Interviews & Profiles

How to Take Your Food Startup to the Big Leagues

How to Take Your Food Startup to the Big Leagues

Meet The Woman Kasope Ladipo-Ajai describes herself as a young and independent Nigerian woman whom, whilst being appreciative and proud of her roots is open to the experiences of the wider world. She is a computer science graduate of Nigeria’s Babcock University and a former Air Nigeria team lead. Kasope always knew her destiny was entrepreneurship, it was never in her plans to be a devoted employee.

In 2012, she left the corporate world behind to start her venture, OmaAlata, which translates into “Son or Daughter of a Spice Seller. “ It is Nigeria’s first NAFDAC approved 100% organic packaged blend pepper mix. Kasope is also very passionate about mentoring and hopes to one day position OmaAlata as a business that affects people’s lives.

Food startups are now increasingly more than ever committed to taking the artificial ingredients and preservatives out of their products. OmaAlata in particular focuses on selling hygienically processed and local Nigerian soups, spices and peppers. Many of these ventures are often limited to doing business at the local farmers market. OmaAlata however, isn’t one of them. There are several ways to grow your foodstart up. Some of these include fairs, festivals, and catalouging.

Kasope has focused on two specific areas which is helping to grow her business into the global brand it envisions itself to be. These two areas are selling online and going retail. Selling online allows customers to explore the product from their homes. Going retails is a sure way to find out where the customers would like to see the product sold. They both complement each other and have the ability to transform any food business.

Sell Online

The ability to sell your products online expands your market reach. There are no geographical restrictions when you sell online. By having an e-commerce platform on your website you also reduce business costs as the main requirements are the internet and a telephone. Selling online helps to assess which products are selling well and which ones aren’t. It also allows you to diversify your customer base. You can up sell new products and cross sell additional products. When selling online the results of your “hits” can also be translated so that you can assess traffick on your website.

OmaAlata allows their customers to order on line in two ways. The first way is directly through the website where four of its signature products can be purchased and delivered directly to the customers doorstep. The second way is through its online merchants. With one click customers are directed to merchants who carry the OmaAlata products for a quick purchase.

Other advantages to selling online are that shoppers are already there. You do not have to find them because they already exist and are looking for what you are selling. Today’s consumer is online and having your product readily available is advantageous. Mobile capabilities are also vast. With everyone carrying out transactions from their mobile phones, it makes sense to have an online platform. Nigeria is currently Africa’s leading e-commerce market and with Nigerians shopping regularly online via their mobile phones the potential in this area is unlimited.

Go Retail

Getting your products on store shelves is a guaranteed way to build your business. Food startups tend to have a hard time initially getting their products into major retail stores but once you’ve built your community of supporters and have repeat customers it becomes easier. Starting with smaller retailers is a good strategy as it is easier to engage one to one with small business owners.

The OmaAlata website has a manager’s statement, which informs the customer of its production cycle. It breaks down all the tasks of the process so that the customer is aware of exactly what transpires before it arrives in their home. The company clearly values transparency and the relationship it is building with its buyers. In time these buyers become loyal and potentially repeat customers who will start requesting that their local retailers carry the OmaAlata products.

OmaAlata is currently sold in approximately 14 brick and mortar retail stores in Lagos. Once your product is in the shoppes, it is important to start assessing how well or how poorly it is selling. There could be a reason as to why it is selling better in one store than in another. In the case of OmaAlata who caters to families, friends and event planners there is a need to understand each market segment.

As the barriers to entry become less restrictive in the food industry, niche brands are performing remarkably well. Organic and health food products are more popular now than a decade ago, so building traction is no longer impossible. As consumers desire more variety, retailers are working to meet those needs. Going retail has it positives and negatives but if your dream is to build a global brand it is something to strongly consider. Retailers open doors for more opportunities to get your product into markets outside of your local region.

Wishing Kasope Well

In September of 2015 Kasope won the She Leads Africa 2015 Pitch Competition. This very dynamic and competitive showcase provides a platform for the continent’s most promising female led businesses’ and startups. Out of 6 women leading startups, Kasope was chosen as the one, as she continuously impressed the judges with her self-assurance. Her reward included $10,000, mentorship and included additional prizes and support. Kasope’s innovative repackaging concept is already a huge success. As the African continent’s most populous country, she is only at the beginning of her journey.

Moreover the Nigerian diaspora currently covers the entire world and they are all waiting to purchase this new product. There is no doubt that Kasope will achieve success as a food entrepreneur not just on the continent but globally. Her reach as a business woman is far and wide. There are no restrictions for this young and independent global thinking woman! We wish her well as she continues to build her food empire one hot pepper at a time.

About the author


Jo-Ann A Hamilton

Jo-Ann A. Hamilton is the Founder of SecretBirds, an enterprise, which encourages, empowers and supports girls and women through entrepreneurship. Jo-Ann is a sustainability enthusiast, avid traveler and devoted runner. You can find her cycling around happily on her bike.

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