Five successful African food entrepreneurs who are hungry for more

With vast areas of untapped arable land and over a billion mouths to feed, Africa’s food industry holds immense potential. A new book, titled How we made it in Africa (Purchase here), includes the stories five businesspeople who’ve started food-related companies. We take a brief look at each of their ventures.

Tseday Asrat, Kaldi’s Coffee (Ethiopia)

In 2003, Tseday Asrat, CEO of Kaldi’s Coffee, was managing two thriving clothing boutiques in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. Then, due to city planning and expansion, she was forced to vacate both premises, bringing her stint as a fashion entrepreneur to an end.

However, Tseday didn’t let that deter her. A year later she opened the first Kaldi’s Coffee café, modelled on international concepts such as Starbucks and Costa. Today Kaldi’s has 38 cafés in operation and employs more than 1,800 people. The company’s total sales in Ethiopia in 2017 amounted to 155 million birr ($5.5m).

As Kaldi’s grew, it became increasingly difficult to maintain consistency in quality across the different outlets. Each café was sourcing milk from local dairy farmers but it was often watered down or of poor quality. It also obtained coffee from different suppliers, which meant the quality fluctuated. Customer complaints began to come in.

“Instead of giving up, I saw it as an opportunity to start our own supply company to assure Kaldi’s of the quality and quantities it needs. It motivated me to do more and create more jobs,” Tseday says. As a result, she diversified and added a dairy producer and milk-processing company, Loni Agro, as well as a roastery which buys coffee on the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) to her business interests.

*** HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA: THE BOOK. Learn from the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who’ve built thriving businesses. Purchase here. ***

Monica Musonda, Java Foods (Zambia)

Monica Musonda

It was Monica Musonda’s experience as an employee of Dangote Group – a Nigerian multinational founded by one of Africa’s richest men, Aliko Dangote – that inspired her to take the plunge, quit her job and start Zambia-based Java Foods.

She frequently accompanied Dangote on business trips and recalls that when they visited Zambia, he would ask: ‘Where are the Zambian businessmen? Why aren’t there more, and why are they not taking up the opportunities?’

“He could clearly see the opportunities in Zambia and that’s what encouraged me to see things differently here,” Musonda notes.

The company’s first product was an instant noodle brand called Eezee Noodles. At first, not many people believed the company would gain traction in the Zambian food industry which was largely dominated by multinationals. However, within three years Eezee Noodles was Zambia’s biggest instant noodle brand and still accounts for 80% of Java Food’s sales today.

*** HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA: THE BOOK. Learn from the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who’ve built thriving businesses. Purchase here. ***

Ebele Enunwa, Sundry Foods and Sundry Markets (Nigeria)

Ebele Enunwa is the founder of Nigeria’s Sundry Foods. In 2004 the company launched its first Kilimanjaro fast food restaurant in the city of Port Harcourt. It has since rolled out dozens of outlets across the country.

Rice and chicken are big sellers in Nigeria but Enunwa also added local dishes such as beans, plantain, yam and catfish. The Kilimanjaro chain offers dine-in and takeaway services and recently launched an e-commerce delivery service. He expects this will anchor the company’s growth. “Deliveries currently account for less than 5% of restaurants’ revenue but this is expected to grow. We need to perfect the logistics in terms of timing, payment systems and ensure the service is fully reliable.”

He also built up a corporate catering venture with 12 contract catering locations and two factory bakeries on the back of the restaurant business. Both operate as divisions of Sundry Foods and service thousands of customers daily, contributing approximately 20% of the company’s revenue.

In 2013 Enunwa spotted an opportunity in grocery retailing, and started Sundry Markets. The supermarkets trade under the Marketsquare brand. Today it has six modern supermarkets, with another six under construction. The goal is to become one of the four largest grocery retailers by 2020.

*** HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA: THE BOOK. Learn from the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who’ve built thriving businesses. Purchase here. ***

Kasope Ladipo-Ajai, OmoAlata (Nigeria)

When travelling overseas with her husband, Nigerian Kasope Ladipo-Ajai missed the comfort of her home country’s food. But even in African stores in the countries they visited, they could never find Nigerian-produced spices or products. This bothered Ladipo-Ajai. To her the gap in the market was obvious: bring Nigerian food to the diaspora, and the world.

Acting on the opportunity, she initially decided to target the local Nigerian market. So in 2012, Ladipo-Ajai and her husband founded OmoAlata, a food processing and services company.

What differentiates the company from other local food businesses is convenience. Preparing traditional Nigerian dishes is extremely time-consuming: from finding tomatoes, onions and peppers at the market to combining the pepper-spice mix and simmering the stew for hours on end to achieve the correct consistency for the sauce. OmoAlata solves this problem by providing ready-made soups, spices and pepper sauces made from organic ingredients.

Ask Ladipo-Ajai about doing business in Nigeria and she replies that the going gets tough – often. When setting up the factory, for example, they had to deal with inconsistent power supply. “This is one of the biggest challenges for any Nigerian business, especially those trading in perishable products,” she says. “Supplying your own power is not an option as it increases overheads too much and makes it impossible for small companies to survive.”

OmoAlata therefore found ways to work around the unreliable electricity in the factory but moved the refrigerated storage facility to a residential area where power is guaranteed.

*** HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA: THE BOOK. Learn from the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who’ve built thriving businesses. Purchase here. ***

Jennifer Bash, Alaska Tanzania Industries (Tanzania)

Jennifer Bash firmly believes that if one focuses on solving a problem, the money will come. The pain point she addressed with her food company Alaska Tanzania was the shortage of properly packaged and branded local food products.

“Tanzania, like most African countries, is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, but not enough businesses are focusing on the processing and packaging of those resources into consumer goods,” says Bash.

Today the company’s team of 25 processes, packages and distributes a range of products, including eggs, rice, maize flour and sunflower oil to local supermarkets and big international retailers like Food Lover’s Market and Game. What makes Alaska Tanzania stand out from the rest is its quality control systems and the convenience of its products. “Customers demand quality from Alaska Tanzania.”

With its top-tier packaging, Alaska Tanzania has become a reputable name in the country, and in 2016 was recognised as one of the top 50 local brands by the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation and the Tanzania Bureau of Standards.

*** HOW WE MADE IT IN AFRICA: THE BOOK. Learn from the stories of 25 entrepreneurs who’ve built thriving businesses. Purchase here. ***