Emmanuel Ampadu is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Pure and Just Food, a dried fruit producer based in Ghana. He spoke to James Torvaney about agribusiness opportunities and the challenges of building an export-focused business in West Africa.
Tell us a bit more about what Pure and Just Food does, and how you got started.
Pure and Just is a … fruit processing company that works with farmers across three regions of Ghana to produce organic dried mango, papaya, banana and pineapple. We sell both domestically and abroad, under our own Yvaya Farm brand, as well as selling wholesale white-labelled products.
We registered the business in 2018 after my mentor – Kwami Williams of Moringa Connect – introduced me to Yvette Tetteh. Yvette had moved back to Ghana after studying at Stanford University in California and became the co-founder and chief executive officer of Pure and Just.
Why dried fruits specifically?
Fresh fruit can be very seasonal, and because it rots quickly, farmers can see very high post-harvest losses. Dried fruits, however, can last much longer – nine months or more.
So we saw it as an opportunity to create healthy, natural snacks, whilst reducing food waste and increasing farmers’ incomes.
There are other ways of preserving fruit, for example by producing juice, but there were already a large number of factories producing juice products. Dried fruits were much less common, so there was not as much competition.
Where are your customers?
Right now, 90% of our sales are domestic, and 10% are exported. However, we are working towards flipping that ratio; we want the majority of our sales to be international.
We currently sell at over 20 retailers in Ghana, including Shoprite, where we have been selling our products for three years.
Even so, dried fruit is still not widely accepted locally. I think this is changing, and the domestic market is growing, but it will take five to 10 years for it to be as commonplace as it is in other markets.
Internationally, we have started selling in countries such as the United States and Japan.
In what form do you sell most of your exported products?
Whereas domestic customers are more likely to buy our own brand (Yvaya Farm) dried fruits, international customers tend to want white-labelled products, which they then repackage or use as ingredients. We usually ship these in 10-kilogram transparent bags. Some international customers do buy the Yvaya Farm brand though – for example, our distributors in Japan and the United States.
The bulk of the money is in white-labelled products, because buyers purchase in bulk, and you don’t need to spend a lot on packaging. This is where our focus is for now. But of course, I want our own brand to be on the shelves, so we will look to export more of the Yvaya brand over time, but that is more from a branding point of view.
Another trend is for buyers to send the labels and packaging for the producer to package products before exporting. A lot of the bigger companies will package products like this before they export them.
What advantages do Ghanaian fruits have on the world market?
West Africa has a few advantages over other fruit-growing regions: we have high quality soil and the taste of the fruit is also very good. We don’t need to add sugar, like some other countries do. The distance to Europe is shorter than other tropical growing regions, which means that products are less expensive to ship.
There are also certain fruit varieties that are more common in Ghana. For example, we only use sugarloaf pineapples. These are whiter in colour and have a higher sugar content and sweeter taste, and therefore can demand a higher retail price.
Highlight some of the challenges you’ve encountered around exportation?
The biggest problem for us is that our capacity is quite small. We don’t produce enough volume to ship whole containers regularly and buyers don’t like to buy half-container shipments. Because we are buying smaller amounts from farmers, transportation costs are relatively very high – as much as half of our gross costs.
How can you compete with some of the bigger international players in the export market?
It is difficult because we are competing against competitors that can produce 50 times more than us.
We are very honest with our customers about what we can do. We can’t compete on volume or price, so we don’t try to. Instead, we focus on our story, which revolves around being women-led, climate-smart, producing all-natural fruits, and paying farmers better. We sell to our specific niche and make sure that the buyers we work with are those that appreciate our story and want to grow with us.
We also have to work a lot harder on relationships with our farmers. We are not the biggest buyers, but once we have built up trust, and made them our friends, we will be the first people they call, and therefore we can get the best quality fruit from their harvests.
You mentioned how tight your margins are as a smaller company. What are the ways you can improve this, and be more efficient?
Post-harvest losses are a big issue for farmers. Last year was particularly bad – Ghanaian farmers lost about 50% of their mango yield due to Covid-induced border closures and reduced demand.
One of the ways we increase our efficiency is by making use of everything. We aren’t too fussy over what we buy. Once we’ve dried the fruits, we grade them based on factors like appearance, texture, and size. The highest grade goes to supermarkets and for exports, whilst lower grades are sold as ingredients (for example, in fruit bars and granola) or to friends and family.
The organic waste from the factory also gets used to create energy in our biogas system, or gets sold to farmers for fertiliser.
Explain the wider trends you see in the dried fruit industry.
There’s also a lot of growing demand for dried fruits from ‘second tier’ countries, not just the more developed markets like the United States and Europe. I’ve seen a lot of demand from Asia and South America, for example Sri Lanka, Israel, and Turkey. Some places, such as Dubai, function as hubs for repackaging and selling in other countries. There is also an increasing demand for intra-African trade.
There’s also a trend, particularly in the more developed markets, for dried fruit that is natural, certified organic, with no added sugar or sulphur dioxide. Whilst mango is still by far the most popular fruit, there is also an increasing interest in different types of dried fruits like papaya and banana.
One final trend is sustainability and farm-to-shelf traceability. There is a lot of new growth in the market and also buyers who are looking to switch to more sustainable suppliers.
What are some of the biggest challenges for agribusiness companies in West Africa?
There are a few big challenges we face as an industry.
Firstly, across Africa in general, we are sitting on the time bomb which is climate change. Rural farmers depend on rain; there are very few proper irrigation programmes. As weather patterns change, it will affect growing patterns and there are likely to be severe fruit shortages. There is not a lot of focus on these things, but it is starting to make a difference already and it is going to be a big problem very soon.
Secondly, Africa doesn’t tend to make machinery, which makes it very difficult to provide value-adding manufacturing. It is expensive to purchase machinery and there is a lack of expertise in repair and maintenance. We had a problem with some of our equipment and it caused us a lot of problems and long delays. It can be very difficult to find the necessary technical expertise locally.
Finally, the funding of certification is a big problem. Certification here is extremely expensive, and you need it just to keep your products in the supermarkets. It’s often out of reach for smaller businesses without external financing.