Embarking on a culinary journey that transcends borders, a host of African companies are making waves in the global market by exporting a diverse range of food products.
From the richness of Rwandan avocados and chillis to the wholesome goodness of Nigerian cashew nuts and ginger, this showcase features nine companies that stand as pioneers in propelling African flavors to international prominence.
According to howwemadeitinafrica.com, these success stories underscore the continent’s ability to not only meet global demands but also contribute significantly to the ever-expanding tapestry of the global food industry.
1, Capitalising on Rwanda’s avocado and chilli export potential
Entrepreneur Seun Rasheed, founder and CEO of SOUK Farms, is harnessing Rwanda’s capacity for cultivating and exporting crops such as avocados, chillis, and beans. SOUK Farms last year celebrated its fourth birthday, but up until 2021, Rasheed was still employed as lead economist for Shell at one of its liquefied natural gas sites in Qatar. “It (the company) was meant to be set up as a side business while I kept my own job, but very quickly it grew into something that needed me to be there full-time,” he explains.
At the moment SOUK Farms exports to region’s such as Europe and the Middle East but Rasheed is bullish about the opportunity for intra-African trade; he believes that this is where the real growth potential lies.
2, Nigerian trader builds an agricultural exports business
Lanre Awojoodu, CEO of Sourcing and Produce, initially concentrated on exporting cocoa from Nigeria to Europe, later broadening the company’s focus to include commodities such as cashew nuts and ginger. In 2021, the firm launched its own label, So Pure, and established an online presence with a storefront on Amazon. Targeting the Nigerian diaspora in the US, So Pure offers an array of products including the ancient grain fonio, fufu flour (derived from starchy vegetables like cassava and yam), ofada rice (a type of unpolished, parboiled rice indigenous to Nigeria) and pepper soup spice. These processed products are sourced and packaged in Nigeria before being exported to the US, where Sourcing and Produce has also set up an office in Wyoming.
3, Supplying the American market with Nigerian superfoods
Another Nigerian entrepreneur tapping the American market is Shalom Bako Dangombe. When he was 14 years old, his father relocated their family of five from Bauchi state in northern Nigeria to Orange County, California. There, Bako finished high school and attended college, and at one point it looked like he would commit to a future as a professional soccer player. He played first at his college, where he earned a communications degree, and later the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Yet now, in his mid-thirties, Bako spends his days engaging with smallholder farmers in northern Nigeria to grow hibiscus flowers for Afrivana, the company he established in 2019. Afrivana specialises in marketing and distributing African superfoods, particularly dried hibiscus flowers. The company sells its products in bulk or under private label to clients in the US, UK, and beyond.
4, Businessman builds sizeable company selling West Africa’s dried fruit abroad
Hans Peter Werder established HPW in 1997, exporting fresh pineapples from Ghana to Europe. Today, HPW is one of the largest producers of naturally dried mango, pineapple and coconut in Africa, processing over 30,000 tonnes of fruit a year, and employing around 1,500 people in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.
“The biggest problem for buyers in Europe is finding a reliable source of produce. They want to know exactly what they can expect and they want to know problems as soon as they arise. Key account management is a real issue – how many producers in Africa have offices in the markets where their customers are based? We have another company, HPW AG, with an office in Switzerland, with additional staff covering the United States and Eastern Europe. This means we remain physically very close to our most important customers,” notes the company’s founder Hans Peter Werder.
5, Exporting Made-in-Africa chilli sauce to 15 countries
Africa’s extensive tracts of arable land, favorable climate, and cost-effective labour present a substantial opportunity for exporting packaged food products to developed nations. This potential is further bolstered by a growing global interest in distinctive African foods. Capitalising on this trend is Black Mamba, a chilli sauce producer established in Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) in 2010. The company has successfully penetrated international markets, exporting to 15 countries thus far, with the UK, Norway, and Germany being key destinations.
6, Squeezing more value out of Togo’s pineapples
Based in Togo, Jus Délice specialises in producing pure organic pineapple juice, primarily supplying in bulk to European clients who then distribute it to various juice brands. Gustav Bakoundah, the co-founder of Jus Délice, was educated in finance but has consistently been involved in agriculture. In 2012, he established Label d’Or, a company that sources and exports pineapples and other organic crops grown by Togolese smallholder farmers.
Over time, Bakoundah sought to enhance the value of the pineapples locally, rather than exporting them solely as raw produce. He explored various product possibilities derived from pineapples, initially considering dried fruit, before ultimately focusing on juice production. However, he chose not to launch a consumer retail brand, deterred by the extended payment terms common among retailers. This led him to adopt a business-to-business model.
7, Cracking the international cashew nut market
In 2015, Tanzanian entrepreneur Fahad Awadh established YYTZ Agro-Processing, a company specialising in the processing and export of cashew nuts. Navigating initial challenges and hesitant bank managers, Awadh, alongside his father, invested in refurbishing a production facility in Zanzibar. By undertaking research expeditions to Vietnam, Awadh gained insights into efficient manufacturing techniques and subsequently prioritised mechanisation in his operations.
In 2016, YYTZ received a significant boost with a $500,000 grant from the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, which substantially augmented the company’s production capabilities. Presently, YYTZ markets its ‘More than Cashews’ brand through online platforms and in supermarkets across East Africa, Europe, and North America. The company distinctively processes and seasons its cashews with local ingredients, including Zanzibar sea salt.
8, Fonio: West Africa’s underexploited supergrain goes global
Fonio, a gluten-free grain rich in nutritional benefits, has been cultivated in West Africa for thousands of years. It is drought-resistant and grows successfully without the need for fertilisers, contributing to the restoration of organic matter in fallow soil. Despite its extensive history in the region, fonio remains under-commercialised.
Sustainable African Foods, a joint venture between businessman Simballa Sylla, former CEO of the Mali-based shea butter company Mali Shi, and the US-based African foods company Yolélé, co-founded by chef Pierre Thiam and Philip Teverow, aims to capitalise on both regional and international demand for fonio. The company is setting up the world’s first industrial-scale fonio processing plant in Mali to produce processed fonio grains and flour.
9, Made-in-Ghana chocolate company exporting to Europe
Hendrik Reimers, CEO of Fairafric, visited a coffee plantation while travelling across Uganda on a sabbatical in 2013. During his visit, the guides invited him to sample the coffee. The plantation only exported raw coffee beans, and Reimers was surprised the growers didn’t process and package the coffee to sell it at a much greater price.
Sensing a gap in the market, he returned to Germany, where he worked in sales, to plan how he could produce value-added agricultural products in Africa. Settling on chocolate produced from cocoa beans, the entrepreneur launched his chocolate company in 2016 through a crowdfunding platform and began operations in Ghana in the same year.