By Dorcas S Bello, Birds
Capitalizing on her love of spice, Ruth Damar has plunged into the world of startups.
“All over the world, people are starting to think about their health and their environment. This extends to people who explore nature to treat or prevent certain diseases. We are what we eat,” said Ruth Damar, founder of Baku Foods.
She is speaking at her coffee shop, of the same name, in Jos, Nigeria. It’s an intimate space, occupied by the buzz and gurgling of coffee and juices being brewed, and in a corner, a local TV personality quietly taps at a laptop. Across the World clearly extends to this corner of Nigeria, where connected and mobile youth care about their health like nowhere else. This is good news for Damar, who founded her company to take advantage of the global trend.
Goose cold in December, averaging 20°C. While temperatures rise in the middle of the day, the early mornings are cool. This day is no exception. Damar has a constant stream of customers wanting to warm up with a hot drink. In summer, when temperatures reach 31°C, they turn into cold juices. But the café, which advertises healthy offerings, is just a “window shop” of Damar’s broader health food business.
It all started with a leap of faith.
Damar had watched her mother suffer from the endless illness since she was a little girl. It was an emotionally traumatic experience, one that at times left her with a deep sense of helplessness. She remained optimistic that a cure would be found. In the meantime, she found a way to reduce the financial burden on her mother.
At the age of 18, when Damar was still a political science student at the University of Jos, she decided to launch a startup. I’ve become obsessed with spices, often for their flavor value in food. This would become her side hustle.
Stemming from life as a spice entrepreneur, Damars did the unexpected. She captivated her mother, and the duo came up with what seemed to be a risky solution, using her school fees to expand their business.
She said, “My mom was like, ‘This is (the time) your dad gives you your school fees early…let’s see how we can double the money’.”
Her mother connected her to a woman who taught her how to make chili seasoning, locally called yaji, and package it to sell to her college classmates.
Using 5,000 naira from her tuition to make her first batch, Yaji was an instant success.
“I had a lot of clients from my friends and recommendations, yaji was really great,” Damar said.
But concerns about Damar’s mother’s health remain. They have tried almost all possible treatments and visited many doctors without much improvement.
This almost drove Damar to despair. Refusing to give up, however, she continued to search, until finally, for the Eureka moment: “I realized that most of my mother’s illnesses were due to her eating too many foods containing chemicals,” she said, adding that many spices, in addition to an excess of common substances such as The gluten in wheat has been the cause of a growing number of health challenges.
“For me, it is about removing anything chemical or unhealthy from the body. When I realized the health benefits of spices and herbs, I started studying more and learning the combinations,” Damar said.
She set out to realize her initiative.
“I thought, since I’m passionate about people who eat healthy, that means I can do other things with spices,” she said.
Baku Foods now specializes in organic spices, sourced from organic farms and offers a range of products including Chili Seasoning Mix, Garlic Powder, Cinnamon Powder, BBQ Powder, Curry Powder, Ginger Powder, Turmeric Powder, Jollof Rice Seasoning and Seasoning Soup, stew seasoning and pepper soup seasoning.
“I realized that spices and herbs aid the healing process. This gave me an opportunity to help others,” she explained.
Damar sees additional potential for growth for her company thanks to the increased awareness of the benefits of natural health among Nigeria’s youth.
“It’s a healthy food brand that is 100% organic, grown without chemicals… Suppliers are carefully selected to meet standards,” Dammar said.
All raw materials are sourced locally, except for the cinnamon spice, which you get from outside Nigeria. Her products are sold to retailers who sell her products to retail and she also sells to restaurants. They also run campaigns about healthy eating on social media and suggest food choices for people who are sick or recovering
Damar is now in the process of applying for registration with the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) for certification to expand its business.
I will be able to sell more, even in supermarkets, and I can also export my goods. “I just want to win,” she said excitedly, “I want my products to help more people, and the bigger my business gets, the more people I can help.”