Sopa Supplies, a milling company based in Kenya, recently added a new processing facility to increase its production capacity and sales. Due to low market penetration and distribution, Sopa Supplies was not getting enough orders to utilize their new facility and reach full production capacity. That’s when they realized they needed assistance in developing a marketing strategy that aligned with their updated business plan. Mukul Aggarwal, a corporate strategist at Cargill, was looking for an opportunity to use his knowledge and business skills to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) when he discovered the PFS volunteer opportunity with Sopa Supplies. “I chose to volunteer on the marketing strategy project because SMEs are typically resource and cash-constrained in emerging nations and I wanted to help them achieve their business goals and make a meaningful impact,” Mukul said. “Moreover, Sopa Supplies is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, and I wanted to learn more about the country and continent given its growing prominence in the food industry.”
One of the most interesting things Mukul learned while working with Sopa Supplies was that the challenges the company faced were analogous to the challenges most other food and agricultural companies, like Cargill, experience. “Obstacles such as increasing market share, improving/maintaining food quality, and remaining price competitive transcend geographies or the size of an organization,” he said. On the other hand, there was a lot more emphasis on the short- term (0-2 years) strategy for Sopa Supplies. Typically, at Cargill, we take a long-term (5+ year) view and look at the changes that are expected to unfold in the future to determine the best positioning for sustainable growth. With that shorter-term timing in mind, some of the areas we focused on were creating a website, changing pricing strategy, and hiring the right sales talent.”
Pauline Njeri, managing director of Sopa Supplies, worked with Mukul and the PFS team to collaborate on and develop the marketing strategy. “PFS really guided us through the entire process, ensuring that we came up with a marketing strategy that will help us have a larger market presence and help us restore our declining sales and margins,” she said. “Mukul’s involvement in this project brought in the right expertise that helped us come up with a plan that is comparable to the best practices. His leadership in this project ensured that we were on track and therefore saving a lot of time.”
Pauline is looking forward to putting the market strategy PFS volunteers helped develop into place and seeing its positive impact on sale volumes, margins, and new markets.
After working in food safety and quality for over 19 years, Chrissie Tuetken knows a thing or two about keeping food safe for consumers and making sure the processing plants meet strict standards. “I feel like it’s my duty to ensure companies have the resources to produce safe food. I have extensive experience in this area and love sharing this knowledge with others in order to establish good practices,” Chrissie said.
Last fall, Chrissie joined PFS client Bee Natural Uganda, a honey processor, on a project that included reviewing their GMP documents before being audited by the Uganda national regulatory body. “I’ve never worked with honey before, so this was a new experience for me. I had to learn what they do every day for their honey process,” she said.
There are many steps involved in producing safe honey for customers, Chrissie explained. “The product is checked before the combs are crushed and honey is extracted, then sieved, sterilized and packed into containers. I found it interesting that many of the general food safety ideas are the same even though the production steps were different. For example, we have to ensure our suppliers bring in the correct product and that checks are performed throughout the process to confirm the products meet specifications. Like many food products, the quality of our supply chain is key in producing quality products.”
When the project ends, Chrissie hopes Bee Natural Uganda and their quality team will gain a better understanding of the GMP prerequisites and can go on to become certified in the near future. “Overall, I have enjoyed learning from Bee Natural Uganda and talking through their food safety challenges as some of them are similar to the challenges we face in our plants.”
*Update (October 2020): Bee Natural Uganda is now prepared for a food safety and quality audit. Chrissie has recently joined a second project with Bee Natural Uganda helping them put together a HACCP plan that will further improve their food safety management system.
Spice World, a grain and legume processor based in Nairobi, Kenya, recently decided they wanted to expand their animal feed business. They were already producing animal feed but on a smaller scale, using by-products from their grain and legume processing. In order to grow their animal feed production, Spice World looked to Partners in Food Solutions’ expert volunteers to assist in formulating feed for ruminant animals. Joyce Kibiru, a sales manager at Cargill who also has an animal health and production background, joined the project team to lend her expertise.
“I have a particular passion for volunteer and community work; not to mention Cargill has ‘community enrichment’ as one of its pillars for success,” Joyce said. “I was excited by the rare opportunity to help other agribusinesses and play a role in ensuring African companies were successful. Adding value to the farming and feeding of dairy cows has been a key motivator for me.”
Joyce’s help in the Spice World dairy feed formulation project was invaluable. She was able to leverage her skills and expertise in animal nutrition to help facilitate proximate analyses of soybean, corn, wheat, and sunflower meal. “The purpose of the analyses was to evaluate the safety and nutritional value of the ingredients. Proximate and digestible values are important aspects of formulating a cost-effective and efficient animal feed,” she said. Additionally, she connected the Spice World team with the Cargill ruminant team based in the US and South Africa to ensure the feed formula they were developing met the needs of dairy farmers in Kenya and made sense for the local African market.
Today, Spice World is conducting preliminary trials with local Kenyan dairy farmers to grade its overall performance and see how the dairy cows are tolerating it. Once a final formula is selected, the team will then start discussing production capabilities and the cost associated with producing the product in the necessary quantity.
With a grant from the World Food Programme to update their facility, Ghanain maize processor Premium Foods looked to Partners in Food Solutions for assistance with setting up a lab at their facility. Premium Foods decided that in order to stay competitive, building an internal lab would allow them to conduct their own analysis while meeting stringent legislative market requirements and statutory legislation. “An internal lab will provide important food quality results in less time than if we continue to send them to external laboratories,” said Maxwell Bruce, food safety apprentice at Premium Foods. “Therefore, our team can reduce waste by conducting checks in real-time on raw materials, work-in-progress materials, and take corrective actions sooner before the product reaches the final stages.”
To assist Premium Foods in setting up their lab, PFS sought the advice of a volunteer who had lab and grain quality expertise. Curtis Rainey, an assistant quality manager at Ardent Mills, seemed to be just the right fit. “I love the opportunity to help others in the food industry,” said Curtis. “It’s also a fun way to get outside the normal daily grind and learn something new.”
Working on this project with Premium Foods was a bit more involved than the typical projects Curtis works on. “Because I was involved in the development of the analytical lab from the ground up, I got to take part in decisions like which countertops were purchased and discuss what the best testing methods are.” In addition to some of the more detailed parts, Curtis also helped develop procedures for the lab layout, setup, usage, and calibration of different testing procedures.
“Curtis has been a great help to us,” said Maxwell. “He assists in documentation and advises us on what to do to make this project a success. Plus, with Curtis’ help, our staff will know how to conduct laboratory analysis at the end of this project. The expertise we’ve tapped into from the volunteers, such as Curtis, will help us do similar projects on our own in the future and/or enable us to help other businesses in our country.”