Sweet Connections Cross the Globe
When Chris Majors, a director of quality and regulatory for General Mills, met Daniel Ball, managing director of the the Zambian client Forest Fruits, in Zambia during a PFS visit last October and they agreed to meet again. General Mills and Forest Fruits have one big thing in common - honey. So when Daniel was in Minnesota last month to visit with a honey broker he stopped by to see Chris at the General Mills research facility.
One of General Mills' biggest products - Honey Nut Cheerios - uses honey as a key ingredient and Forest Fruits is a processor of honey. A client of PFS since 2019, Forest Fruits is committed to improving rural livelihoods by developing business in rural areas of Zambia. It works with traditional beekeepers living in remote forests near the source of the Zambezi River in north western Zambia through an out-growers system that includes training and extension services. Their major product is honey, Zambezi Gold, that is distributed locally to all major retail supermarkets and grocery stores and is exported to the EU and southern Africa subregion.
Chris connected Daniel with Sarah Schramke, another R&D scientist, to see what possibilities there are. "He (Daniel) would be selling to a broker and then we would be buying from that broker," said Chris. "The brokers will blend honeys too so if we get the right blend with his honey in it, that's the idea." We'd be thrilled if the honey from one of our clients could be part of the great products of PFS' founding partner General Mills, bringing something very sweet full circle.
Photo left to right: Chris Majors, Daniel Ball, Sarah Schramke.
Masaka Dairy has a unique competitive advantage that many in Rwanda would consider a liability - over fifty percent of their staff are deaf.
Luke Lundberg, the current CEO of Masaka, says that his staff has a particularly well-developed attention to detail because of their hearing impairment. “When you lose a sense it often heightens your other senses,” he said. “Our deaf staff have a lot of ownership and pay incredible attention to detail. They want to make sure every product we send out is as perfect as possible.”
From its inception in 2015, Masaka Creamery recognized that offering employment to deaf people was a better way to address their needs than charity. The company has grown steadily and in addition to employment, also provides training for the deaf community; something that is not widely available in Rwanda.
Sandy Efaw, contract manufacturing manager at J.M Smucker found her first volunteering project with PFS so rewarding that when the opportunity came for her to volunteer on another project, she took it up with little hesitation.
Sandy was part of a team of volunteers that supported Masaka in attaining certifications from the Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority (RFDA) which allows them to increase brand trust and eventually export their products. In addition to yogurt, they also produce fermented milk, cream, butter, and other dairy products with an average daily production of 4,000 liters.
To receive HACCP certification, they needed to develop a Site Master File (SMF), which is an internationally recognized record with specific information about their manufacturing operations. Sandy and the team of volunteers worked directly with the Masaka staff to put this document together.
Sandy was familiar with a Site Master File through her work with external contractors at Smucker, but it was not an area she was directly responsible for in her job. She set off to research as much as she could to try to learn and understand the scope of the task.
The terrain was just as unfamiliar to her co-volunteers, so they all dug in together to learn in order to offer Masaka the best results. That collaboration made the difference. They even worked together outside of project hours because of the importance of the project.
The Masaka team’s responsiveness and receptiveness to the different proposals from the volunteers made the extra time and effort worth it. Masaka now has their SMF in place and they are awaiting certification from the Rwanda FDA.
“I benefited a lot from working on this project and working with the other volunteers. It has actually been helpful for me in my job as I now have a more in-depth perspective on what to look out for and expect from our external contractors I work with,” she said. “The uncertainty at the beginning of the project worked out for the best at the end, proving that sometimes you get better results if you don’t have your mind dead set on the end goal.”
Sandy is on a roll when it comes to successful PFS projects and is looking for her next opportunity. She says that everyone at Smucker can have the same positive experience that she’s had. “I’d encourage my colleagues to volunteer even if they are not sure of exactly what they’re doing when they jump in. It’s definitely enriching and volunteers end up getting more out of it than they realize.”
Luke affirms this saying, “Masaka has always had a baseline, but working with PFS has really elevated a lot of our processes, documentation and certifications, which we really appreciate. The volunteers have been very helpful, gracious and understanding, even when we don’t hit all the deadlines. It has been a great opportunity for the Masaka team to learn how they can improve things and it’s something that we really enjoy about this partnership.”
Dr. Illeme Amegatcher has volunteered with PFS since 2013 and is currently Co-founder / Technical Manager at the General Mills Venture Studio. Since February this year, Illeme has been mentoring Henry Nartey, a Quality Assurance Officer with Praise Exports Services Limited (a Ghanaian company that processes and exports food such as edible palm oil, canned palm fruit concentrate to Europe and North America).
Henry’s goal through this mentorship is to learn and acquire more knowledge. He is fortunate to have been paired with Illeme, who has over 14 years of experience in the food industry, building a unique set of skills including strategy development and execution, technical problem solving, forming and leading teams, etc. While visiting family in Ghana, Illeme made time to connect with her mentee Henry and some of the PFS team at the office in Accra. It’s great when mentees and mentors have the rare opportunity to meet and connect in-person!
We are proud to share that Deborah Moi, a former PFS apprentice, has been accepted into the University of Central Florida to commence a fully-funded MSc & Ph.D in Chemistry.
Deborah chose to join the apprenticeship program because she saw PFS as the right organization to guide her with purpose, foster her ambitions and help her connect to her career pathway. It also helped that her professional aspirations matched that of PFS': increasing the competitiveness of the African food processing sector.
She was an apprentice in the Quality Assurance Department of PFS Client, Eden Tree, a leading fruit, vegetable and herb supplier in Ghana. While there, she gained experience in HACCP development and implementation, food quality and safety monitoring, internal and external auditing, SOPs and more. She also capitalized on her apprenticeship experience at Eden Tree to scale up her mother’s modest fried plantain chips business into a flourishing one.
Deborah’s goal is to become an R&D food technologist creating safe and nutritious products from indigenous Ghanaian produce, while enriching local communities economically. We wish her the best in her new journey!
“Our dream is to become The Hershey Company of East Africa,” said Fatima Riyami, founder of NatureRipe Kilimanjaro, a female owned business in Tanzania that produces sauces, jams, cashew nuts, peanut butter, honey, and cashew candy bars. After experiencing issues with the chocolate coating on their cashew snack bars, Fatima reached out to Partners in Food Solutions and its network of expert volunteers for support. “We were experiencing changing color and water separation in our chocolate sauces,” said Fatima. “We needed the assistance of PFS volunteers to help make a better chocolate cashew snack bar and improve its shelf life and texture,” she said.
Hershey’s Michael Nolt, a principal scientist with more than 35 years of experience, has helped NatureRipe Kilimanjaro improve their cashew snack bar product. Since the project started in February 2022, Michael and the project team have discussed the different types of ingredients to use to stabilize products, like the agent for chocolate which NatureRipe Kilimanjaro never knew while working with local Tanzanian institutes. Furthermore, Michael has provided guidelines around what ingredients to use for chocolate coating for cashew bars including cocoa, glucose, and fat.
“We’ve been experimenting with new products and formulations,” said Fatima. “The volunteer’s trainings are very important as we are bettering the production of our products.” By improving the chocolate coating on the cashew snack bar, Fatima hopes their sales will increase and also give them the opportunity to be one of the first local companies to produce a cashew bar coated with chocolate. “We are very grateful for the support from Hershey team members, PFS and TechnoServe, who tirelessly hold our hands and help us achieve our goals. Through the team’s support and cooperation, we’re seeing an immense change and are excited for our future. We hold our heads high thanks to our collaboration with experts from Hershey.”