‘Moin-Moin’ is one of my favourite local foods. It’s a pudding made from a mixture of peeled and ground black-eyed beans (peas), onions and fresh ground peppers. It is a protein-rich food that’s also a staple in Nigeria and parts of West Africa.

Moin-Moin is tasty and quite inexpensive and if I had my way, I would eat it everyday.

Unfortunately, I can’t.

The main reason I can’t eat it everyday is because moin-moin is a time-consuming and labour-intensive meal to prepare.

The cooking part is quite straightforward; it’s getting the ingredients ready (especially washing and peeling the beans) that can be a pain in the neck.

Now that I think about it, most of the popular and staple foods in my part of the world, like fufu and pounded yam, take a lot of time and effort to prepare.

It’s no surprise that cooking is one of the most time-consuming and labour-intensive chores in many households. The average household in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa often spends between 1 to 4 hours everyday preparing meals.

However, in the last few years, I have noticed an interesting trend of business ideas that’s revolutionizing the way we cook, and how much time we spend in the kitchen.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to an impressive niche in the food business that is creating an interesting range of products that is making the cooking experience easier, faster and more convenient. 

First, a few interesting success stories

To give you an idea of how some convenience foods are making waves across the African continent, I’ll share with you a few interesting success stories from Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

1) Ayoola Foods, Nigeria: Convenience cooking, at an affordable price

I only found out about Ayoola Foods a few months ago, but they’ve been in business for more than a decade. This Nigeria-based business has dominated the local market with an impressive range of convenience foods.

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Its products have become very popular across Nigeria and in diaspora markets, and the business exports thousands of tons of its products to the US, Europe and Australia every year.

Some of its products like beans flour (that’s used to make my favourite moin-moin), cassava flour (for fufu, a heavily eaten local staple), yam flour and plantain flour have drastically cut down the cooking time for these dishes by up to 80 percent.

Take my favourite moin-moin for example.

If I had to prepare moin-moin the conventional way, it could take up to four hours from peeling of the beans to the ready-to-eat pudding. But with the beans flour product from Ayoola Foods, it takes less than an hour.

Amazing!

What’s more, using the flour is easier, faster, neater and more convenient. It’s no surprise the business has become a huge success.

Their cassava flour and yam flour have significantly cut down the time and effort it takes to make fufu.

2) Cherebut Foods, Kenya: Frozen foods for busy moms

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Photo credit: howwemadeitinafrica.com

Cherebut is a young business in Kenya that supplies frozen grains and legumes to grocery chains and supermarkets in Kenya.

Founded by Mary Cherop Maritim who used to work as an office secretary, the idea for this interesting business grew out sheer necessity. As an office worker she often had to work late and discovered that pre-cooked and frozen foods were always a lifesaver on those days she had to work latter than expected.

She decided to start this business on the side to cater to the needs of households that are unable to cook all the time.

Mary started producing and packaging cooked and frozen foods from her home. Today, the business has its own factory and employs a dozen people. Better still, demand for her products have been growing quite impressively.

These days, Cherebut produces nearly a ton of food every week for seven grocery chains in Kenya, including Nakumatt, East Africa’s largest supermarket chain.

3) Nkulenu Industries, Ghana: Africa’s leading food export brand

Nkulenu is one of Africa’s oldest indigenous processed food brands. This family business which started several decades ago boasts of an impressive range of conveniently-packaged local foods, including bottled palm wine, Kenkey and palm soup.

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Photo credit: nkulenu.com

The Palm Soup Base, which is Nkulenu’s flagship product, has sold thousands of units across the world. The product which eliminates the time-consuming and labour-intensive processs of extracting a base from raw palm fruits has been widely embraced.

The palm soup base features quite prominently in West African cuisine as it is a key ingredient in palm soup (popularly known as ‘Banga’ soup) and several other varieties of soups and stews.

3 Reasons Why Convenience Foods Are Taking Over Africa

As is my usual practice on Smallstarter, it’s important to me that you understand the reasons why more African households are becoming open to products and options that make the process of food preparation easier, faster and more convenient.

i) A growing population of working mothers

Back in the day, most mothers were full-time housewives. While the men were sole breadwinners, the mothers’ ‘job’ was to mind the home; do the laundry, take care of the kids and cook the food.

