Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited is a Kenyan based milling company that specializes in the milling of cereals and dried fruits to produce nutritious, pre-cooked and fortified porridge flours for children. Eric Muthomi, the founder and CEO of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited, started the company to support smallholder farmers and provide nutritious and affordable products to his community. Last year, Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited needed to make several strategic decisions in order to achieve company growth. The company looked to Partners in Food Solutions and their network of expert volunteers for advice.
“We realized we were at a critical point in the company’s journey and in order to continue growing we needed to address some key issues,” said Eric. “We needed to review our product range, our pricing structure, what market/channels we could add for distribution, and how we could lower our raw material sourcing costs to increase our overall return.” Eric met with a group of PFS volunteers, including Cargill Corporate Strategy Associate Victoria Rau, to develop a business plan that would help him increase the company’s revenue and continue to fulfill its mission.
One of the most important aspects of the project was gaining a better understanding of Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited’s customers. “When addressing issues such as pricing, product development or distribution methods, it’s important to let the customer lead the strategy,” said Victoria. “We therefore conducted market research and learned about the factors Kenyan consumers considered most when buying porridge flour. These learnings helped us advise Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited and position their company in a way that would tick all the boxes that the customers wanted.”
Since the project closed in May, Stawi Foods and Fruits Limited has already started to make changes. “We are improving our product formulation so it aligns with the ingredients/nutrients our customers care about. We are also rethinking our marketing strategy to make us a more competitive processor,” said Eric. “Despite the support being 100% virtual, the volunteers fully understood our business as if it was an in-person support. We are very grateful to the PFS volunteers for helping us gain a better understanding of our customers, and we can’t wait to share more about our success in the months to come!”
AJ Aumock is a food industry veteran with over 25 years of experience as a marketer. He currently leads the marketing efforts for Cargill’s Truvia, a zero-calorie, plant-based Stevia sweetener brand. Throughout his life, AJ has been an avid volunteer – working with children, building schools and packing meals – but saw PFS as an unique opportunity to use his skills and expertise to help others and develop sustainable businesses. For the past six months, AJ has been supporting PFS client Assisi Foods, a Ghana based maize milling company, with the development of packaging label designs.
Assisi Foods was established in 2017 and currently produces several varieties of maize flour blends. “Our vision is to grow our business and supply staple foods for the Ghanaian market,” said Victoria Dzigbordi Akumpule, co-founder and general manager of Assisi Foods. “PFS created the perfect platform for us to receive much-needed professional help in designing our product labels so we can reach as many food lovers as possible.” In collaboration with Minneapolis-based design agency Mackey Creative, AJ and the volunteer team developed several packaging designs that brought Assisi’s brand to life. The team was influenced by the colors of Africa when conceptualizing the design for the labels. They also incorporated a popular pattern that would be
recognized by the local community.
“My favorite part of this project was the moment we unveiled the packaging designs to Victoria for the first time,” said AJ. “Seeing her witness her vision through colors, words and images was a magic moment for us.” Through this project, Victoria and her team have learned a lot. “Working with different experts on the various areas of marketing brought up strategic areas as a brand we will continue to focus on as we move forward,” said Victoria. Assisi Foods is currently in the process of getting their brand registered with the Food and Drugs Authority and the Ghana Standards Authority. “I know the new labels will help us reach a more elite customer base and increase our market share,” said Victoria. “The outcome of the product labels really got me excited about what is next for Assisi Foods!”
In 2019, Aziz Rehman joined Partners in Food Solutions as a new volunteer. While looking for an opportunity to get involved, he was introduced to Rumishael and Daughters, a grain- based breakfast food start-up based in Tanzania. “I knew I wanted to work with Rumishael and Daughters because I felt like there was a lot for us to learn from one another,” said Aziz. “Volunteering as their Client Lead, I’ve had the opportunity to see their company grow from a small start up in 2019, to introducing their first product to market, to now – expanding their product portfolio after much success.”
Robyn and Rumishael, founders of Rumishael and Daughters, dreamt of starting a family-owned business that made a positive impact on the local Tanzanian community. After 13 years of living in New Zealand, the husband and wife duo made their dreams a reality and moved back to Tanzania with their three children to start Rumishael and Daughters. “We spent years ideating what Rumishael and Daughters could be and ultimately decided that we wanted our company to produce nutritious, tasty and affordable products made with locally-grown grains. We’re really fortunate to have Partners in Food Solutions and their volunteers as advisors. As a start-up, having PFS volunteers who selflessly offer their precious time and expertise to ensure our success, especially given how young and fragile our company is, has been absolutely invaluable and helped develop our confidence,” said Robyn.
