Affordable and nutritional baby food is hard to come by in Nigeria. Most babies will eat the staple crop that is cheap and immediately available to their families.
“If the family plants maize then that is the only food the baby is going to eat,” says Adepeju Jaiyeoba, founder of Colourful Giggles, the Lagos-based baby food company. “If they plant soya beans then that is what the child will eat. The parents do not pay particular attention to the nutritional value and the mix of micro and macro nutrients that are important for children under the age of five.”
The healthy imported options that are available in the market also come with a unique set of challenges. Jaiyeoba says her first-born son struggled with local food after he became accustomed to eating imported baby food that was made with ingredients not available in Nigeria, like blueberries and oats.
In 2020, the former lawyer decided to create a company that would use Nigerian ingredients as the basis for baby food that could compete with international brands, which make up 80% of the commercial market.
“Why can’t we have great food in Nigeria that is also high in nutrients? African based meals that provide excellent nutritional value for children. That is where the story of Colourful Giggles came from.”
She created a range of products priced from $2 to $5, targeting middle-class Nigerian mothers but also the millions of lower-income families who she says are in the “aspirational class”.
Incorporating local ingredients
To compete with international brands, Jaiyeoba knew her products would also have to meet global nutritional standards. She explains how she reached out to experts across the world to gather healthy recipes.
The information was taken to a food scientist at a university in Nigeria to understand how local products could be incorporated into recipes that used non-African ingredients. The results were six recipes based on local grains and perishables. One variety is a mix of wheat, cashew nut, pawpaw and banana, while another is sweet potatoes, soya beans, cucumber and dates. The blend of ingredients is sold in a 300g box that instructs the consumer to add water to the dry powder to make a paste.
These recipes were then put through hours of optimisation and food safety standard tests before the first batch was sold in May last year. Jaiyeoba says that it was crucial to invest in quality at the start of the business if she wanted to think about exporting her goods further down the line.
“I could have just sat down in my kitchen, mixed up a few ingredients and started selling. But that’s not what I wanted to do. We wanted to build a product that was not just fit for Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) but also for the US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” she says.
After purchasing a processing machine and renting factory space in Lagos, the entrepreneur quickly ramped up production to 2,500 packs a month. Sourcing grains from northern Nigeria and fruit and vegetables from a nearby collective run by women farmers, Colourful Giggles is sold online and at supermarkets in Lagos and seven other states across Nigeria.
A common problem is ensuring a steady supply of grains from the northern regions due to logistical issues. “Something could be happening on the expressway, there could be a blockage, but the key is to place your orders well before you need them,” she explains.
The biggest issue, however, is meeting demand. Jaiyeoba says that until she can buy more machinery, she will not be able to meet the growing demand that has arisen from word of mouth and social media marketing. The key to creating a product that sells, she says, is selling something more than just food.
“We have been able to help mothers solve problems. On our Instagram and website there are testimonies of how we have helped mothers with underweight babies and babies that are picky eaters. We sell solutions. We don’t sell baby cereal.”
As the beneficiary of $50,000 funding from the World Food Programme (WFP) as well financial backing from the United States African Development Foundation, Jaiyeoba will soon invest in more machines to ramp up production to 10,000 packets a month.
With increased output, the entrepreneur hopes to completely cover the Nigerian marketplace within the next two years. After that she aims to export goods to Ghana, followed by the rest of Africa and then internationally.
Jaiyeoba believes the market size will only continue to grow as more mothers become aware about nutrition and the importance of healthy food for their babies.
“Consumers are becoming more demanding and informed in Nigeria. Once they pick up the baby food they want to see the NAFDAC number and they want to see what is in the food,” she says.