Entrepeneurs in Kenya take their big ideas to the Marketplace

here’s a lot that entrepreneurs in the nutrition sector can learn from each other, but it’s not always easy to find out who’s doing what.

GAIN’s Community of Practice (CoP) helps entrepreneurs, investors and organisations working in agriculture and nutrition to share experiences, network, and find out about market opportunities that could improve the quality and accessibility of nutritious foods.

The Community of Practice operates in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, organising quarterly meetings for all its members to get together. Guest speakers regularly attend to share their expertise on general business skills such as marketing, as well as on sector-specific topics, such as food safety.

The 8th Community of Practice event in Kenya was held on 10 March at the Jacaranda Hotel in Nairobi and featured presentations by four members of the community, and a guest speaker, Johnni Kjelsgaard from the organisation Growth Africa, who spoke about marketing to consumers.

GAIN interviewed three members of the Community of Practice at the event that day to find out more about their businesses, and how they benefit from their membership.

Name: Mary Maritime Company: Cherubet

“My business, Cherubet, sells packages of frozen, ready-to-eat cooked beans, steamed to keep the nutrients in and to keep the beans unbroken. They’re packaged in plastic bags of 1kg and 500g. Retails at less than 100 shillings.I got the idea one day when I got home and had no food in the house. My packages of beans are convenient and nutritious, and I’m supplying them to supermarkets now.

I went into business with little knowledge of food processing and of business in general. I’ve been to one Community of Practice before this, and it was very useful. Last time, for example, we heard from someone about how easily food can get contaminated, so when I went back I looked at how I do things, and how to change it to be safe. It was very relevant.

At the moment my products need to be refrigerated but I’m also looking at how to make them long-life. I sell in supermarkets now so I don’t sell much to the bottom of the pyramid. I need to be in the small shops in the slums, in kiosks, around building sites. Today it’s about marketing to the bottom of the pyramid, which is what I want to do, so it will be very useful for me.”

Name: Matilda Wanjiku Company: Fresh & Crunchy

“I make quality crunchy snacks with sesame and peanuts. I’ve been doing it off and on for a few years, but started more seriously in 2010.

Sesame snacks are very healthy, they’re good for lactating mothers and children. But at the moment I’m not making them in sizes that are affordable to the very poor.

I want to do that and sell through kiosks, to address some of the health challenges we have here, like diabetes. There is diabetes in the slums too, so I want to make something that is done well but very affordable. Sesame snacks with honey rather than sugar would make them better for diabetics.

Peanuts coated in honey are another example – they are in the supermarkets, but they’re very expensive. I want to do them in very small sizes so that everyone can afford it.

This is my first time at the Community of Practice event, and I’m hoping to find out what else can be done. Maybe I can do something with grated carrot and dry it, and mix that with sesame. It would be healthier than chocolate or a lollipop.”

Name: Quincy Burgess Company: Bonsai Global

“My organisation, Bonsai Global, is working to develop breadfruit in Kenya. We’re partnering with the NGO Global Breadfruit on this.

A major problem in Kenya is reliance on annual crops such as amaranth, sweet potato, maize, and even cassava which although it’s a perennial, you harvest it and dig the whole thing up so you have to start again, and soils become depleted.

So if you had a staple food which is nutritious, more productive and also a tree, you’d be laughing. And that’s what breadfruit is. It’s used in Polynesia and Hawaii as a staple, and we’re making a flour out of it. You harvest the fruit, dry it, and grind it into flour.

It’s not difficult, and it has higher vitamin C levels than potatoes, and high potassium and iron levels. It’s also more productive than maize, giving six tonnes per acre rather than three.

This is my third or fourth Community of Practice event. It’s been very useful as a networking event. You show up and you might meet someone who can transform your life. I’ve developed ideas for different products from here. Sometimes someone will say something, and it just makes it click.”

Interested in reading more about how the Marketplace for Nutritious Foods is helping entrepreneurs in Kenya? Read an overview of local stories from Africa.