As a Client Lead, Aziz’s role is to support Rumishael and Daughters by helping manage their project portfolio. Since Aziz started in the role, he has overseen more than seven projects ensuring the projects go smoothly and reach their objectives. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Rumishael and Daughters,” said Aziz. “I’ve learned so much about product development and marketing, and have seen Rumishael and Daughters reach milestone after milestone. This has been a great opportunity to improve people’s lives across Africa while working remotely.”
Rumishael and Daughters is currently working on some new projects including developing new products and creating a marketing strategy. Furthermore, Rumishael and Daughters has started the process of partnering with the World Food Programme and will produce super cereals for them in the near future. “Partners in Food Solutions and Aziz have helped us make Rumishael and Daughter’s journey shorter, straighter and smoother. We really enjoy and appreciate working with Aziz. He is a constant source of support to us. He is committed to our success and we are incredibly grateful. When our factory laboratory is more sophisticated and worthy of a name, we plan to name it the ‘Aziz Rehman Laboratory’.”
PFS: Please tell us more about yourself.
GF: My name is Gloria Frauenfelder and I am a global procurement finance lead at Hershey. I was born in Kenya and lived there until I was 20 years old. When I married my husband, who is Swiss, I decided to move to Switzerland. I have lived here now for around 25 years and have two children in their early twenties.
PFS: Why did you decide to get involved with PFS?
GF: Being born and raised in Kenya, I have a deep understanding of the struggles many companies there face. It can be very difficult to find the right expertise that would help companies move forward. I got involved with PFS because I think it’s important to share the things I have learned throughout my career with companies who need the additional support. For example, I am currently on a project that is helping a client understand cost structures for their products. By sharing my knowledge in this space, I am helping them increase their capacity and hopefully it’ll lead to their future growth.
PFS: What is your favorite part about volunteering with PFS?
GF: I really like that employees with any level of expertise can have an impact on a project. We all learn from one another, tackle the project from different angles, and bring the best solution to the client through a collaborative approach.
PFS: What would you say to a colleague who may be interested in volunteering with PFS, but is hesitant to start?
GF: I encourage anyone interested in PFS to volunteer! You may think that you can’t help with a project because you’re not an “expert” but, I can assure you, the team environment at PFS really brings out the best of everyone and together you can help the client and expand your own knowledge in the process.
Located in Lusaka, Jesuit Development Farm (JDF) grows various organic vegetables like lettuce, onions, garlic and herbs such as moringa. Moringa, a plant rich in antioxidants and known for its purported medicinal properties, can be an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals. To meet the increased demand for the plant, JDF looked to Partners in Food Solutions for help with increasing their capacity and identifying inefficiencies in their solar tunnel drying system. “In our local community, we do not always have access to experts with the experience PFS volunteers have,” said Father Tadeusz, managing director of JDF. “The support of PFS and its volunteers helps us avoid many problems.”
Will Suhring, a process engineer at Hershey with experience in developing, installing and activating new equipment and processing systems, offered to help JDF and share his knowledge in this area. “One of my favorite aspects of PFS is that it connects creative, entrepreneurial people from all across the world to collaborate on projects which are of benefit to everyone involved,” said Will. “I enjoy the creative problem solving aspect of the project due to working under different constraints than projects in my corporate role. It’s also great knowing that successful projects bring jobs, better food security, and many other benefits to the clients and their communities.”
After reviewing feedback from JDF about what they liked and didn’t like about their existing drying system, Will and the project team came up with several modifications that would improve their efficiency. “We suggested adding vents at each end of the tunnel to encourage air flow and remove moisture because it would be a meaningful improvement to their drying process and fit within their local materials and building constraints. We also suggested that they include plenty of room for handwashing stations and captive shoe storage, along with tables to hold wash basins at a comfortable height, because that would improve food safety and quality, and make the operation more comfortable and efficient for the workers.”
JDF plans to utilize the volunteer’s recommendations to improve their current solar tunnel drying system and to help construct their new dryer. “I really enjoy our interactions with PFS volunteers,” said Fr. Tadeusz. “During the process of developing a new solar tunnel model I learned more about food safety, efficient drying processes and how to better utilize the available space. I am grateful for everyone involved in this project and for their commitment and support of my efforts.”