Here is how a small Kenyan business is helping low income consumers access nutritious food products

Organi Limited is a sweet potato processing business in Homa Bay, Kenya, and is one of the over 60 companies that have been supported by the Marketplace for Nutritious Foods across four countries in East Africa since 2014. This program, funded by USAID and GAIN, is designed to foster innovation and drive investment in the production, marketing, and consumption of nutritious foods made from locally-produced agricultural products. The Marketplace provides access to knowledge, networks, and technical and financial assistance to help businesses in low-income countries use local agriculture to contribute to the fight against malnutrition.

Our Marketplace team in Kenya recently sat down with Consolata Bryant, Organi’s CEO, to learn about her experience as a woman entrepreneur and how her business is helping improve the nutrition of many poor consumers who live in Western Kenya.

Could you give us an overview of your business in terms of products, target market, sales volume, number of employees, facilities, etc…?

We currently have 18 staff, including 2 watchmen, a project manager who works with farmers to make sure that we have the raw products delivered into the facility, a production manager and 15 production staff.

The company is selling about 2.5 tons of orange-fleshed sweet potato puree a week – sometimes 1.5 or 2 tons depending on demand. However, the company is capable of producing 1 ton a day.

We also recruit farmers, give them seedlings and guarantee purchase of their produce. We try to source raw materials and do processing daily.

How did the idea of this business come about?

I didn’t think of the idea myself and I didn’t know much about sweet potatoes. Back in 2013, the Homa Bay county government came to the United States, where I reside, looking for Kenyan investors. The governor of Homa Bay wanted somebody to invest in their sweet potatoes and ended up approaching me. They wanted market access for their sweet potatoes. I had to research why the sweet potatoes in the area did not have any type of market access and were being wasted. At that point, I learned about the benefits of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP), which are more nutritious than the white sweet potatoes that were being grown in that area and provide high levels of vitamin A to vulnerable populations. I decided that it was important to invest in the production of OFSP and worked with farmers to convince them to introduce this new variety.

During that time, the International Potato Center (CIP) was also focusing on OFSP, so we ended up working together with the farmers to promote this product. That’s how I got into this area.

How did your business evolve? What were some important milestones?

We started our business by producing sweet potato flour. We would dry the potatoes, make them into flour and use it for baking. At that time, CIP linked us with Tuskys, a major supermarket chain in Kenya that was interested in a puree product. Since the OFSP bread was a new product and we were unsure about how it was going to be received in the community, we felt like the puree product with Tuskys was a better opportunity to get an immediate market access. Therefore, we started producing puree instead.

Initially, we negotiated a two year exclusive supply relationship of the OFSP puree with Tuskys for 1 ton per day. However, Tuskys was only able to sell around 200kg – 500kg per day. For this reason, we are now looking to engage new distribution partners.

Meanwhile, we are working with a baker to train other bakeries in the Homa Bay area to bake puree-based bread. We developed our own formula baker for 4 products, including low sugar, sugar-free, whole grain and whole grain sugar-free bread. We found that in local markets, people make their choices based on the price instead of the nutrition quality of the bread, and they prefer the white-fleshed sweet potato bread because it tends to be sweeter. We are now applying for certification for the bread in order to be able to approach other distribution channels.

Moreover, we are also looking to develop OFSP puree-based nutritious biscuits, which are currently being produced and sold in Rwanda. In addition to the nutrition benefits, these products provide advantages also in terms of easy transportation and storage.

How did you learn about the Marketplace and how is it helping you advance your business?

I was introduced to GAIN by CIP when I was looking for grant to expand our production. Thanks to the technical assistance provided by GAIN, we have done market research and developed a detailed business plan. GAIN is also helping us put in an application for an interest free loan to support our business.

What are the target consumers for your nutritious products?

In Kenya, different crops yield better in different areas. Sweet potatoes really yield well in Homa Bay and are the main cash crop. I plan to keep working with OFSP producers in this county and keep supporting the local farmers.

The target customers of Tuskys are middle income population who may be more aware of the health benefits of OFSP. As for the bread, we are promoting it through local bakeries, aiming to reach lower income consumers.

What do you wish to achieve for the success of your business?

I wish to increase consumer demand for our products. I know the OFSP is a good, healthy product. I feel that more people should be aware of its nutritional value. I always believe that, with time, this product will gain market access and I will feel even more strongly about the decision to invest in this business.

I also intend to keep the promise I gave to the farmers that I am going to give them market access and we are going to fight for it. This is what motivates me.

What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Kenya?

When you are an entrepreneur, you often fail several times before you succeed. But the many challenges I encounter along the way don’t make me lose my stamina in pursuing this project.

Starting a business Kenya can be quite complicated, especially in terms of having the right infrastructures. Simple things like electricity may be lacking in certain areas and having access to them costs a lot of resources. And even after you get electricity, you still have to deal with frequent outages!

I also found that, especially as a female entrepreneur, some people might not take you seriously. You have to really show everyone that you are serious about what you are doing and keep your words and integrity.

My advice for young entrepreneurs is that if you believe in something, keep on trying and never give up. As a company owner, I also treat my employees, farmers and clients the way I would like myself to be treated. I think that pays a lot in business.

Learn more about the Marketplace for Nutritious Foods program

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Published 16 August 2017