Sorely missing her mother’s cooking when she joined boarding school inspired Anzazi Kiti to create a seasoning mix from natural ingredients that could replicate the taste she sought when she added the spice to the food served in school.
Her first customer was her younger sister, Gift Kiti, who is a director of Taste Afrique, a company that manufactures pre-cooked natural food seasoning products.
“I used tomatoes, onions, coriander, curry powder and oil. I would mix anything I found in my mother’s kitchen that would make the food at school taste better,” says Anzazi.
The only shortcoming was that the shelf life of the seasoning was not long enough to last the whole term. Once she completed high school and joined university, Anzazi began testing her recipes in different laboratories until she perfected her creation, pushing the shelf life to three years.
Anzazi’s client base continued to grow and in her final year at the university, in 2013, she pitched her business idea in a competition and received Sh4,800 to process her first batch of spices.
In 2014, after graduating, the entrepreneur founded Taste Afrique Company Limited. She called her seasoning, a mixture of natural herbs and spices, pre-cooked and then dried, Chibundiro, a word used by the local Chonyi community, which means pestle and mortar. The mixture consists of coriander, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, onions, cumin seeds, cardamom, black pepper, cloves and natural oils.
Even though her passion for cooking and entrepreneurship was evident, after graduation from university, Anzazi went on to work as an auditor for Deloitte as a forensic auditor and Ernst & Young as a senior risk and forensic consultant.
“My colleagues enjoyed my product, which encouraged me to register Taste Afrique Kenya Limited and my brand, Chibundiro.”
In the evening after work, she would process the vegetables and spices she needed manually in her kitchen. Her effort was not in vain because in 2016, Taste Afrique won the second prize in a regional competition on innovation in the agribusiness sector, a win that came with Sh200,000. At around this time, her cousin, who helped manage the business, left the company.
“It is then that I realised I had to go into the business full-time,” Anzazi says.
By the time she decided to focus solely on her business, the company was producing 40 jars of seasoning a day.
“I was still mostly selling to colleagues, friends and relatives, making an annual turnover of around Sh900,000,” she recalls.
Since the product was completely new, market penetration was difficult, but once people tasted it, most became return customers, but still, the company needed to find ways to increase awareness on a tight budget.
The company turned to social media in 2017 and begun to market its products. Anzazi also recruited friends to act as agents and sell to people in their networks. She also spent a lot of time knocking on the doors of supermarkets, convincing them to stock Chibundiro.
“It wasn’t easy to get into supermarket chains. We just had to visit them again and again to convince them. Marketing a new product and convincing retailers and individuals to try it is very difficult, especially if they haven’t seen the product advertised - the supermarkets would ask us to advertise first.”
Taste Afrique finally managed to get its three flavours of Chibundiro - without chillies, with mild chillies and with hot chillies, onto the shelves of Kenya’s Chandarana Food Plus supermarkets in 2017.
The company begun to exhibit in exhibitions and other forums to get its name into the public domain. Slowly, its profile grew, and one after the other, supermarket chains such as EastMatt, Cleanshelf, Naivas, Quickmart and Chieni agreed to stock the product line.
With time, it was clear that some of the processing would have to be automated to meet the increase in demand. In 2018, drawing from her savings and additional funding from shareholders, Anzazi invested Sh5 million to purchase a processing machine from China.
The company was then able to add three more products to its lineup in 2019: Siri ya Pilau, a pilau rice spice, Siri ya Chai, a spice mix for tea and Siri ya Mchuzi, a curry masala.
Since inception, Taste Afrique has sold over 800,000 jars and 324,000 sachets of Chibundiro, retailing from Sh10 to Sh750.
Today, with a total of 37 employees, the company exports its products to the US, Switzerland, UK, Slovakia, South Africa and Uganda.
The product line is also found on online retailers such as Amazon, MamaMata, AES Foods, and Mamasimon.com.
Anzazi says that a recent achievement is having exported over 15,000 jars of seasoning to the US in a single consignment and being a Safaricom brand ambassador in the Twende Tukiuke campaign.
“Locally, 80 percent of our sales are achieved through supermarkets and wholesalers, while 20 percent is from online e-commerce stores. When Covid-19 hit, we made more direct sales through the online stores as many people wanted delivery to their homes.”
One of the challenges linked to supplying to the larger supermarkets is the impact their payment terms have on cash flow.
“We have waited for payment for as long as 120 days,” Anzazi comments, pointing out that some retailers sometimes don’t keep their word, not paying when they say they will.
The company also suffered a financial loss when a supermarket chain it was supplying at the time, the now defunct Tuskys, ran into debt and started closing its branches in 2020. Currently, Taste Afrique sources its vegetables and spices from nine smallholder farmers from across the country.