Elizabeth Jebiwot redefines maize consumption in Kenya

Elizabeth Jebiwot

Elizabeth Jebiwot grew up eating left-over ugali with hot tea for breakfast. She is happy to introduce more ways for Kenyans to enjoy maize consumption.

Photo credit: Pool

The reason for the thunderous outcry in the wake of rising cost of maize flour over the past few weeks is because ugali is Kenya’s staple meal. In fact, you cannot talk about Kenyan cuisine without mentioning this meal—it is at the core of Kenya’s dining experience.

Growing up, Elizabeth Jebiwot ate plenty of ugali at dinner time. For breakfast, she enjoyed the leftovers and if lucky, a piece of the ugali crust from the cooking pot. The crust was always in high demand in most homes as it washed down very nicely with a cup of steaming, sweetened tea.

Fast-forward to 1990 when Jebiwot landed a life-changing opportunity to travel to the United States on a student exchange programme. She was pursuing an MBA in Management at Case Western Reserve University. There , she interacted with many South American and Caribbean students and was surprised to sample some of their dishes made from maize flour.

 “It was interesting to see my beloved maize crust being enjoyed abroad. It was served as a Mexican delight and went by the name nacho or tortilla chips. I knew right then that I was going to bring the idea back home and change breakfast options among my people.”

Bdelo products

Bdelo products are maize-based, blended and fused with high nutritive vegetables, legumes, super grains and seeds in over 10 variants. 

Photo credit: Pool

In 2010, Jebiwot returned to Kenya. By this, she had met her husband and fellow entrepreneur, Daniel Bischoff. Before returning to Kenya, Jebiwot and her husband had been saving up some money for close to 15 years. They came back with about Sh15 million which was the starting capital for Bischof Developing Local Opportunities (BDELO), a food processing and packaging company in Kajiado that offers a variety of maize-based healthy and tasty foods and snacks.

Bdelo locally sources all raw materials while working with aggregate farmers and individual small-scale rural farmers.

‘’The capital went into purchasing and importing machines designed to produce tortillas and nachos, product development, factory construction and the purchase of other assets, raw materials, packaging, marketing and distribution.”

Bdelo products are blended and fused with high nutritive vegetables, legumes, super grains and seeds in over 10 variants, such as moringa, Sukumawiki, sweet potatoes, chia, flax, sesame, beetroot, cassava and potatoes.

The products; maize and Kale tortilla chips, maize and millet tortilla chips, as well as maize and chia tortilla chips are gluten-free, have no preservatives, are certified, rich in fibre and have no monosodium glutamate (MSG).

 ‘’We are an award-winning company, in the production of a wide range of all-natural, healthy, foods and snacks. Our products are enriched with high nutritional super grains, legumes, and vegetables such as millet, chia, moringa, Kale wiki, sweet potato, arrow roots, sesame, and Irish potato.”

Jebiwot intends to preserve the heritage of her family and community as successful farmers.

Besides the tortilla chips, the company also produces taco shells and soft tortillas/wraps. For Jebiwot, the goal of these products, beside nutritional benefits, is to bring together her experiences of Mexican cuisine and the memories of her childhood savouring leftover ugali.

 

Bdelo

Bdelo Ltd Worker at Maize Crisps processing plant at Ngong Town Kajiado County on February 12, 2014.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Presently, the company has six permanent staff and more than 20 casual employees during production. The main activities include sorting, grading, washing and cooking the maize grains, after which they are ground and extruded for baking, frying and packaging.

 “We start production with the traditional Mexican method of nixtamalisation which removes the husk from the kernel. The nixtamalised maize is then made into a dough that can make a variety of base products. Tortilla chips are made into thin sheets then fried before packaging.”

They work with a distributor who picks the products at the factory and supplies to the retailers or for export.

Bdelo has successfully signed an export opportunity to the Middle East after the registration of Bdelo International in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

‘’Working in Saudi Arabia has helped me find possible entry points into the Middle Eastern market for Bdelo’s products. Last year, we found a potential partner in Saudi Arabia and sent a container of our tortilla chips on a trial basis. As we don’t use any stabilisers or preservatives, the shelf life of 10 months could be a problem if you consider the shipping time,” says Jebiwot.

Bdelo now ships pre-processed tortilla sheets and processes them into the final product in Bahrain and are discussing various partnerships with local food companies. They recently signed a distribution agreement with TransArabia for the food service sector across the Middle East.

Bdelo is listed and stocked in large supermarkets like Chandarana foodplus, ShopRite and Carrefour, e-commerce platforms such as Greenspoon and now has its own online shop as well. The products are available in various regional markets, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

‘’We have adopted a mixed marketing strategy to achieve cost-effective marketing objectives. These include promotions, media advertising, special sales activities, referral marketing and participation in events and community activities.”

Jebiwot says that the company has encountered challenges such as unfair competition from imports.

“The government does not apply the same requirements to imports. The retailers favour imports in their listings and shelf positioning. Multinationals can pay for shelf space,” she says and adds that the requirement for printed packaging adds costs unlike in many countries where printed labels are sufficient.

Jebiwot says that the company’s vision is to nourish and delight their customers while contributing to the development of local opportunities, with focus on being a market leader in the production of healthy and tasty foods and snacks.

“With our value, we are committed to superior products that will contribute to healthy and fun lifestyle.’’

Bdelo’s products, mostly different iterations of tortilla/wraps, chips, are aimed at the health-conscious consumer looking for gluten-free, all-natural snacks and foods. The chips retail from 40gm fusion at Sh89 while the superfood 40gm goes for Sh99. The wraps are made on demand basis.

With its innovative products, Bdelo has been attracting attention from various export markets. A company in the UK is discussing producing the tortilla chips; there is also a possibility to export to the UK from its facility in Kenya, but Bdelo would first require ISO certification which requires up to Sh4 million.

“We also have been in discussions with a company from the US. Our products are unique and can be used to create a wide range of nacho or tortilla dishes.” And, while there have been enquiries from West Africa, the logistics to get the product from Kenya are proving difficult and expensive.

She notes that with an increase in health consciousness among global consumers, the company will gain access to new markets and lift production volumes.

“We hope to increase our current monthly turnover in the years to come, boosted by new markets such as the Middle East and the UK. We would like to diversify into other foods, focusing on organic products while contributing to the development of local opportunities.”

In 2019, Bdelo won two Africa foodex awards ; Gold award Snack of the year 2019 and Best ingredient innovation.

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