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.
Michael is a packaging and bulk flour production manager at Ardent Mills and has volunteered on several projects with PFS over the years.
PFS: Tell us more about yourself.
MJ: I have been in the flour milling business my whole career, about 33 years!
PFS: Why did you initially join PFS?
MJ: I started my involvement with PFS after getting a challenge from senior leaders and my mentor, Randall Garvert. One of the values of Ardent Mills is serving, and by helping across our company, in the community, and with PFS, I get to live out Ardent Mills’ values.
PFS: What skills are you using when volunteering with PFS?
MJ: The skills that are used in these projects are numerous. I get to practice listening, challenge my perceptions and work with others to collaborate on developing solutions. I’ve learned that I do not need to know everything about a process to be an effective leader of the solution.
PFS: What challenges have you experienced as a volunteer?
MJ: Challenges have included understanding language accents from different areas of the world, working across different time zones, faulty internet connections from all participants and not being able to easily ship packages or visit sites. All of these were overcome by pure diligence by all team participants to succeed.
PFS: You’ve volunteered on three projects. What motivates you to continue volunteering?
MJ: There is a feeling of gratitude, accomplishment, and the challenge of growing my leadership and collaboration skills.
Janice Johnson is a technical services advisor at Cargill and the Zambia volunteer portfolio lead for PFS. As a portfolio lead, Janice is responsible for reviewing all Zambia project charters for accuracy and feasibility before they become approved projects.
PFS: Please tell us a little about your background.
JJ: I have been working in the food industry for over 20 years in both consumer product goods and ingredient supply segments. I have a passion for science and nutrition, which drives me to study ways to provide healthy food options for the general population.
PFS: Why did you decide to get involved with Partners in Food Solutions?
JJ: I am fortunate enough to be working for a company that is a firm believer in supporting communities through education, making a positive environmental impact, putting people first in terms of health, safety and personal development, and making food accessible, nutritious, and safe for the world. Upon learning about PFS, it was easy to see that we shared a lot of the same values about lifting communities so that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential. After speaking with others about their positive experiences volunteering with PFS, it became an easy decision for me to become a volunteer.
PFS: What do you like most about being a portfolio lead for Zambia?
JJ: As the portfolio lead, I get visibility into all of the projects which allows me to learn more about others’ experiences and pick up tips on how to create meaningful solutions. I can also leverage these learnings with other clients to help expedite the decision process for other projects. I learn a lot from the challenges that the clients bring forward and I enjoy being able to share my technical knowledge and perspectives to help ensure they are successful.
PFS: What skills are you developing as a portfolio lead and how do you use those skills in your day job?
JJ: Considering some of the language barriers, time zone differences, and individual perspectives, I have learned to focus on my listening and verbal communication skills to make sure I am understanding others and they understand me. Having a clear grasp of the client’s needs is critical for making sure that I am a worthwhile contributor to their needs. Additionally, working with clients has sharpened my problem-solving skills, especially considering the limited resources available and the creativity required for robust solutions.
PFS: What is one thing you’ve learned after working as a portfolio lead?
JJ: Things that I take for granted are extremely important for PFS clients, such as, the impact of a drought or a flood on the ability to access electricity to run a business, protecting your business from crime, and the ability to get access to equipment and ingredients in a timely manner. Seeing these African businesses and entrepreneurs thrive so well with limited resources shows me that strong commitment, optimism, and persistence can lead to great success.