Nigerian cassava: The next big thing in US food market?

Tony Bello

Shine Bridge Global is a US-based food science and agribusiness company established in 2018 by Dr Tony Bello, a native of Nigeria. The company specialises in producing products made from cassava sourced in Nigeria. Bello recently spoke with Jeanette Clark about his plans to produce and sell food items made from Nigerian cassava in the US and other countries.

According to the latest report from research group IMARC, the global cassava starch market is projected to reach US$6.5 billion by 2028. Bello believes this number should be much higher and can be achieved by developing the right products to capture market share from potato-derived items.

Cassava, a root crop that looks like a large sweet potato, is one of the most widely grown agricultural commodities in Africa. The roots can be processed into a variety of products, including cassava flour, starch, ethanol and glucose syrup.

Bello, who was raised in Nigeria and now resides in the US, holds a doctorate in food science. He has previously worked as a food scientist for Frito-Lay and Kellogg before transitioning to the consulting side of the industry. In 2010, he assumed the position of CEO at Heritage Agro-Allied Foods Incorporated (H2A Foods), a food science technology company that focuses on creating opportunities for cassava smallholder farmers in Edo State, Nigeria.

In 2017, H2A Foods facilitated a loan from the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL Plc.) for a group of smallholder farmers to develop their available land for cassava production. H2A Foods guaranteed to buy all the cassava they produced. It was during this time that Bello recognised the need for further development in the cassava value chain, as the existing market was still too limited. Consequently, Shine Bridge Global was established in 2018.

In recent years, Shine Bridge Global has focused on converting high-quality cassava flour (HQCF) into instant tapioca flakes. Tapioca is derived from the cassava root and the resulting flakes, according to Bello, have similar applications to potato flakes. Potato flakes are utilised as a food ingredient in the production of various commercially available items, such as pasta and snacks, as well as a thickener in gravies and desserts.

From idea to production

In 2018, the initial phase of developing and testing the tapioca flakes was conducted in the Netherlands, utilising cassava flour imported from Nigeria. Now that the product development has been completed, production will shift to a factory in New York. While the flakes will be processed in New York, the cassava flour used to create the flakes will continue to be sourced from Nigeria. The flakes will be branded as a Shine Bridge Global product and sold to companies that specialise in the production of consumer packaged foods.

Cassava flour preparation in Nigeria for processing into instant tapioca flakes.

The company is also busy developing a few other cassava-derived food products such as crackers, pizza crusts, ready-mix fufu, fried snacks and flatbreads – all using its tapioca flakes.

Shine Bridge Global has partnered with several cassava producers in Nigeria – specifically in Oyo, Ekiti, Edo and Enugu states – to ensure a sufficient supply of fresh cassava roots once full-scale production begins. These partners include H2A Foods, 365 Farms and Ocriv. In addition, Shine Bridge Global is in discussions with Nigerian companies that process the raw material into high-quality cassava flour including Aspuna, Niji Group and the Elephant Group.

The company aims to introduce both the tapioca flakes and final consumer packaged products to test markets in the US, UK and Nigeria within the next six months. Following this, it plans to gradually scale up production, selling to consumer packaged goods companies and marketers.

Regional expansion opportunities

Shine Bridge Global’s value chain development work is currently focused on Nigeria, but Bello has a wider vision for a continent-wide initiative. “Our primary targets will be the countries that produce cassava. In West Africa, this includes Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo,” he explains.

Rwanda, which sources some of its raw materials from Tanzania, is also emerging as a major player in the cassava market in East Africa. Shine Bridge Global is open to partnering with existing businesses in these countries.

“Commodities like potatoes are worth billions of US dollars when used in consumer packaged foods. We want to capture a share of that market and also improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Nigeria and throughout Africa,” says Bello.

Shine Bridge Global founder Dr. Tony Bello’s contact information

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