Transforming food vending in Kenya's urban landscape
Kwanza Tukule Foods, run by Khadija Mohamed-Churchill is seeking to change the way lower income earners in Nairobi access affordable, delicious and nutritious protein sources, utilising the latest digital technology and sustainable practices.
Innovation is on the rise in Africa and the use of technology to solve day to day problems is moving full steam ahead, and with it the kinds of enterpreneurs and solutions being launched in the Continent.
Khadija Mohamed-Churchill, the CEO of Kwanza Tukule Foods may not be the kind of regular entrepreneur.
Born and raised in Tana River county, Kenya, Khadija’s stints at Standard Chartered Bank in the UK and senior management consulting position at Infosys Consulting, after an MBA from Imperial College London and General Manager position at Inuka Kenya, a youth and women empowerment platform, seem worlds apart from her current venture, Kwanza Tukule Foods.
Kwanza Tukule, which is less than 2 years in operation is a subscription based B2B enterprise in Kenya, is well on its way to changing the way healthy foods are availed to the urban poor, while providing market access for farmers and saving the environment by using green energy and utilising the latest digital technology.
Started in 2018, Kwanza Tukule operates a cashless last mile distribution system to ensure that nutritious food, especially plant based protein and fish is accessible and affordable to operators of food vendors in Nairobi.
Khadija explains that having started in late 2018, the company ran a pilot to test the hypothesis, which was very successful, launching the business officially in January 2019.
The pilot phase indicated to the start-up that there were very huge amounts of inefficiencies in the food supply chain for food vendors in Nairobi, with opportunities for improvements which could be made into a business concept that could be implemented in a sustainable and affordable way.
With board members who have been specifically selected based on their expertise in the industry, she says that the business concept took about 8 years to refine, adding that explaining it took to potential partners and other stakeholders time to get the concept right.
With the business case sell secured, Kwanza Tukule, which is a Swahili word that means ‘First, Let’s Eat’, was then launched with the primary focus on directly serving food vendors in Nairobi with pre-cooked food products to feed urban dwellers and workers, especially the in the urban low income areas.
The company ensures that street food vendors have the right food and the necessary assets for them to make food available in a faster, better and more nutritious way.
‘More than anything what Kwanza Tukule brings to the table for our customers is a business model that works for them and is organised around how they generate their revenues.
Our customers receive supplies early morning on a daily basis and pay at the end of the day.’ Khadija added.
Research indicates that street foods contribute significantly to local diets, especially among the urban poor, since they are convenient, cheap and easily accessible.
According to a survey, people living in urban centres in Kenya get 33% of their nutritional intake from street food, while in low income neighbourhoods, more than 40% of households consume street food.
We sought to know more about the food provided by the enterprise.
“Ours is subscription based business model where vendors pay a daily for products we provide.
We provide six food products, they are all plant based, highly nutritious and range from various varieties of beans, green peas, green grams, githeri and muthokoi, which are two local variants of blends of maize and beans that are commonly consumed around Nairobi.
These foods usually take a lot of energy and time to cook and because of that, we do the boiling for the vendors.
The vendors, on receiving the pre-cooked food, would then finish the cooking process, reducing the time it takes to prepare the food substantially, ” Khadija informs us. They also supply dagaa or omena, the small highly nutritious fish variety.
“We are a processing company that procures the supplies in bulk, prepares the food and supplies to our customers thereby taking advantage of economies of scale.
We supply partly prepared food because it’s easier and cheaper for us to do it at scale. We also provide the vendors with assets like chairs, tables and tents for use in their canteens, which they pay for in small instalments on a daily basis until their full ownership.
We use three-wheel vans (tuk-tuks),motorbikes and solar bikes for distribution that is done very early in the morning, planning our routes very carefully in the morning when there is no traffic,” Khadija informs us.
By providing tents, tables, chairs, branding and other assets, the company has improved the visual appeal of the road side food vendors substantially, enabling them to attract a more diverse clientele.
“For the customers who are able to take advantage of our package they have seen an increase on their revenues on a day to day basis because they are attracting office employee, middle level managers to eat at their locations, because they look cleaner and more presentable.”
By the time we went press the company’s products were being availed to vendors in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, South B, South C, Embakasi, Donholm and Syokimau estates, with plans to venture into Upper Hill and other parts of Nairobi, plus surrounding counties of Kiambu, Thika and Machakos.
Building women entrepreneurs
Khadija notes that majority of the vendors are women, who make up 98% of the customer base for the company.
She reveals that she is particularly proud of the work the company does to empower these women entrepreneurs in the course of their work, considering the impact this has on the greater society at large.
“These women food vendors are highly reliable and trustworthy, more than even supplying to supermarkets, because they pay on a daily basis,” she reveals.
The CEO notes that their customers make payments even when they shift from one location to another using their mobile phones.
