Affiong Williams did not have background or prior experience in running a business but what she has in abundance was and is still her passion for entrepreneurship which saw her found ReelFruit in 2021 – the largest agribusiness in Nigeria focusing on dried fruit processing, packaging and distribution. She is the chief executive officer of ReelFruit.
Creating jobs and empowering women
She did not only start ReelFruit to fulfil her personal ambitions but she also wanted to create jobs for the youth. Additionally, she also wanted to empower women by involving them in the running of big business operations. This would also include active participation of local farmers who would form part of the entire value chain of the fruit production.
Burdened by the rising youth unemployment
“I was inspired to start my business because I was burdened by youth unemployment in my home country, Nigeria. I believed that by starting a business, one with huge potential to create jobs, I would be solving this problem. I decided on the agribusiness sector based on its job creation potential and its ability to uplift farmers,” says Williams. She says ReelFruit is majority woman owned, has a 100% female management team, and 55% female employee base both full time and part time. Most of these women hold management and key positions of the business.
Gaining enough experience
Williams spent 12 years in South Africa and four years of these were spent working for Endeavor Global – a global non-profit which promotes economic development by supporting small to medium enterprises in developing markets. After she gained sufficient experience and exposure on how a business operates, Williams decided to go back to her home country to set up ReelFruit.
Initially, her plan was to produce fruit juices but this could not materialise because she did not have the financial resources to secure the requisite equipment and machinery. She then shifted her focus to dried fruit and started to soft market it among acquaintances, friends, close relatives and other prospective clients and the reception was overwhelmingly positive. In 2013, the year in which it started to operate, ReelFruit launched its mango and pineapple snacks.
Williams says her vision is to build an end-to-end agribusiness adding value across the fruit value chain, positively impacting smallholder farmers to consumers. This will guarantee a market for local farmers and also increase their incomes. She also wants to add value, through her company, to the local fruit produce economy by focusing on processing, marketing and distribution of raw materials.
ReelFruit has also won some coveted awards one of which is the international ‘Women in Business Competition’ in the Netherlands. In 2015 it was awarded a grant by IDH Sustainable Trade to complete an innovative pilot to train and hire 50 women in mango farming in Nigeria, a first-of-its-kind intervention. Williams has also won several accolades:
- In 2015 she was recognised by Forbes Magazine as one of the most promising ’30 under 30′ entrepreneurs
- In 2017, she won ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, awarded by the prestigious Women in Management, Business and Public Service (WimBiz) and
- In 2018 she also completed the Stanford Seed in Emerging Economies programme
ReelFruit’s product range is sold at over 400 outlets around Nigeria, through online channels and to B2B market such as hotels and airlines. According to Williams, the products are also exported to Europe specifically Switzerland and Belgium and sold on Amazon.com. In 2020 ReelFruit sold the equivalent products of 1,200,000 pineapples that would have otherwise gone to waste, achieving $480,000 in revenues.
Williams says her long-term dream is to build a lasting business that “provides young Nigerians with the dignity, benefits and formal employment offers”. “This is my key driver as an entrepreneur”, she says, adding she believes enterprise is the only way to lead the continent out of poverty.
“I strongly believe enterprise is the only way to develop Nigeria and its people. “Youth account for 45% of the workforce, yet 55% of them are unemployed. My business’ goal is to create 1000 direct jobs in the next 7 years,” says Williams.