Madatally Manji: The First Man to Manufacture Biscuits in Kenya

How Manji rose from a hawker in Karatina, Nyeri, to become a regional biscuits baron

Biscuits maker House of Manji had humble beginnings from a bakery in Nairobi’s Ngara area, manufacturing bread. The bread business flourished for quite some time until the wheat rationing of World War II and proliferation of similar businesses that brought in stiff competition.

The founder, Madatally Manji, saw a niche in the market for biscuits and thus House of Manji was born. House of Manji (HOM) was set up in Industrial Area and was officially inaugurated by then governor of Kenya, Evelyn Baring.

House of Manji grew to become a household name in Kenya and the East Africa region in the biscuits, pasta and confectionery industry. The “Family” and “Marie” biscuits won the prestigious La Monde selection gold medal awards in Brussels, Belgium.

Under Manji Food Industries Limited, which took over the mantle from November 2002 under the chairmanship of Dr HP Dawda, the company retained its prominent position to date. Manji Biscuits has over the decades managed to achieve the position of market leader in the industry and extended it to Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

As it were, the biscuits company was founded by Madatally Manji, an Indian immigrant born in 1918. The company has an inspiring history tied to its founder who started off as a hawker at Karatina Market. To make an extra coin, young Manji capitalised on the needs of traders who were ever busy at Karatina market, in Nyeri County.

>> Meet Kenya’s Baking Billionaires at Supa Loaf Company

Manji, who was the first man to manufacturer biscuits in Kenya, documented his humble beginnings in his autobiography – Memoirs of a Biscuit Baron – published in 1995. Manji writes how he discovered that the traders were unable to get supplies for their stalls as they were always held up in the ever-busy market on Tuesdays.

He recalls that farmers and traders were so busy at the market selling wares that they had no time to go to the stores in Karatina to make their own purchases. “I decided that I could sell them some of the things they would require at the stores and shops without having to leave the marketplace,” he says in the book.

So on market days, he would utilise the two-hour lunch break from school, between 12 noon and 2pm, to embark on his small business activities. After school, Manji tried out his entrepreneurial skills working at various business in Nyeri and Nairobi.

He gravitated towards the pastry industry and found a niche. After establishing himself, in 1941, Manji bought the Ngara Bakery at a cost of Ksh10,000, then a fortune. The business tycoon figured there would be demand for bread given that some Kenyans were taking part in World War II (1939-1945).

>> Inside William Ruto’s Multi-Billion Helicopter Business

“It dawned on me that when the thousands of Africans were discharged and returned home they would prefer to eat bread as well as traditional foods like maize meal,” Manji writes.

As demand grew, he purchased land along Haile Selassie Avenue where he later built the Whitehouse Bakery. Despite the many challenges he faced, such as the restrictions of certain ingredients such a wheat flour, which was only planted by white settlers at the time, Manji made his biscuits known for their dark brown look.

He bought jaggery (brown sugar) from Kisumu and began experimenting with it for biscuit making and supplied to the army canteens. “They found them very appetizing, despite the fact that they were darkish brown and quite unlike the biscuits they were used to. We went into production full throttle,” he stated.

Breakfast cereals

Additionally, his biscuits got international attraction that London-based newspaper, The Sunday Time, referred to him as the biscuit baron. Now successful and more adept at the business, Manji moved to Nairobi’s Industrial Area in 1953 to establish the House of Manji which remains an iconic business to date.

The company still produces Manji biscuits and the popular multibix. After serving the business world for over 60 years, the father of three passed on September 9, 2006. He was married to Fatima Hajee and had three children – Julie Zulekha, Salim Manji, and Firoze.

Manji was a third-generation Kenyan of Asian origin. His parents migrated from Bombay in 1908. His childhood was in Nyeri, Karatina and Murang’a where his family operated a chain of shops and groceries.

Manji brought into the country the popular breakfast cereals, Weetabix, built the Baring Arcade on Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi, in 1968, among other buildings in the city, and set up food companies outside Kenya.