These days, things have changed. Due to growing economic pressures, most families now have two breadwinners. Most mothers, especially in Africa’s urban areas, now work at a full-time office job or run their own small business to support their homes.

This means that these mothers now have less time to spend in the kitchen. These women are interested in convenient options that will make the cooking process easier and faster.

ii) Growing urban population

According to the AfDB, Africa’s urban population has been growing at a rate of 3.5 percent over the last two decades. It is estimated that by 2030, over half of Africa’s population will live in urban areas.

You see, due to the time pressures and stress of city life, people who live in urban areas do not spend as much time in the kitchen as people who live in the rural areas.

To save time, effort (and sometimes money), people in urban areas are more likely to eat out at restaurants and fast food outlets. And when they choose to cook, most of them want the process to be as short and painless as possible.

It’s no surprise that most of the convenience foods on the market are heavily sold in urban areas where the consumer demand is highest.

iii) Increasing demand for local foods from the African Diaspora

Nearly 200 million Africans now live in the diaspora, and they constitute a significant and lucrative market for local African foods.

According to World Bank estimates, there are 39 million people of the African Diaspora in North America; 113 million in Latin America; 13.6 million in the Caribbean; and 3.5 million in Europe.

Every year, thousands of tons of raw and semi-processed local food products are exported from Africa to these top diaspora markets in the USA, Europe and Asia.

As most of these exported food items are highly perishable, convenience food products which are well-processed and packaged are meeting the demands of the African diaspora market.

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Ridley Road Market in London, a major market for local African food products (photo credit: dailymail.co.uk) 

Want To Enter The Convenience Foods Business? Here Are A Few Things To Keep in Mind

The market for convenience food products in Africa is on a growth trend and will remain an interesting business opportunity for quite some time.

If you’re considering an idea or venture in this space, here are a few important things to keep in mind.

a) Focus on food products that provide convenience and value

People want food products that reduce the time, effort and stress of cooking. If you can offer a product that reduces, or totally eliminates, the pain of preparing meals, then the market will embrace it.

For example, flour is a more convenient option for meals that require grains to be ground. That’s why the bean flour from Ayoola Foods is a godsend for people like me who need it for our favourite ‘moin-moin’.

By doing the hardwork upfront and providing consumers with a semi- or fully-processed food product, you will be meeting the convenience and value needs of the market.

b) The food processing business is closely regulated

Businesses in the food processing industry are usually closely regulated to prevent public health hazards like food poisoning. As a result, businesses that operate in this space are usually required to register with a government department or agency.

You will need to pay close attention to production, packaging, product quality and the methods and processes you use to make your products. Remember, poor product quality and could lead to sanctions and harm your brand.

c) Focus on the local markets first before export

Especially in Europe and North America, there are a lot of strict guidelines and tight border controls when it comes to food products coming from Africa. Scaling through these hurdles requires care and diligence throughout the export process.

For anyone new to the food business, I would recommend that you start with your local market first. This will give you the opportunity to learn from your mistakes while you improve product quality and the efficiency of your business.

d) Start small, but dream big

The great thing about the food business is you can start small. Like Mary Cherop, the Kenyan entrepreneur who started her frozen foods business in her home before expanding into a factory, you too can follow the same model.

It’s not the best strategy to first invest in a factory, buy processing equipment and register a company before finding out your product idea doesn’t really work. But when you start small, there’s an opportunity to scale up while you learn and grow.

Local Convenience foods are the future for Africa

As the population of Africa’s urban areas continue to grow and the pressures of city life prevail, the demand for food products that help to make meal preparation easier, faster and more convenient will continue to increase.

I look forward to a time when our local food products and ingredients will have canned, frozen, ground and processed varieties, so people don’t have to labour for long hours in the kitchen.

Entrepreneurs who can identify niches in this industry will exploit lucrative market opportunities.

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I wish you a fruitful and very rewarding year!

Cheers!