One of David Foli Ayivor’s first jobs after his tertiary studies was working as a food and beverage assistant manager at a group of hotels in Accra, Ghana. To solve the challenge of seasonally available fruits and vegetables and reduce food waste, the hotel would blend and freeze produce such as tomatoes for later use. There was, however, one problem: electricity blackouts. This meant food waste was merely delayed, not solved.
This was a common obstacle throughout the 10 years Ayivor worked in the hospitality industry. Yet, where others saw a challenge, he saw an opportunity.
“There came a time when the blackouts were particularly bad and I wondered whether it was possible to develop a system independent of electricity to preserve food and curb food loss,” he remembers.
Ayivor started researching solutions while saving money for the necessary equipment once he was ready to execute his idea. In 2017, he left his job and armed with one dehydrator, commenced production of dehydrated fruit and vegetables under the company name Agromyx. The dehydrated produce, and the powders made from them, extends the shelf life to over a year.
Initially, the company produced black velvet tamarind powder, mango powder and dehydrated tomatoes. Today, it has 11 different products ranging from instant cereals, drink powders and fruit powder products that it sells under its retail brand name, Nourimeal. The fruit powders are used in smoothies, as a sugar substitute in porridge, incorporated in baking, or mixed with water and ice for a juice drink.
Losing clients due to capacity constraints
Leveraging the relationships he had developed in the hospitality industry, Ayivor sent free samples to hotels and restaurants to test and provide feedback. Demand was almost immediate.
Some of Agromyx’s first clients included hotels such as the Mensvic Grand in Accra. The company began to get calls from potential customers through referrals and demand grew steadily. The company could not keep up, hindered by its limited equipment.
“We were not able to supply all the customers who reached out and unfortunately, we lost some clients.”
The company desperately wanted to expand and improve its capacity but up till then, it had been bootstrapping all operations.
“Our biggest challenge was, and remains, finance. When I talk about the business, people often say we’ve achieved so much but they have no idea of the sweat that went into it. It is not a joke. During 2017 and 2018, we had major financial difficulties,” Ayivor recalls. “Customers would call, wanting to order but we just didn’t have the capacity. We were unable to expand as the banks were not prepared to take the risk.”
Necessary change in direction
Ayivor turned to impact investors in the US for funding to grow the company. In 2019, it was selected to be part of an incubator programme run from the US by Fledge and received some investment that gave its operations a boost.
The capital injection helped Agromyx adapt its methods, moving away from dehydration to freeze-drying. “Too many nutrients were lost as a result of the excessive heat during the dehydration process. The minerals were wasted,” Ayivor explains.
In that same year, the first freeze dryer arrived from the US and Agromyx added a second machine in 2020, this time modified according to Ayivor’s specifications to conserve energy. With input from the Fledge mentors, the company changed its retail brand Nurixel to Nourimeal.
Adding products to its portfolio
Finally, Agromyx was ready to provide the products the market was asking for. Then Covid-19 hit and the company’s B2B client base struggled under reduced mobility and restrictions placed on travel and social events.
“We had to rapidly change the B2B model to B2C. We’ve added an online shop on our website and sell our Nourimeal products directly to customers. We have been able to make up for some of our lost income,” he says.
Ayivor believes the company’s products play into the growing lifestyle trend of health and convenience. This is also the reason why Agromyx has added some of the ancient grains found in the region to its product mix. “We realised these ancient grains – fonio, sorghum, millet – could have a larger market. We began to incorporate fruit powders into the cereal which means there is no added sugar and it is preservative-free. You can just add hot water and you have a very nutritious porridge.”
Currently, the raw produce is supplied by 165 smallholder farmers who work through existing cooperatives. If needed, the farmers receive training and agricultural inputs; this expense is offset against purchases after harvest.
The company is working on its international certifications for export but Ayivor believes the local market still has a lot of potential. For now, local and then regional will remain the focus before it sets its sights on Europe and beyond.
Strategy for growth
Agromyx is targeting smaller retail outlets to secure shelf space to diversify its distribution until the hospitality industry recovers.
There are also big B2B opportunities as the products are sought after for cosmetics and confectionery. “The cosmetic industry requires fruit powder for the manufacturing of face powders and the confectionary industry uses it to flavour baked goods, chocolates and sweets.”
While it does not have direct, local competition, Agromyx is competing with international giants in the industry. “Big players like Danone and Nestlé are our competition but we differentiate ourselves in terms of our social impact, keeping the customer in mind,” he says. “We are not scared of this competition.”
Agromyx CEO David Foli Ayivor’s contact information
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