Ethiopian spice exporter discovers new markets in Africa

Senai Wolderufael is the 27 year-old Ethiopian entrepreneur behind Feed Green Ethiopia Exports. Prior to starting the company in 2012, Wolderufael was a customer service agent at Ethiopian Airlines where he noticed members of the Ethiopian diaspora carrying bags full of Ethiopian spice blends – such as Berbere and Shiro – when travelling back to the west.

Senai Wolderufael, founder of Feed Green Ethiopia Exports

Senai Wolderufael, founder of Feed Green Ethiopia Exports

Seeing the demand, Wolderufael had the idea to get his export business licence and produce Ethiopian spice blends to supply his countrymen living in the US and Europe.

Wolderufael and his business partner, Eyob Weldegabriel, started Feed Green Ethiopia Exports with less than US$2,000 startup capital. The company has since found new export markets for its spices and processed food products in Africa, and has also recently decided to start exporting Ethiopian coffee. How we made it in Africa speaks to Wolderufael about the potential he sees for the business in Africa, and what it is like to be a young entrepreneur in Ethiopia.

When you initially started your company, you were catering purely to the Ethiopian diaspora but have since started exporting your spices to other African countries. Tell us about this potential.

We were targeting Ethiopian restaurants all over the world, shipping them processed food products and spices. We then moved onto international clients who are not Ethiopians, shipping them internationally known spices like black cumin, caraway seeds, ginger and the like. We started to learn that some African countries actually import some of these spices from Asia, which we can easily supply at good quality and at a better price. We now know that even Africa is a huge market for our products. So this led us to [see] the huge potential market some African countries like Nigeria and Ghana possess, so we also started [focusing] on that too.

Where do you source your spices from?

We get our spices straight from farmers on their farms. We offer them good prices if they give us good quality. With this we developed a good business relationship with our suppliers; they understand us, as we understand them. We collect the spices and then process them further – we wash them, dry them, inspect them by hand, and then we pack them. For our dry food items, we have our own production in two of our production facilities in Addis Ababa. Production of our dry food items takes up to 20 days depending on the quantity.

What are some of the challenges you face as an entrepreneur in Ethiopia?

As a business in Ethiopia we faced many challenges. One of the main challenges we face every day would be a lack of information. Since Ethiopia is a developing country, rules and regulations change frequently, and we will learn of the changes when we face them, or when the rules apply to us, and that causes us to delay on delivery of shipments. We also face some challenges like price fluctuation, infrastructure and logistical problems which are understandable as we live in Ethiopia. But as an exporter we also get benefits from the government, as the government appreciates and helps exporters.

Do you think it is becoming easier or more difficult to be an entrepreneur in Ethiopia?

I believe it’s easier to be an entrepreneur in Ethiopia, as the country has a huge potential, and the country is developing very fast. This opens up many opportunities for young people like us to start something that can help themselves and their country.

What characteristics do you think make a good entrepreneur?

I believe an entrepreneur should be strong, hard working, patient, a risk taker, a person who can see things from a wide perspective, a person who can forecast the future and a person who is not afraid.

Where would you like to see you and your company in five to 10 years?

After 10 years, I see Feed Green Ethiopia Exports becoming one of the largest food companies on the continent. When we started in January 2013, we started with less than $2,000, but at the end of December 2013, we had a revenue of more than $100,000. This gave us a big morale [boost] to go further, and we are working hard to triple our revenue by the end of this year. And as of April 2014, we will enter into the huge coffee market. Ethiopian coffee is one of the best qualities in the world and the country is number one in Africa for exporting coffee… So currently, we have three projects at hand: international spices, Ethiopian processed food products and now coffee. I guess we will have to see what the next decade holds for Feed Green Ethiopia Exports.