Interview with the Nigerian ladies behind KoKo’s Kitchen & their Gorgeous Red Velvet Cake Mix
- It is nice to meet you Oluwatosin Olaseinde. Can we learn more about you and Koko’s Kitchen please? KoKo’s Kitchen is an indigenous brand of confectionery dry mixes specially tailored to suit the taste buds and pocketbook of the quintessential person-on-the-go! It is quite interesting how this venture came to life. I went to commiserate with my friend who lost her dad, and on visiting, she dished us a delicious meal and dessert. The cake served was everything, I asked her – Sifa Asani Gowon – have you considered packaging? And let’s just say that is history and we are both here today as partners. It is quick and easy, just eggs, oil and water added to the dry mix and of course some patience and you have your Cake or cupcake.
- Many entrepreneurs are weary of food packaging & processing business because of perceived complex NAFDAC registration. How did you handle this? In all honesty, the entire process surrounding the process with NAFDAC is arduous…but necessary. This is the only way to ensure that Nigerians consume only the best and safest products in the market, and also to benchmark us to international standard. We’re in the process of working with NAFDAC to ensure that our products are in line with all their requirements.
- What are the critical steps you took to start this business? I’d say that my partner and I ensured that we both had, and still have, the same drive, passion and enthusiasm to start a business together, as well as the necessary skills sets required. We also believe in what we do, in what we have planned for the market, and we are confident. In more practical terms, we’ve registered our company with CAC and took the bold step to produce the first batch to hit the market. And going by reviews it is awesome. When small medium enterprises keep hearing “start small”. That is what we literally did and we’re learning on the journey and growing.
- What are the top 3 biggest business challenges so far and how did you solve them? We’ve had challenges in the pace at which businesses are registered and the go-ahead given legally by CAC. Finally that is over. Also, sourcing particular material proved to be quite the task, especially as we are committed to using local content in our products. Finally, capital is a challenge, given that our product requires machinery and others as we grow. It’s said that anything worth doing, is worth doing well…but that can sometimes involve a substantial amount of money. So we are currently employing creative means to achieve that and enable us scale. Sometimes explore the option of selling equity or incorporating debt. The equity route seems to be more feasible for us.
- There is a perception that women cannot partner successfully to run a business. What processes/structure did you put in place to ensure a smooth partnership?
Haha, this is definitely a myth. Before I delve into partnership, my partner and i have received the most tremendous help from mostly women. They want to see you succeed. We also just got accepted to She Leads Africa acceleration program. Out of over 200 applications, only 10 got chosen which we are part of. This is an establishment backed by women.
Back to my partner and I, we understood early on that in running a business there is no place for ego and pettiness, and that we have to bring our strengths to the table and balance out our deficiencies. I am the ‘numbers’ person among us, being a chartered accountant and financial analyst for over 7 years and Sifa is the ‘cake and pastry’ person, being a baker with a home-run business for 5 years, creating and tweaking our mix recipes. Our unique talents, merged together, makes for a great partnership. It also helps that we’re family friends, having known each other through Sifa’s sisters. We do not take anything for granted and have ensured that we have our structures in place and signing agreements as necessary.
- Some intending manufacturers say almost everything needed in food processing is imported e.g packaging, preservatives and more. Many are not aware of the importation process. Can you educate on this? One of the major components of our product line is that we want to keep importation to the barest minimum, relying on locally available products or indirect imports. There are, of course, some items that are either unavailable, too expensive or of low quality that forces manufacturers to look outside. So far we have been able to keep that at a minimum and we hope it remains that way. Considering how the exchange rate is swinging, we plan to export in the near future, this should hedge us against the persistent exchange rate swing.
