had raised to buy stock. All I had left was a wheelbarrow, to take fruit to market, and one red dress!

I couldn’t get any banks to finance my business, because I didn’t have any collateral, so raising funds to expand was an uphill task. Like most women in Uganda, I had to rely on savings and invest my profits back into the company.

Delight Uganda Limited
Ugandan entrepreneur Julian Omalla has built a fresh juice business with more than five million customers.

A born entrepreneur

Four years later I joined UNCTAD’s programme for entrepreneurs, which helped me develop and execute my business growth plan. The course improved my self-confidence, and learned new skills, such as goal setting, bookkeeping, marketing, setting targets and working efficiently to meet them. It made me realize that am a born entrepreneur.

Over the years, I stayed in contact with my trainers, and honing my entrepreneurial skills. I kept asking questions to help me improve my business, even on the weekends! 

Thanks to my determination, and the skills I’d learned, I grew the company to the extent that, at one point, we had 60 per cent of the juice market in Uganda, with a processing line producing 12,000 litres of fruit-flavoured drinks per day. We also diversified into other business activities, such as poultry farming, maize-feed production, a flour mill and a bakery.

Delight Uganda Limited
Julian Omalla has built a thriving juice business in Uganda.

Sharing the success

We used to important juice concentrate, because it was hard to source high-quality, locally grown fresh fruit. But, in 2011, the company acquired 1,700 acres of land for cultivating fruit trees, such as mangoes, guavas and citruses and organised the Nwoya Fruit Growers Cooperative, which has 5,000 members, most of them (3,750) women.

Each of these women has at least one acre of fruit orchard intercropped with short-term seasonal crops for income and sustainability. In a season, they can earn up to $1,850 from an acre of land. And, through the Delight Farm Institute, we create new and decent jobs, and offer improved livelihoods to many.
New factory, new horizons

This year, we received $10 million in funding from the Ugandan government, which will allow us to build a modern fresh juice factory, allowing us to add value to the fruits grown by the local farmers, and meet growing market demand for dried fruits, particularly mangoes.

Winning the UNCTAD award has motivated me so much! I plan to create a centre of excellence, where academics can share their knowledge, helping us to reach international standards, and export our products to all corners of the world.

I think the reason that we have succeeded is our engagement with the community. People in northern Uganda suffered so much during the civil war, and I believe that our success will help them to be empowered, and to survive.” 

Delight Uganda Limited
Fresh fruit, such as mangoes, are sourced from local farmers in Uganda.

An example of empowerment

  • In February 2021, the Ugandan Government awarded Ms. Omalla’s company, Delight Uganda Limited, a $4 million grant to construct a fresh juice factory in northern Uganda, and $6 million to procure equipment, with 50 per cent of the funds repayable by her company in 10 years.
  • Ms. Omalla is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Uganda. In 2020, she won a special prize during the seventh edition of UNCTAD’s Empretec Women in Business Awards for her dedication to empowering other women through her company.
  • Ms. Omalla also received a fellowship to participate in an executive education programme by the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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