Business ideas for 2017: African ingredients

With exports such as sorghum, baobab, and black soap sparking trends in the UK, 2017 is the year to create a business focused around African ingredients

Popular for their health benefits, exotic appeal and the positive impact of sustainable trading on native communities, African ingredients have been predicted to become an even hotter trend in the European market this year.

Citing Africa’s rising GDP and improving infrastructure, Mintel suggests that the continent will continue to become a more powerful trading partner for Europe, with its youthful population and burgeoning middle class driving prospects further.

European consumer interest is growing too, with the Global New Products Database (GNPD) citing statistics that the percentage of food and drink products with African ingredients climbed 41% between 2011 and 2015.

Despite the volume of products already on the market, increasing demand continues to create plenty of room for new businesses using African ingredients to find their niche…

Starting an African ingredients business: Why it’s a good business idea

According to Richard Cope, senior trend consultant at Mintel, African ingredients encompass “a winning combination of authenticity, provenance and exoticism” which is likely to find favour with new consumers this year.

A number of African ingredients have already proved extremely popular. For example baobab, an antioxidant and fibre-laden fruit, has been recognised as ‘queen of the super-fruits’, with Western demand spiking sharply since 2011. In fact, data from SPINS revealed a staggering 208% increase in US baobab sales between 2014 and 2015.

Within the beauty industry and the food and drink space, Mintel highlights a range of consumer bases that can be targeted with such products, including youthful and experimental consumers, those who are interested in artisan products, the health market, and ethically-minded consumers.

As well as drawing attention to your brand, sourcing ingredients native to Africa can also benefit the indigenous communities there.

With farming a primary source of income for the majority of the rural African population, creating a supply chain in these areas brings more employment opportunities, as well as further driving awareness of what the continent has to offer.

Inspiration can be drawn from Aduna, a pioneering enterprise and Startups Awards finalist, which sells African ‘superfoods’ in order to provide thousands of small-scale producers across Ghana, Uganda and Malawi with sustainable income flows.

Business opportunities in African ingredients

Africa boasts a range of densely nutritious and tasty foods that have historically gone unnoticed in Western markets. Now, such produce is beginning to make waves, and there are a number of newly trending ingredients and products you can utilise to get ahead of the curve.

Firstly, a dazzling array of African ingredients are dubbed ‘superfoods’, a concept that immediately grabs attention from health enthusiasts. Aduna highlights the ‘superfood’ capacities of its baobab, moringa and cacao powders and snack bars as a huge part of its branding and marketing strategy and has found success in doing so – the company’s products are now sold in over 2,000 stores in 18 countries.

You’ve probably also noticed the soaring popularity of South American quinoa over recent years. Now, gluten-free African grains such as sorghum and einkorn are sparking interest, and with African fonio dubbed ‘the next quinoa’ by chefs and health food fanatics, it’s worth experimenting with such ingredients to create a brand that capitalises on this growing market.

If you’re drawn to gourmet food, you could consider creating African recipe kits, ingredient subscription boxes or authentic dishes. A shining example is Bim’s Kitchen.

Founded by husband and wife team James ‘Bim’ and Nicola Adedeji, the UK brand uses African ingredients to make sauces, syrups and jams – such as tomato and tigernut relish, baobab chilli jam and chickpea and moringa curry sauce – which are sold online and stocked with several retailers.

For those with more of a sweet tooth, Tanzanian chocolate is a favourite among natives as well as a gourmet treat in Western markets; with Tanzanian beans favoured for their fruity, softly sweet flavour. US start-up Askinosie, for instance, utilises these beans to create dark chocolate that appeals to a luxury market.

There’s also room for innovation in the European beer market, with drinkers increasingly looking to experiment with unusual varieties. With Mintel suggesting that Ethiopian tella – a fermented alcoholic drink typically made with barley, sorghum, maize or teff – is finding its way onto Western markets, it’s clear that consumers are opening up to African beverages.

Guinness – whose largest market was recorded to be Nigeria in 2011 – is also weighing in to the spaces with its Africa Special beer, which contains African herbs and spices, lemongrass and cola nut among other additions, and is manufactured in Diageo Plc’s Nigerian brewery.

However, if it’s the beauty market that calls to you, two trends stand out in terms of UK sales potential: African black soap and raw shea butter.

African black soap is popular in the UK among eczema and dermatitis sufferers but it is still relatively unknown amongst the general public. Shea butter by contrast is more familiar – it’s a staple on the shelves of UK beauty giant The Body Shop – yet few retailers provide it in its raw unrefined form, which is richer in vitamins, minerals and anti-inflammatory properties.

Insider opinion

Sophie Capron, marketing director at Aduna, has suggested that “Africa is set to be one of the biggest trends in food and drink this year.”:

“The continent is home to a huge variety of exciting new ingredients with exotic flavours, impressive nutritional content and authentic stories.

“This, combined with unprecedented consumer interest in the provenance, sustainability and social impact of the products they buy, helps explain why there has been a 41% increase in global launches of products containing African ingredients in the last five years.

“At Aduna we are experiencing this growing interest first hand. Demand for our range of baobab, moringa and cacao superfood powders and energy bars have sky-rocketed. […] This year, we will be expanding further into the mainstream. We will be increasing our distribution and launching a major new Africa-inspired product line, with major benefits for the small-scale producers we support.”

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