Nigeria: Replacing imported baby foods with local production

Seun Sangoleye, founder of Baby Grubz.

Seun Sangoleye, founder of Baby Grubz

This article is an excerpt from the Made by Africa: Creating value through integration report by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

More and more Nigerians want to feed their infants natural, authentic foods adapted to their eating habits.

Seun Sangoleye was working as a computer scientist when she discovered that her infant son wouldn’t eat imported baby formula and other processed foods. So she started an infant food company called Baby Grubz that uses natural local ingredients and offers foods based on traditional Nigerian recipes.

“I had no background in cooking, but I always was a foodie,” she says, adding that other mothers told her their babies were also snubbing imported formula. “And I wanted my son and other children in my country to have access to our home-grown food that is so rich in flavours and nutrients.”

She started by offering recipes and nutrition tips on social media. The popularity of this spontaneous word-of-mouth marketing encouraged her to launch her own baby food brand. In less than a decade, Sangoleye has become a successful entrepreneur who prefers to call herself mom-in-chief rather than chief executive officer.

Infrastructure: top barrier

“My brand uses rice, sweet potatoes, fish, beans and other local products – 100% of our ingredients are produced and processed in Nigeria,” she says. Baby Grubz produces two tonnes monthly and aims to reach 20 tonnes a month by 2025. “We want to increase our participation in the domestic market. We also would like to export to neighbouring countries as we have received many requests, notably from Togo,” Sangoleye says. “We want to become an African-based multinational company.”

Scaling up production is tricky, however, with infrastructural problems the top barrier to expansion. “The logistics to transport the products throughout the country is very challenging. We also must deal with power shortages. To avoid interrupting production, we use diesel-powered generators, which increases our costs.”

A selection of BabyGrubz products.

A selection of Baby Grubz products.

And like so many African entrepreneurs, Sangoleye also has problems obtaining funding to buy better machinery and equipment. “Financial support is an issue, but those funding needs would be significantly lower if we had better infrastructure and fewer taxes,” she notes.

Covid-19 also had an impact on Baby Grubz, which had to downsize and dismiss workers during the pandemic. But as the company continues to recover, plans are in the works to hire more employees in the coming months  – especially women, who represent 95% of her staff.

Sangoleye is optimistic about her company’s prospects and ability to innovate. “One of our strengths is our capacity to anticipate consumer trends and offer to our public exactly what they need. We have a strong market research and innovation team. We also have access to high-quality raw materials, which helped us develop a line adapted for premature babies and lines with reinforced vitamins to tackle malnutrition.”

She’s also hopeful that the African Continental Free Trade Area will bring benefits to Baby Grubz. “I would love to sell my product in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya, for instance,” she says. “And I would love to have better networking with suppliers from Niger, as I am interested in using dates from this country in my recipes. I believe this trade agreement can be a game changer to boost cross-border transactions.”