Côte d’Ivoire: Building a cosmetics business with shea butter

Mouahié Kouassi, founder of Agrikraft posing for a picture while holding her products.

Mouahié Kouassi, founder of Agrikraft posing for a picture while holding her products.

By Ange Kumasi, bird story agency

Mouahié Kouassi founded Agrikraft, a cosmetics business in Côte d’Ivoire, that transforms locally-sourced shea butter into various products.

Twenty-seven-year-old Mouahié Kouassi is in a hurry to get to her cosmetics store in the upmarket suburb of Cocody in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She needs to urgently take stock of her inventory and review the sales from the previous week, as she’s worried about a possible delay in stock deliveries.

“Our production plant is undergoing renovation, and we have taken all necessary measures to ensure our products are still available in our commercial spaces. But I still need to confirm that we have enough remaining stock to fulfil client orders,” she explains.

Kouassi, who holds degrees in biological engineering and agronomy from France and Austria and a master’s degree in international agribusiness, returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 2019 to put her knowledge to use by processing locally-sourced agricultural products.

She decided to start with shea butter, commonly referred to in her home country as ‘women’s gold’.

“I chose shea butter because it’s a product I’ve used since I was a child for my hair and body … I realised that in Europe, people tend to transform and consume what they produce, which is not the case in Côte d’Ivoire. With my mostly young and female team, we transform shea butter into innovative natural cosmetics for hair and body,” explained Kouassi.

A government study released in 2018 reveals that shea butter ranks as the country’s third-largest export product. The annual yield is 250,000 tonnes, positioning Côte d’Ivoire as the fifth-highest global exporter of shea butter. Despite this, a significant proportion of this shea crop is exported in its raw state, with minimal value addition taking place domestically. Agrikraft hopes to change that.

To set up her company, Agrikraft, Kouassi received financial support from her family and, in addition to this, received two million CFA francs (3,270 US dollars) through her participation in a support programme for small agro-transformation, organised by the Chamber of Commerce of Côte d’Ivoire.

The shea butter supplied to Kouassi comes from women residing in the rural areas of Korhogo, in the northern region of Côte d’Ivoire. These women send their shea butter to Kouassi monthly by bus.

Agrikraft products made from shea butter on display.

Agrikraft products made from shea butter on display.

“When we receive the stock of shea butter, we set to work to transform this natural butter which is done step by step. We do everything carefully under hygienic conditions, from processing to boxing and packaging,” said Kouame Olivia, one of the employees of Agrikraft.

On receipt, the shea is weighed and moved to production, where it’s mixed, whipped, and occasionally hand-kneaded for a smoother, finer product.

The team adds other ingredients to obtain cosmetic creams. Once the shea product is prepared, it is packaged and labelled. Samples are then sent to a laboratory for testing and approval. Once approved, the product is distributed to various points of sale, including grocery stores and pharmacies.

Confronted by the distinctive smell and texture of a vegetable product, Kouassi saw not a hurdle, but an opportunity to innovate. “As a biologist, I wondered how I could try to solve the smell and texture problems to make shea butter easier to use and that’s how I started producing vanilla and lemon whipped shea butter,” she explained.

Her company currently offers a variety of shea body butter types, including vanilla, lemon, and baobab whipped shea butter, as well as the classic plain shea butter. All her products comply with organic certification standards.

Kouassi sells approximately 500 jars of Agrikraft products daily, priced between nine and 10 US dollars.

The products are not only sold in Côte d’Ivoire but are also being exported to other countries. “Due to the high demand from foreign customers, we have decided to set up a sales outlet in Gatineau, Canada, and I know soon I’ll also be in many other countries,” Kouassi noted.

/bird story agency