We run a large diagnostic centre in Nairobi. Even the President was keen that we bring in the health centre here.
Indian billionaire Ravi Jaipuria is eyeing investments in dairy and hotels in the country, but said the priority is getting the US$30 million Pepsi bottling plant off the ground first.
By Chris Muronzi
Jaipuria told journalists in the capital last week construction on the US$30 million bottling plant project would start in the next two weeks and would be commissioned by early February.
“By August 15, full-fledged construction will start on the plant. We are hoping to be in production in early February. This will be the fastest plant ever we have constructed.
Even in Zambia, we were not able to start so fast and we are hoping to set a record.
With the help of the Zimbabwean people and government, we will be able to do it,” he said. Jaipuria said construction on the plant’s site would be Varun Beverages fastest ever completed project in Africa.
“We are looking at dairy business. We have a dairy running in Zambia and Kenya.
We are making juices and fruit juices. We are going to be looking at even ice cream. We are the largest manufacturer of ice cream in India. All the things that we looking at are things we are involved in. We are involved in food and beverages. Maybe later on we can look at hotels,” he said.
“In this journey, we want you to know that the Zimbabwean government was very helpful in every form. The only thing is that it took a little longer to get approvals. Construction as a result has gotten delayed. Similarly our plant resultantly got delayed.”
He said Varun was looking at investing in juices and water business.
“All equipment is already in place. It’s going to be an issue of how long the construction will take place. We already have indigenisation approvals. It has taken a bit of time to get approvals. We have gotten approvals,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe presented huge untapped opportunities in the dairy sector given the Southern African country was importing milk from South Africa.
“I think there is huge scope and huge potential in this country which is still untapped. Looking at the potential, I think it’s risk I am willing to take. The few Zimbabwean people we have hired, we have found them to be very smart and hardworking. As such, we are looking at hiring more Zimbabweans for our other projects,” he said.
Jaipuria said he was bullish about Africa and Zimbabwe.
“We are in Africa. We are in Zambia, Uganda, Morocco and Nigeria. First of all, Zim is going to be a small investment in relation to Varun beverages. I mean we are talking about US$30 million. If anything goes wrong, we can absorb it. At the same time, as chairman of the group, I am very bullish about Africa and Zim in particular. I think there is huge scope and huge potential in this country which is still untapped. Looking at the potential, I think it’s risk that I am willing to take, “ he said.
Jaipuria, India’s cola king and PepsiCo’s second-biggest bottler, said he is also looking at investing in sectors he is already invested such as hotels and health, but said this was not going to be an immediate move.
“I am invested in one of the largest hotels in India. We have 27 operating hotels and we are still expanding. We have another 15 hotels under construction. We are looking to expand outside India, but that is not in the immediate future,” he said. “We run a large diagnostic centre in Nairobi. Even the President (Robert Mugabe) was keen that we bring in the health centre here.”
Last year, the billionaire exited beer business after disposing of his 50% equity stake in a joint venture with Anheuser-Busch Inbev to his Belgian partner.
He also has an interest in fast-food outfit, Devyani International, named after his daughter. Jaipuria recently bought a minority stake in healthcare firm Medanta.
He said once the bottling plant was operational, consumers would be the biggest winner.
Jaipuria was ranked 1121 on the list of world billionaires and 50 in India by Forbes in 2016. He diversified to ice creams (Cream Bell) in 1988-89, brought PepsiCo’s fast food chain, Pizza Hut and KFC, into India in 1996, entered education in 2001, real estate in 2002-03, Costa Coffee in 2005 and beer (through a tie-up with InBev) in 2007.
He has set up a dairy in Uganda in 2005, which now controls 90% of the country’s milk market, butter, ghee, yoghurt, cheese and powder milk. The company bought a dairy in Kenya along with a local partner.