“More than just food, what we bring to the table is a business model that makes sense to our customers that works within their framework of their business.
Rarely do our customers default because the payments are small amounts paid on a daily basis and because they need their next day delivery, they prioritise paying Kwanza Tukule.”
“In addition, the payment habit of customers is also allowing us to build a credit rating that can give us reliable data to grow the business in provision of other products.
In many ways we are making what is considered a risky demographic less risky because we are taking the time to understand the demographic in detail,’ Khadija added.
Khadija contends that their business model enables vendors to derive several benefits: lower price for the food they buy through the company, savings on energy, reliability of deliveries, support with other important assets and the unique one of enabling them expand their menu offering without a corresponding increase in capital expenditure.
Digital and cashless transactions
The adoption of digital food technologies has seen one of the most phenomenal uptakes in Kenya.
Kwanza Tukule has been able to utilize mobile phones and cashless systems to run their business model with great success.
“Our vendors subscribe for daily delivery of food once they have signed up as our customers by signing a contract with us which indicating their details, food type and amount they want delivered every morning.
They place their order via phone, we deliver the order and they pay us.”
Affordable, healthy food
Khadija informs us that by buying in bulk, the company manages to shorten the supply chain from the farmer to the user, which in many cases could lead to more than 7 layers of traders and agents, thereby providing more affordable, pre-cooked food directly to the vendors.
This way, they are also able to work directly with farmers, availing an important market to them and boosting their incomes.
Health and nutrition are very close to the heart of this business.
One of their key goals is to improve the nutrition of medium and low income earners by availing a variety of plant proteins primarily because they are much more healthier and more affordable.
“Research indicates that in Nairobi’s low income areas, 79% of the foods sold by food vendors were carbohydrate based, higher than other critical food groups, like protein.
With high prices for meat, poultry and fish, we thought that if we availed affordable, high quality and nutritious plant based protein sources, like beans, we would improve the nutritional profile of the consumers in such neighbourhoods.
Further, if you look at the nutritional needs of Kenyans right now you will find, for example, that over 80% lack zinc, especially males.
Females, pregnant mothers and children are also in this group. These are nutrients that can easily be found in plant based proteins.”
She adds that some of the products supplied by the company such as the yellow beans are bio-fortified with zinc, iron and vitamin A.
“What we noted is that almost 100% of our vendors have converted to selling the bio-fortified yellow beans due to the fact that we take a very deliberate decision to include nutritional education of the vendors as part of our duty.
When we started the business, most of the vendors were buying the Nyayo beans variety, which is cheaper but it’s not bio-fortified and has high acidity,” she explains happily to us.
With food safety and quality concerns some of the top priority issues for consumers in Kenya, Khadija informs us that by the vendors receiving pre-cooked food, they have no reason to add chemicals to hasten the cooking process.
“We are improving the quality of the food being served by the vendors. We are also making it easy for them to do things right, knowing that we are on the look-out for any complaints from their clients.
We also enable the vendors to diversify their food offering, which in the long run improves the availability of nutritious food to their consumers.
If a vendor used to sell chapatti and meat, now they can easily sell chapatti, beans, green grams and dagaa, because they don’t have to worry about buying another pot so as to add another item on the menu. We are reducing their capital expenditure.”
Sustainability at the core
Kwanza Tukule places sustainability at the core of the enterprise, starting right from sourcing of produce to the way they reach out to the market with their products.
“Our factory uses solar power for all our lighting and cooling needs. We also use biogas for of all our cooking.
We use green energy because it’s cheaper and also good for the environment.
And by supplying pre-cooked food that require lots of energy to cook like beans, we are reducing the food vendors’ exposure to wood and charcoal smoke by about 70%.
When each and every vendor is boiling their foods individually on small scale on fire wood, emissions are much higher, which has been exacerbated by the Kenyan government’s ban on the usage of wood and charcoal.”
Bright future with challenges
The business is not without challenges as Khadija explains, with raising capital growth at the top of Khadija and the board members’ mind.
“We want to expand very quickly; we want to take Kwanza Tukule to cover the whole of Nairobi and surrounding areas by end of 2021.
We need to approach funders and raise the right capital and attract the right investors that we can work with, who believe in our values and our way of doing things and can work with us.
The other challenge I guess would be just normal challenges with last mile distribution; recruitment for example, it takes a long-time to find the right people.”
She adds that they are seeking a partnership with the Nairobi County to come up with a strategy or policy of how the local authority engages with food vendors.
Once they have that partnership in place, they will use it to duplicate the strategy in other cities in Kenya.
She adds that the business is interested in venturing into other neighbouring countries in future. “Every African city has this problem we are seeking to solve.
If you go to Nigeria, you will find the same problem, same in Ghana. We can take this template and implement in any African city.”
The future is so bright for Kwanza Tukule, she concludes.