From Multinational to Start-up: a Ghanaian Entrepreneur’s Commitment to Providing Affordable Nutrition
Seven years ago, 42 year old Samuel Kwame Ntim Adu was a manager at a multinational company in Ghana. Today, from the agricultural heart of Ghana, he is running his own company of over 40 employees from food scientists to engineers to factory hands. Yedent Agro Processing Ventures is developing an instant maize-based product enriched with vitamins and minerals that is the first of its kind on the market due to its affordability and natural integration with breastfeeding. Its goal is to improve the nutrition of more than one million children during their first 1,000 days of life, when they require the right nutrition to develop well mentally and physically throughout their life.
Q. How did you get into the food business?
A. I resigned from Unilever Ghana in 2002 to set up Yedent. People thought I was crazy since I had a good career. My family is from Kwahu/Nteso in the Eastern Region and the Kwahu people are known to be entrepreneurs so perhaps I have it in my blood. But I saw an opportunity to go beyond selling international brands and establish brands made from locally grown staple foods people from my country are eating every day. I wanted to be closer to the vulnerable families in rural areas who cannot afford the big brands. In Ghana, the market for complementary food products for children is dominated by multinationals whose prices are out of reach for the economically vulnerable and susceptible to malnutrition. We plan to sell our product for 50 percent less than what is available on the market - $0.40 for a 100 gram sachet compared to the current market price of $0.80 for a 100 gram sachet. We will pack our product in a 50 gram sachet (enough for 2 servings) and sell it for US $0.20.
Q. How is GAIN helping your business?
A. GAIN is helping us create a new market for more nutritious food products that celebrate indigenous foods and that are affordable for poor, vulnerable families. With the non-governmental organization PATH, GAIN helped us fund a study to understand the eating habits of Ghanaian families and how mothers feed their children, and, based on the findings, we are now confident we are developing the right product that responds to the needs of the vulnerable. GAIN’s investment of US$ 1.75 million will help us move from a non-instant maize-based food enriched with vitamins and minerals to an instant one by helping us purchase the technology and put in place the procedures to manufacture an instant product. It will also strengthen our sales and distribution efforts so we can ensure our products are available in the remotest of mini shops in rural communities where most people buy food and register them in other African markets. At the same time, GAIN is helping strengthen our local capacity in quality assurance and in building demand for the product through creating more consumer awareness around the importance of access to the right nutrition. As a convener and global platform for nutrition, GAIN is also helping us align our strategic goals with civil society, international organizations and business with a similar mission.
Q. How are you helping fight child malnutrition sustainably in Ghana where more than 30 percent of children between 0 and 59 months old in rural areas suffer from chronic malnutrition?
A. We are contributing US$ 3.6 million, or more than 60 percent of the total investment budget of the effort. Besides our own capital, we have an excellent management team of Ghanaians with knowledge, expertise and a clear corporate vision. We also rely on available local raw materials. Our products are made from maize, soya and millet, which are grown in the Brong-Ahafo Region, our cereal belt, and consumed widely by poor populations. Our production factory is in Sunyani, the region’s capital, so we can be close to local farmers. We buy 90 percent of maize and 100 percent of soya and millet from small-scale farmers. Local social entrepreneurs are crucial to the fight against malnutrition because they understand the psyche of the people and local market dynamics. Recently, we sent our food scientists to advise a small food processor in the area who approached us about how to transition from a non-instant food like we started with to an instant food product. We need more competition from local businesses.
Q. Who has influenced you most in your life?
A. Yedent is my mother’s middle name. She passed away. I named my company in memory of her since she had and continues to have a big influence on my life. She gave me values and principles. My wife has also been my courage, strength and motivation throughout my career as has my faith. Every day I wake up at 6am to meditate and pray. Books have given me the business thinking I apply daily. I have read a lot about successful entrepreneurs and their experiences have inspired me. My kids influence me too. I have two girls and two boys between the ages of four and twelve and when I am not working I try to spend as much time with them as I can.
Interview by Karie Atkinson, Writer/Editor, GAIN Email [email protected]