>> Raila Odinga’s Multi-Million Hotels in Kisumu and Malindi

Latest

How to Invest in Kakuzi Shares

Investing your money in Kakuzi shares can help you...

Safaricom Reveals Strategic Secrets at Ethiopia Investor Day

Safaricom PLC on Saturday 22nd Feb 2023 held its second investor day in Addis Ababa, providing an opportunity for the investment community to gain insights into the company's achievements and future plans as well as see the progress so far in Ethiopia rollout.

Safaricom Investment Co-operative Pays Out Sh142.4 Million

Safaricom Investment Co-operative shareholders have approved a ksh142.4 million rebate payout during the 15th Annual General Meeting.

Firms Announce Merger Deal to Expand Services

Dalberg Implement, a leader in on-the-ground program implementation with vast expertise in strategy execution, and Axum, an Afrocentric impact firm dedicated to fostering inclusive growth across the Global South, have announced a merger.

Follow Us

Newsletter

Don't miss

Throwing The Girls Into Deep End: Single Kiasi S3 First Look

Nairobi’s dating scene is about to get messy: Single Kiasi...

Win New Year Crossover Mugithi Tickets With Odibets

The event has attracted prominent Kikuyu musicians who will be headlining the event including Samidoh and Muigai wa Njoroge.

For Coloured Girls is Theatre Production of the Year

The play ‘For Coloured Girls (who have considered suicide/ when...

Tusker Oktobafest Rolls East African Cultures into One

From regional events across Kenya to inaugural gatherings in Uganda and Tanzania, and the Tusker Oktobafest grand finale in Nairobi, the festival harmonized traditions, celebrated diversity, and highlighted the rich cultural tapestry of the East African culture

Lupita’s Little Brother Junior Nyong’o Charting His Own Path in Acting

Junior Nyongó, who is also a musician and a DJ and now a graduate of UC San Diego with an MFA in Acting, is crafting his own solid path in the world of acting with roles in major theatre productions.

Safaricom To Power Tusker OktobaFest Beer Festival

Safaricom’s involvement in OktobaFest as a technology and payments partner will focus on fostering seamless in-festival connectivity, empowering the youth and Gen Z community through Safaricom Hook, and powering digital payments through M-PESA.

Music Producers Launch Organization To Streamline Recording Industry

Recording Industry of Kenya (RIKE) was launched on 9th October 2023. Registered in 2022 as a not-for-profit organization, RIKE aims to promote the collective interests of producers of sound recordings in the country.

Nairobi’s Hero Bar Listed Among World’s 50 Best Bars

World Best Bars: Hero Bar in Nairobi continues to climb the list, moving up six places to No.62 and Johannesburg’s Sin + Tax comes in at No.94. Dubai new entry Ergo is at No.69 and Melbourne’s Byrdi has re-entered the list at No.61.

Kenyan DJs Face Off In Smirnoff Battle Of The Beats Season 3

The Smirnoff Battle of the Beats Season 3, a DJ competition, is poised to unleash an unprecedented musical frenzy countrywide.

The Highs And Lows Of Betty Kyallo, Sisters Show As Season 2 Ends

Kyallo Kulture has always been, above all, about sisterhood, and in Season 2 we have witnessed the charm of it - the ups that gave us wholesome moments as the sisters led by Betty Kyallo spent time together.
KALU MENGO
KALU MENGOhttp://www.businesstoday.co.ke
Kalu Mengo is a Senior Reporter With Business Today. Email: [email protected]

How to Invest in Kakuzi Shares

Investing your money in Kakuzi shares can help you turn money into more money, whether you are planning for retirement, looking to boost personal...

Safaricom Reveals Strategic Secrets at Ethiopia Investor Day

Safaricom PLC on Saturday 22nd Feb 2023 held its second investor day in Addis Ababa, providing an opportunity for the investment community to gain insights into the company's achievements and future plans as well as see the progress so far in Ethiopia rollout.

Safaricom Investment Co-operative Pays Out Sh142.4 Million

Safaricom Investment Co-operative shareholders have approved a ksh142.4 million rebate payout during the 15th Annual General Meeting.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here