Evergreen Juices Liberia One Day At A Time
Monrovia – What began as a homemade drink for her family is steadily becoming a business for Verity Evergreen Neufville-Sonkarlay and her husband, Ralph.
A geologist by training and a media specialist by profession, the mother of two started making bissap (a drink popular in Francophone Africa), ginger beer, and other natural juices for her family to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
“I used to do it just for the house and I had a lot of friends coming by—his friends, my friends—and it’s something that they usually enjoyed whenever they come,” she said.
That decision led to the establishment of Evergreen Group of Companies, aptly named after her. Evergreen produces ginger beer (sweetened and unsweetened), orange and mango juices, and bissap. A gallon costs US$10 and it is free of artificial preservatives.
“Then we started trying different kinds of stuff with it—mixing it with different kinds of alcohol and all that. Since it’s something that people like and looking at a lot of the health benefits associated with it, we decided to go public with it.”
And Verity says the reception has been nothing short of amazing since launching sales to the public.
“It’s been amazing because it’s something he [Ralph] encouraged me to go public with this because it’s not something I really thought I was going to do,” she mentioned. She said orders are often tailored to the health needs of her customers and the ingredients used have been overlooked for a long time.
“Some people are diabetic and some people suffer from high blood pressure—the bissap, on the other hand, is good for that. It also helps people with cholesterol issues. With the ginger, a lot of people just know ginger for cold and all that but it goes way beyond. And then the tamarind—which a lot of people don’t know—is very nutritional.”
The skills to do all of this, she revealed, can be attributed to a childhood spent in the Ivory Coast and the internet.
“As a child, I lived in Cote d’ Ivoire and the bissap and tamarind – that’s the traditional drink for the Francophone countries—so I got to know them when I was that small. A lot of the things I do, I kind of read. I’m always on my phone—it’s either Youtube, or it’s Pinterest or it’s something.”
Verity said sales have been encouraging since launching the products on the market a few months ago. However, demand has slowed down due to COVID-19. “It’s been good, very, very good. With the exception of this month [May] but before then it was actually very good.”
On the upside, she added, the demand for the “Evergreen special” has been overflowing. “When COVID-19 came we learned that ginger had a part to play, we came up with the Evergreen special. With that, we did the ginger, lime, and honey. The demand for it increased and then unfortunately we could not find it on the market.”
In spite of Evergreen being a start-up, it has gone on to make charitable inroads during the COVID-19 lockdown, donating face masks and juices to JFK Hospital and every checkpoint in Paynesville. It’s an idea she credits to her husband who is a marketing specialist.
“He told me when you’re starting a new business, it’s not about the profit you make, it’s about you reaching out to people, it’s about you creating that customer base.”
Though the company is still new on the block, it has managed to strike up partnerships to supply its products. Evergreen currently supplies juices to D’ Calabash Hotel, its single biggest customer.
Lester Kroma, CEO of D’Calabash Hotel, says there has been no fundamental complaint from customers since Evergreen began supplying the hotel. “Prior to COVID-19, customers said it was very good. We have had no fundamental complaints, even though there’s been a drop in sales.”
A shy person, Verity relies on her extrovert husband Ralph to do marketing which, he says, is his field and he appears to possess a natural acumen for it.
“It takes me back to my background – I studied business management and from there I worked on my masters in project management and business development and since then I have grown that passion for marketing, even when I was in school,” he said.
“I have always been this guy who always tries to find solutions to problems – whenever I see an opportunity that helps to solve a problem, I always like to get myself involved – so that has been a growing concern behind how I use my energy, I use my time to sell those products.”
Armed with this, he says he has approached potential clients including Murex Plaza, Monroe Chicken, and various supermarkets across the city. “Two major things they have raised are COVID-19 and the packaging.”
But Verity adds that it’s something being worked on as it’s their long-term goal for every child to drink Evergreen than artificial imported products.
“We want to reach out to supermarkets, we want to reach out to parents because, for me, I’d rather my children take bissap to school than to take cool-aid or the artificial juices in the bottles,” she added.
While Evergreen continues to steadily grow, it has its fair share of challenges that are abounding – raw materials. But the couple is deciding to tackle it head-on.
“We’re also thinking of going into the farming of the raw materials because it’s kind of hard. A lot of times when they bring those things from wherever they get them from—whether it’s Guinea Ivory Coast or in Liberia—they don’t really care for it much; especially wherein they want it to ripen faster.”
The foreseeable future looks bright for the newly minted company. And for Ralph, a marketing specialist who studied strategy and sales at Harvard, profit-making is totally out the picture – at least for now.
“When you introduce a product, you don’t maximize profit at that initial stage. What you do is, advertise more so that it can become a brand. A segment of the market has accepted me. Another segment of the market still has a problem with me because of the packaging.”
And the goal, for now, he adds, is to make sure Evergreen is accepted wholly.