Origin of Big G, Kenya’s Biggest Chewing Gum. the Big G was the biggest chewing gum brand beloved by the old, the young and everyone in between. It was a household name. Its distinct larger size (as compared to other pellets in the market), red cover branding, and yellow wording made the product conspicuously stand out from the fold.
The man behind Big G, George Owino, was a humble Kenyan who hailed from Kateg Jera village in Ugenya, Siaya County. He was the first Kenyan employee when Wrigley, a subsidiary of US-based Mars Incorporated, began operations in the country in 1971.
Very few people, however, can put a face to the founding of the now-ubiquitous chewing gum named after the late Sir George Owino. Owino’s journey to the top began in 1971 when he broke history by becoming the first-ever Kenyan employee at the then newly launched Wrigley Company in the country. The company is the force behind some of the beloved chewing gums such as Juicy Fruit, Double Mint and Orbit.
At his new workstation, he was hired as a marketer but according to reports, he was not entirely impressed by the pellets that formed a huge chunk of the chewing gum market.
Owino wanted a slightly bigger gum and so the Big G was born. At the time, it was the first gum to be manufactured in such a size in the world, differentiating itself in the market.
When the product hit the shelves, an intense marketing strategy to popularise it countrywide was launched and by 1983, it was already competing with the market leaders.
With the success came promotions. Sir George then grew up the ranks in the company which had then expanded its operations to several countries on the continent.
He later became the chairman of Wrigley’s in East Africa.
Born in 1941, Owino rose from a humble background as the only child of Patrick Owidh and Maria Obiero. He proceeded to Sega Primary School from where he proceeded to Shimo la Tewa Intermediate School.
He started off as a sales supervisor and was promoted to a field manager in the same year. As a marketer, Mr Owino promoted Wrigley brands such as Doublemint, Orbit and Juicy Fruit, among others, in the East African market.
Due to high demand for a big chewing gum, he convinced the company to manufacture Big G. Wrigley put up the only manufacturing plant in Nairobi, which helped him to aggressively market Big G in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
He served as Wringley’s Chairman to his retirement in 1998 and passed away in July 2004.
His entrepreneurial skills earned him several opportunities to meet with former President Daniel Arap Moi as Wrigley became a key player in the economy. He owned posh cars and had two homes in the capital.
“When I visited him at his Lavington home, he received me with a fleet of vehicles. When I asked him the need for all of them, he joked that those were like his cows and would sell them,” said Mr Ngala.
Mr Owino retired on medical grounds in 1998 after he was diagnosed with kidney failure that saw him suffer a stroke. His wife termed the moments as the most devastating for the family as they saw their loved one waste away to the disease before he succumbed in 2004.
He had four wives and 11 children spread in the US, Australia and Kenya.
Due to financial challenges, the family sold all his vehicles and their posh homes in Kilimani and Lavington in Nairobi.