Prudence Ukkonika’s wine shop is by a dusty petrol station in Wandegeya in Kampala.
A giant wine bottle is positioned outside her shop, and inside is a profusion of pink – pink wine bottles and cases from floor to ceiling, and finally Ukkonika herself, who climbs down the stairs from her upstairs office, in a pink dress.
She is Uganda’s most famous female wine entrepreneur. The 61-year-old grandmother of 10 is the owner of K-Roma, a company that manufactures, packages and distributes Bella Wine and a range of natural fruit concentrates, ready-to-drink juices and teas.
As a teenager, Ukkonika would watch her father trade local brew in Kigezi, a district in southwest Uganda. That stoked her interest, and with several public administration and business administration degrees under her belt later on in life, she started the wine business.
Her unique selling proposition for Bella, which derives its name from the acronym ‘Belief Leads to Long-lasting Achievement’, is that her wines and juices are sourced from organic and natural fruits, free from chemicals and other additives.
Besides the sweet reds, her best-sellers, she says, are hibiscus wine and a range of hibiscus teas, especially conducive for those with diabetes and high blood pressure.
“I refuse blood pressure tablets. I take hibiscus tea and wine and I am okay,” she says.
The real inspiration for the wine business was her late son Godwin. He was in his 20s when he saw a future in wine.
“He saw people enjoying local wine more, so he took an interest in it, and like me, he was an entrepreneur, selling wine after school,” says Ukkonika.
When tragedy struck and Godwin passed away, she says she wanted to run away from Uganda, but stayed.
“He was so close to me, and he inspired me to continue the business,” she says.
By 2013, she took courses in wine-making and started marketing the wines in a big way.
For the last 37 years, Ukkonika has also worked at the Ministry of Finance. So she has had a fully-fledged career.
“They supported me the most, as I was running the wine business and also selling to staff.”
She was producing the wines in her garage at home. With business growing, she then rented a place in Muyenga, using 200-liter drums to store the wines.
Today, she sells the wines – an average of 200 bottles a day – to retail supermarkets across Uganda, and they are also popular across the borders in Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya.
Her company makes seven different types of wines, among them those made of passion fruit, tree tomato, and a combination of pineapple and hibiscus that she calls ‘special wine’.
The variously-colored labels on her bottles are from China.
“There are many people trying to copy our products and put on fake labels, so I had to go to China to get special shiny labels,” says Ukkonika.
These labels can also be customized. In her shop, an entire rack is devoted to wines personalized for prenuptial events, weddings and graduation ceremonies. These include images of happy couples on their wedding day plastered onto the bottles.
Ukkonika regularly attends wine expos around the world, and has plans to expand her business as she already has a factory.
Pointing to the wall adorned with the numerous certificates and awards she has won over the years, Ukkonika says: “I started with nothing; and reached where I did.”
She attained all her business degrees after age 31 and “giving birth to six children in seven years”.
Today, her weeks are busy but the weekends are filled with family and lots of Bella Wine.
“Everybody else’s wine is from grapes, but I make it from all fruits. I never look at competition but work on how to make my wine better,” says Ukkonika, who, like the wine she sells, seems to keep getting better with age.