Niger: Company making Italian-style ice cream with local ingredients and flavours

Raki Ben Mohamed

Kooka Niamey, based in the West African country of Niger, produces ice cream using local ingredients and flavours. The company was started in 2019. Founder Raki Ben Mohamed (41) answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Kooka revisits the traditional Italian gelato with ingredients and flavours from West Africa such as baobab, camel milk, shea fruit or local cereal porridge. The idea is to promote the re-discovery of local fruits, herbs and cereals through high-quality ice cream. At the same time, the company is supporting local suppliers of those ingredients, providing them with sustainable revenue.

2. How did you finance your startup?

The company was financed through my private savings which I earned during my 15 years in corporate finance. These savings enabled me to finance my gelato training in Italy and invest in professional machines for ice cream production, in packaging and in delivery containers.

A tub of Kooka ice cream made with dates from northern Niger

3. If you were given $1 million to invest in your company now, where would it go?

It would go towards:

  • Building a medium-sized production plant that would enable Kooka to increase its production capacity and optimise its fixed costs, hence allowing the company to deliver a competitive high-quality product.
  • Investing in an efficient logistics system that would allow Kooka to deliver its product not only in the country but also internationally.
  • Investing in a strong marketing campaign to promote the product both locally and internationally.
  • Investing in developing an efficient human resource policy (training and other professional development).
  • Developing an online order and delivery platform.

4. What risks does your business face?

Kooka faces two major risks:

  • Competition from non-natural and industrial ice cream producers which are able to offer a cheaper product to a population who still sees ice cream as a luxury product; and
  • The difficulty in finding highly-skilled and trained team members.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

We found that direct marketing works best. Kooka has been participating in school and agricultural fairs. Contact with end customers is very important as we can answer their questions directly.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

My most exciting entrepreneurial moment was at the national agricultural fair in February 2020. That is when I would say the company was officially launched. Before that, I was delivering ice cream to family and friends mostly. During this fair, visitors and fairgoers discovered Kooka and the brand was launched. Kooka won the first innovation price in its category for the magaria (local jujube) ice cream.

7. Tell us about your biggest mistake.

My biggest mistake was not conducting market research prior to launching our products. Kooka delivers ice cream in small individual cups and did not invest in larger, family-size containers which are in demand. I will now make sure to consider market studies before any important investments or changes.