In 1978, a small family bakery began a journey that would turn it into a national, multi-faceted enterprise. Spotting a need in the Ugandan market, husband and wife Gaster and Edith Lule began baking and selling breakfast cakes; almost 40 years later, the Ntake Group is now a formidable entity with its finger is many pies, in the food market and beyond.
The Ntake Group describes itself as a “dynamic company synonymous with professionalism, integrity, innovation and entrepreneurial flair.” It started small, as a simple medium-sized bakery with minimal machinery, but like many dreams once they are pursued, it grew. Today, they have grown into a multi-sector business that has not only manufactures breads and confectionary goods, but also provides purified drinking water and outside catering services. On top of this, it has moved beyond food altogether to also cover real estate, paper recycling, transport and haulage, general hardware and even bridal wear! This broad and desperate range of services was brought together under the Group through a combination of expansions and acquisitions, and is overseen by a committed and versatile management team working to make sure that no matter how wide-spread their success, the quality and focus from the couple’s early days in the bakery remain unchanged.
Ntake Bakery Company Limited was founded in 1978, supplying breakfast cakes for two years before branching out to a wider range of bread products. Since then, their output has skyrocketed from using 2kgs of wheat flour a day to an approximate 25 metric tons (on top of all their other products and services). Between 1984 and 1987, growing demand for their products prompted them to relocate. With the added space and facilities, Ntake Bakery branched out from from cakes to become a fully-fledged bakery, despite still only have a modest 15 employees at this time.
However, between 1988 and 1995, the bakery kept growing, and with it, this demand for wheat flour. Around this time, the company chose to protect its assets by diversifying out of the food market, in case issues in the Uganda supply chain arose. They chose real estate, a vastly different operation, so that even if one sector suffered, the other existed to keep the company afloat. In retrospect, this choice was serendipity: as demand for their bakery products rose, issues with raw material supply did indeed occur as predicted, especially sugar, baking fat, and the all-important wheat flour. However, this diversification into real estate offered an opportunity. Having imported the wheat flour used in its products for years, Ntake realised that the tax levied on these imports was effectively pricing them out of competition, with many local bakers instead opting for regionally milled flour. Identifying this problem, and seeing that their supply was subject to unreliability, they decided to overtake their competition by taking their operations the next logical step further: milling their own flour.
In 1997, twenty years after beginning their business, Ntake began milling wheat flour with 50 metric tons a day production plan. The quality was exceptional for this manner of mill, and Ntake soon found that they were unable to keep up with the demand, both from their bakery’s needs and independent customers of the flour. To stay ahead, they invested in a 200-metric ton mill from Buhler in 1999 and more recently, installed a 300 metric ton machine.
This is just one of the many measures of Ntake Group’s growth. Beginning with just five employees, they now have over 500 individuals throughout their three bakery branches and other business interests. However, it is not in quantity that Ntake assess themselves. In fact, since the beginning, the Ntake slogan has been “Quality Before Quantity” – a mantra that explains how they rose from such small beginnings to a large and powerful enterprise. No matter how far their operations grow, quality remains the priority.
To protect product quality, Ntake understand that one must first ensure employee quality, and take good care of said staff. Vast though his team has become. Gaster talks fondly of his employees, harkening back to the family-run feeling of the company’s origins.
“Because there are no educational institutions for the baking industry here, we train most of our bakery production staff and we rely on them to produce the quality bakery products. We have one miller with a lot of experience, backed up by six others, of which three have received professional training from the United Kingdom and Switzerland. I am also particularly proud to have my four children as members of the staff.”
As well as treating their staff like family, and in fact having family amongst their staff, Ntake extend a similar family feeling to their customers. “We take pride in our energetic and long-term approach to relationships with employees, partners and clients.”
“Some 20 years ago, I had customers who were students in secondary school that I used to supply with quality products. They are now done with school and even have children of their own, and are still buying them.”
With a solid consumer base already in place, some companies would rest there, but as shown by Ntake Group’s wide range of ventures, Gaster wasn’t content to leave it there. Instead, he created a dedicated sales and marketing department, and is continually looking into developing new products.
“We are always thinking of new products and opportunities. Currently, we are putting up a new 300 metric ton twin wheat mill from Buhler A.G, Switzerland. We are also in the final stage of gaining council approval for an 18-floor commercial building in Kampala Business Centre. Finally, we are planning to open a new bakery branch in Jinja Town. All these investments will be fulfilled with the help of Standard Chartered Bank and our company assets. On completion, employment opportunities for our country will be greatly increased.”
Putting quality before quantity, Ntake Group has never-the-less grown to an impressive scale, not just in numbers of employees, but sheer range to products provided. It’s an incredible journey, remembering that the empire did not even begin as a full bakery. It is a testament to what can be achieved in business if the game is played correctly – whether it is in moral dealings or product assurance, the Lules are a living testament to the fact that safeguarding quality and putting good practices first does not have to mean a loss of quantity. In fact, it can mean quite the opposite.