A family tragedy spurred Adeshola Ladoja to pursue his dreams and get his hands dirty making juice.
A colorful display of Simply Green Juices’ latest products, arranged neatly in the fridge, is hard to miss at the company’s store in Victoria Island, Lagos.
As the May sun streams through the balcony, a gleaming display of the popular juice – with the names Funky Beet, Pick Me Up, Cleanse Intense, Refresh and Get Naked –sparkle in the light. As a leader in Nigeria’s cold pressed juice market, Simply Green is a story born of tragedy.
“When I lost my brother, I told myself ‘you need to go back and do what you love doing’. I said to myself ‘why do you have to do something just for money, why don’t you do something you enjoy?’ I know a lot about farming so I thought to myself, ‘what is the one thing that you cannot find in Lagos?’” says Adeshola Ladoja, the Chief Executive Officer of Simply Green Juices.
The answer came from Ladoja’s childhood dream of being in the field.
“I always wanted to retire as a farmer on a rocking chair, just chilling. I went to my dad’s farm, which was rundown and had been closed, and I got some seeds and planted them and it started growing after some weeks. I said ‘ok, this is what I would like to do at 50 so why not start now’,” he says.
Ladoja’s journey has taken him on many paths. At the New York Institute of Technology he studied aeronautic engineering after which he worked as a systems integrator with Nortel Networks in New York. Following a four-year stint working with his dad on his farm, Ladoja decided to part ways to cut his teeth in yet another field.
“My dad and I didn’t have the same goal or plan towards the farm. He wanted something different from me; I got very frustrated and I decided to leave. I had nothing to do and became very broke and then I got a job at Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company. At this point I was thinking this is not my life. I want something better for my future,” says Ladoja.
It is this eye on the future saw hi buy his own farm in Ido, Oyo State, that has seen Simply Green Juices grow from a one-man business to a leader in the cold pressed juice market. From near anonymity two years ago when Ladoja started out, to a strong presence in Nigeria’s cosmopolitan city of Lagos, Ladoja will never forget the hard work it took to build his brand.
“I started off with a juicer that I used my dad’s credit card to pay for. It was $300.
I would wake up early in the morning to get the fruits, then I would use the juicer to blend it and by 6AM it’s in my trunk driving around Lekki ready to be dropped off for customers. Then I would go back and do the next shift. So I would do the morning shift from 12 midnight and then the afternoon shift will start from 2PM to 6PM.”
Traditional centrifugal juice extractors typically use a fast spinning metal blade, which generates heat and destroys some of the enzymes in the fruits and vegetables. Ladoja opted for cold pressed juicers, which first crush and then press the fruit and vegetables for the highest juice yield. According to him, Simply Green Juices was the first to market with this new trend.
The early days were full of ups and downs. Firstly, there was the issue of manpower.
“Staffing was a big problem. I had a challenge finding the right team. There were a lot of financial problems also because I had no money and I had to really grow the company from scratch.”
Then came battling Nigeria’s erratic power supply.
“There was no power to produce my juices so I had to use the little money I had to buy fuel to turn on my generator so I could work. Without money, it was very difficult also trying to push the product into the market. We were competing with 5Alive juice and other well-known brands already in the market with bigger budgets.”
“I started to understand why most farmers do not have money and why most farmers in Nigeria are broke and I knew the only way I could be successful was to add value and show how to make money from farming,” says Ladoja.
Ladoja decided to buck the trend. Instead of focusing on profits he turned his attention to expansion.
“I never thought about the money, I just thought I need to give my clients what they wanted until one day I realized that we had money in the bank account to actually expand. So we decided to expand, I got one staff member and I got a bike for delivery so I didn’t have to do it myself and then it just grew from there,” he says.
When Simply Green Juices started, it produced six bottles a day. By the end of the first month of business, that figure had increased to over 100 bottles. The company averages about 60 bottles a day and has launched a new range of products called Today’s Harvest. Ladoja isn’t resting on his laurels though; he wants to change Nigerian agriculture.
“We plan to reduce the importation of greens we bring into the country. The reason we import a lot of things, like vegetables, into Nigeria is because we don’t add value to what we grow and that is a big problem. So we are starting with vegetables and also milk, cheese, butter and everything to do with dairy. We are creating the first organic farm-to-table concept in Nigeria,” says Ladoja.
Ladoja is finally realizing his purpose, quenching the thirst of Nigeria while spending his days in the fields of his farm.