- Some of your local ingredients must be locally sourced too, how do you ensure you source optimally? from (i) quality, (ii) cost and (iii) continuity point of view? As earlier mentioned, the majority of what we need for our products can be sourced within Nigeria. We are at early stages yet and are trying to create relationships with suppliers and wholesale outlets. For instance, flour and sugar are readily available- we just have to decide which brand works best for us to produce high quality mixes. Fortunately, Sifa has been able to use her own expertise on that and so far we are happy with what is available, although we are constantly looking to improve. In terms of cost and continuity- we are also formulating contingency plans and ensuring that we have options available to us. Running a manufacturing business in Nigeria can be costly, especially with gaps in basic infrastructure and we are, as they say, ‘rolling with the punches’ as best we can in this economic climate.
- Another myth for most start ups is lack of capital, how did you overcome this? What tips can you give? Can you advise on source of capital options available in Nigeria? First of all, I would respectfully disagree in saying inadequate capital is a myth. For the start up in Nigeria, and indeed elsewhere this is an all too evident reality. Without money, you cannot start or hope to run a business. There are basic costs that present themselves, such as cost of inventory, cost of registration, NAFDAC costs, employees, and such. These are very real and many times, very expensive. Tips? Brainstorm over cheaper alternatives that will not compromise quality. Accept help when offered as far as it is relevant to your business. Apply for grants and entrepreneurial programmes. Actively seek those who are interested in what you do, and see how you can partner with them to build your business. Nigeria has a growing network of venture capitalists and entrepreneurial programmes available that one can utilize. You just have to know how and where to look. Don’t hold on to equity and jeopardize cash injection that your company desperately needs at the same time don’t price your company low and sell for cheap. Moderation is the king of the day.
- Many Nigerian users believe imported brands are better than local ones. How does your product compete with imported brands? In as much as imported brands may have the advantage of consistency and pricing…the truth is that for the most part, the products have similar if not identical ‘baseline’ ingredients/products used. The key is usually in the branding and packaging. Our competitors have been at the game for years, some up to 150 years as in the case of ‘Jiffy’ products. They’ve had time to make all the necessary adjustments. But…are they better in the real sense of the word? I wouldn’t be quick to assume so. Our product is a cake mix with locally sourced ingredients, with no added preservatives (which, I might add, our competitors have a lot of to keep their products on the shelf longer) and with a unique taste and sugar content. We have found that most of our competitors use an extremely high amount of sugar and we have been able to tailor our mix to the taste of consumers here (as Sifa has been able to observe over her years baking). We are about growing our own unique brand with our unique African flair. We are about branching out and seeing what works for our customers: mothers, bakers, busy professionals, and people who want to enjoy the wonderful taste of red velvet cake (and others to come) in the comfort of their homes. Our products support local industries and as we expand, will create employment for the local community. Our product keeps our money within our shores and boosts the confectionery industry within the nation.
- It is often said that 90% of start ups fail? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs to build businesses that live long? Where do you see your own business in 3-5 years too? Yes, that is an unfortunate but real statistic: one too familiar with many. I can only advise entrepreneurs to: 1) Do your homework. Research your industry and keep tabs on your ‘numbers’ in terms of a proper accounting system, taxation and the like. 2) Have a reliable partner that has a different skill set from you so you complement one another and bring the best of skills and ideas to the table. 3) Set realistic goals in a proper timeline and see to it you move at a steady pace. 4) Enjoy what you do. If there is no passion at all for it, and if you only want to ‘make money’, then perhaps you are in the wrong business! KoKo’s kitchen is set to become a household name in the next 3-5 years. We want to be in the baking goods/aids aisle in every major store in the nation. We aim to create a variety of products suited to the African kitchen and palate. We aim to be here to stay in the long haul.
- How can users get your products? or become retailers? For now, we are mainly using our Facebook page (KoKo’s Kichen NG) to take orders. We are trying to set a reliable distribution structure in place so that our customers do not go through any inconvenience to get our products. We hope to streamline and perfect this in the shortest frame of time possible.
You can also read more about Kokos kitchen on SheleadsAfrica