Quality is defined as “the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence. In manufacturing, this definition can further be put across as: “a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by a product”.

Soap manufacturing is a relatively new area of interest and intense research among East Africans who have lately been bitten by the manufacturing bug. An online goggle index rates Soap making in Kenya among the top searches in East Africa. A number of sites have highlighted much about the soap making industry in Kenya and Uganda and the opportunities it presents in the view of little competition among big manufacturers in this huge market.
Liberal economy, less strict manufacturing rules and information empowerment have contributed a lot in industrial revolution in countries alike Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Soap making training companies, Soap Plodder makers, have also been instrumental in fuelling the desire for individual medium scale factories among the citizens of East Africa, especially Kenya, Uganda Rwanda and Congo.

With all the bliss and prospects of raking millions through soap making business, the newcomers into this relatively new industry are faced by few uncertainties: quality of their products. Quality is what determines whether you will succeed in the manufacturing world or not. Quality of a product will also determine whether a person will be licensed to carry out the business of manufacturing. A product of low quality will not fetch good market, impacting negatively on the time and money invested in the project. Conversely, a product of high quality will not only be more demandable but will compete favorably alongside established (existing) brands while fetching more income.

In Laundry soap making, quality is what matters with the consumer. Not color, perfume, packaging or pricing. When Menengai appeared in the market already colonized by the legendary Ushindi washing bar, the popular White Star, the cheaper Kuku, and other notable brands such as Panga, Usafi, Sunlight, Kibuyu, Lido etc, local consumers all over sudden forgot about their fair prices, fancy colors and perfumes and went for it (Menengai). Menengai does not possess blue or white colours associated with a number of local brands. It does not have a unique branding from that of the mentioned brands. Menengai is not cheaper either! Infact it is the most expensive brand on the Kenyan market, yet very popular among Kenyan households. So what makes a brand worth of a higher competitive edge?

An expert at Cosmetics Kenya Ltd had this to say: “The common consumer is interested with how the Laundry bar soap cleans, lathers, foams and lasts”. “Our prospective trainees request to be trained on a soap with qualities like that of the most popular brand” he added.
When we analyzed what constitutes the values of a good laundry bar soap-as expressed by the consumers, we found out that they would be compelled to buy a laundry bar soap based on the following attributes in order of priority;
High cleaning ability
High foaming
High lathering
Smooth glossy surface of the bar
Long lasting
Soft, friendly on the nails, fingers and skin.

Herman of Cosmetics Kenya avers that Physiochemical qualities are mandatory in soap making. He says that according to Kenya Bureau of Standards, the following must meet the standardization body’s criterion:
Total Fatty Matter (TFM) content
Free un reacted Alkali
Moisture content
Odor and color
He was quick to add that proper formulation procedures, right machinery and extra formulation knowledge is what compounds a high quality soap. Our research further unearthed more information about what determines the quality of great laundry soap;

Hand Crafted Soaps
Hand crafted soaps (made by pour molds) are in a class of their own. They cannot totally match those of machine made though they are best suited for small scale manufacturers, however, the new form of pour molds (Compression Pour Trays) will provide better soap finishing. All in all, provided that the soaps are cleaning, foaming and lathering well, the outward appearance of these handcrafted soaps are of less concern to the majority of consumers.

Commercial Machine-made Soaps
The opposite is true for high level commercial soaps that are paraded together on display on the supermarket shelves. Besides pricing and outward appearance, a potential consumer will tend to pick a bar soap that is captivating on the eyes. This is where smoothness, glossy surface will first play the role of sale promotion. Far from those attributes discussed above, a consumer will stick to your brand once he/she discovers other qualities like how long the soap lasts. This attribute is enhanced by the choice of machinery (plodder).

A good plodder must be able to make a soap with top quality finish (smooth glossy surfaces) and high compacted product. The latter determines how long will a soap be used. Quick finishing soaps are a complete put-off for all consumers. Consumers will find value for their money in soaps that can last a considerable amount of time. This can only be achieved by highly compacted bars (130 Psi) produced by modern soap making machines.

Modern bar soap plodder machines like SSP and DSP series are now emerging to be the right soap makers’ tool of choice. With slightly higher prices as compared to local Jua Kali fabrications, the essence of quality work, energy saving and durability displayed by the modern soap plodding machines, they are tools worth investing on. Local Jua Kali machines retail at around Ksh. 150,000 whereas new modern machines retail at 270,00-350,00 bob. The Ksh. 120,000 difference will go a long way in establishing a workable brand, besides ensuring a long term savings in electrical consumption, tear and wear and general cost of maintenance. A newer brand of soap plodder- SSP-133Ti -retailing at approximately USD 2,843 (Ksh. 290,000) is even more better. According to the EMK assembly website, the machine has an Automatic Digitalized Temperature variable switch that plays an important role in soap cooling and heating during extrusion process. This, according to the experts, is what determines the smooth glossy appearance and compaction degree of the final product. The little animal has a capacity of 15-20 dozens per hour.

KEBS Standards
For a product like laundry bar soap to be accepted in supermarket shelves, a KEBS standardization mark should appear on the wrapping. This is in accordance with the Kenyan laws that protect consumer rights. Soap Moisture Content, Free Alkali, Odor, color etc emanate from the right formulation procedure. Credible institutions offering up-to-date training in soap making can guide a new manufacturer into making the right choices of raw material, using the best known methods of formulation procedures and the required general knowledge of soap making. In keeping abreast with the KEBS’ specifications for accrediting a standard bar soap, (including the right size, weight, length and hardness), the choice of the right machinery (that is instrumental in determining these physical) qualities comes in handy. As you will learn from the trainers, the soap is categorized as Grade I, II & III. Various considerations are employed in grading the bar soap. The cost of production of Grade I is higher than that of grade II and III. However, the higher the grade, the costlier it is to the consumer. But as we saw earlier, the consumer is interested with better performance (high grade) of the soap, not vice versa. This means smarter earning (better profits) for the soap maker. Consider Menengai as a classical example.
ARTICLE BY: K. Kithinji (Formulation Consultant).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are for general information and are not on paid endorsement for any of the mentioned products or services.