Local food for good!

I’ve been in Lusaka for about 2.5 weeks and it’s incredible how much I’ve learned about the local market and the countless commercial opportunities. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from Lusaka and Zambia before I came here. Google was my best friend last summer during the preparation, but Google will not tell you the real experience. Looking to the GDP of Zambia, I knew it was more developed than for example Uganda, but I still didn’t know what to think about it. So when I arrived and we went for dinner the first evening, I was very surprised about the level of development, the huge shopping malls we passed and the European-like restaurant we went to. We had delicious food, for European prices haha… That already made me realise that there must be a middle class that is able and willing to pay for more luxurious and upscale products. This was confirmed the moment I walked in to the huge supermarkets where they offer all brands I remember from the period I lived in Cape Town. This country was definitely more developed than I expected! You can literally find everything you need here and it’s nothing like the Africa I experienced in Uganda for example.

However, during our market research it became clear that basically 80% of all products in the supermarkets are imported, mostly from South-Africa. When you think about this, this is just something weird, since most of the raw materials are produced here in Zambia too. Taking the example of tomato sauce; there’s maybe one local brand, all the others are imported. But guess what you see at every corner of the street: tomatoes. They are simply everywhere. When you go to the high density areas, where people live with a lower income, every place is selling tomatoes. There even way too many. When you go to Soweto market, the main market of Lusaka, the tomatoes are just thrown away... Why is no one doing something with this?

Another example we were introduced to, is the example of mangoes. There are mango trees all over the country, in every village. However, the mangoes were not really used for production and people did not know the value of a mango, because no one would buy them. This was something Dorothy Eriksson did not understand. She decided to work closely with small-scale farmers and to buy the mangoes to process them into home-made jams and dried fruit. She built the brand Chankwakwa (meaning ‘never ending flow’) and supports over 1500 local farmers and creates more than 50 jobs in the high season. A great and inspiring example of a social enterprise that proves a commercial product can change lives.

Since last week, we try to combine all information we gathered during the market research and build on a workable business model. It is now important to define the minimum viable product for the shared kitchen, so we know what is needed in terms of financial and human resources to make this plan sustainable. Since the Zambian market is of course different than the market for food entrepreneurs in the US or Europe, renting out the kitchen can’t be the only revenue stream at this moment. Therefore, we are looking into other possible ways to earn money in the beginning to pay the rent, kitchen equipment and operating costs of the kitchen. This could be achieved through offering catering services for events and weddings and through direct sales of products with the food truck. In that way, the kitchen will be used most efficiently and it is a way to promote the brand and the concept of the shared kitchen to the public. Lots to think about and discuss, especially when it comes to financials and investments, so to be continued again!

This week, we will organise a focus group discussion with five food entrepreneurs to learn more about their challenges and how the FoodLab could be of value for their businesses. We will also attend the ‘African Food Manufacturing and Safety Summit’ this week, to learn more about food trends and rules and regulations in Southern Africa. Learning every day!


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