Entrepreneur wants Nigerians to drink locally-grown coffee instead of imports

Princess Adeyinka Tekenah

Princess Adeyinka Tekenah

We speak to Princess Adeyinka Tekenah, CEO of Happy Coffee Nigeria, a brand involved in the retail of coffee and related equipment.

Business opportunities
– Developing Nigeria’s nascent coffee industry

Trends watch
– Some Nigerian consumers are switching from instant coffee to the freshly-brewed variety

1. Explain how you started the business.

Happy Coffee is an indigenous coffee brand launched in 2015. The idea for the business started when I was in college in America. I read a book called ‘Pour Your Heart Into It’ by Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. I was inspired by how he transformed the entire coffee culture in America and the world. I told myself that whenever an opportunity arose for me to start my own business, it would be coffee.

So fast forward to 2015, when there was a call for African entrepreneurs to submit ideas for the Tony Elumelu Foundation entrepreneurship programme. I applied to launch a coffee brand and I got selected to receive the $5,000 seed capital with which I started the business.

From the beginning, the goal was to ensure Nigerians had access to locally-grown coffee. Nigeria grows coffee, but people were drinking imported products. Our business looks at creating solutions for the challenges holding back Nigeria’s coffee sector.

At first we created a mobile café and sold coffee at events. After about a year, people started asking us whether we had a place where they could come to drink coffee. This led to our first pop-up café in 2017. Customers then requested to buy our coffee beans for home consumption. Our business has evolved in this way. From the pop-up café, we started bagging our own house blend which is freshly roasted coffee from Nigerian farmers.

Within Happy Coffee we now have three pop-up cafés located in Lagos as well as a coffee station at one of the banks. We also have our own ready-to-drink coffee, coffee filter bags (which look like tea bags) as well as equipment to prepare coffee. Whether at home or work, our customers now have access to a decent cup of coffee.

Happy Coffee’s house blend

2. Where is the coffee produced?

We are coffee retailers. We buy our coffee from a roaster in Lagos, which sources directly from local farmers. The roaster has created a special blend for us.

3. Who are your main competitors?

Most Nigerians drink instant coffee. However, there is a growing trend of people asking for fresh coffee. We are creating our own niche by converting Nigerians from instant coffee to freshly-brewed coffee. Our direct competitors are other coffee retailers like ourselves in Lagos as well as imported products found in supermarkets.

4. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

Coffee is not a priority agricultural commodity in Nigeria and there aren’t many policies to support the development of the sector.

However, one of the biggest challenges that I faced was last year when we started the Lagos Coffee Festival. We wanted to bring together coffee value chain stakeholders – everyone from the government, to farmers, to consumers – to start a dialogue on how to build the Nigerian coffee industry.

A Happy Coffee pop-up café

It was very tough because we weren’t able to get any banks or corporations to sponsor the event. Normally in Nigeria, large companies would sponsor events such as these. However, we didn’t get one single sponsor. We therefore had to work with other SMEs that partnered with us to make the event happen. For me, this was a really challenging time. It was discouraging that the large sponsors didn’t come on board. However, in the end we got it done and it was fairly successful.

5. Share your thoughts on Nigeria’s economy.

The Nigerian economy has faced many challenges in recent years and these have been exacerbated by Covid. We definitely have leadership issues and a lack of solid policies. We are still heavily focused on oil and there doesn’t seem to be an understanding of how small businesses contribute to economic growth. With regards to the coffee sector, there hasn’t been adequate engagement with stakeholders. One cannot create effective policies without consulting with those operating on the ground.

6. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?

When I started the company I assumed I would have more time for myself. However, I discovered all my time belongs to the business – my every waking moment. I even dream about selling coffee.

Further reading

[August 2020] The journey so far: Mdingase Tewete, managing director, Kombeza Foods (Malawi)
[August 2020] How Kenya’s Flora Mutahi built a tea company from the ground up
[July 2020] Entrepreneur sees opportunity for childcare-related e-commerce and information
[July 2020] Nigeria: Former Diamond Bank CEO introduces new digital banking platform
[June 2020] Zimbabwe-based entrepreneur wants to create a global market for baobab products