Entrepreneur Irene Wanjiru Mwangi is a pioneer in the field of potato processing in Kenya. Her company, GAEA Foods Ltd., processes potatoes for the local urban market mainly consumed by fast food restaurants, main stream hotels and centralised kitchens for some universities. Consumption is highest amongst the fast food chains: that is estimated to consume just over 600,000 kgs per day. Innscor trading as Galito’s fast food chain operating several branches and expanding in various parts of Nairobi is a major client of GAEA.
The business was started in 1998 as a sole proprietorship and initially as a food kiosk based in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, and it is here that Irene first started interacting with major suppliers of produce in the Industry. Thereafter, her family relocated to Eldoret in 2002 where Irene successfully set up and ran a restaurant. She returned to Nairobi in 2008 following the political instability in the Rift Valley region and took an individual initiative to respond to a demonstrated need in the local market. Having run a food business, she had seen the opportunity in the market for supplies of various agricultural produce and wanted to supply the food businesses with what she considered a fast moving produce – potatoes – the second largest consumed produce after maize. She would buy potatoes wholesale, sort and deliver to fast food stores so that they could peel, cut and fry to make potato chips.
With seventeen years of experience in the food industry, Irene’s vision has been to build a brand that would be recognised for its product quality and packaging, she has demonstrated a strong ability to manage operations, together with the other director – Roseanne Wanjiku Mwangi who brings to the business a wealth of professionalism and management skills given her background in business development from a formal work environment, they are steering the business to achieve further growth.
Nairobi has witnessed the growth of various food outlets – setting up shop and existing outlets expanding to take advantage of enormous opportunities presented by the growing middle class and good disposal income.
To meet the needs of this growing new market, the entrepreneur approached GroFin seeking a financial investment of USD 660,000 to enhance her production capacity by automating some of the businesses current manufacturing processes. A bulk of the funds supported the business in purchasing of equipment including brush peeler, electric cutter, bubble washing machine, dryer and packaging equipment (bag weigher and vacuum packing machine). The funds were also used to carry out modification of the current premises to fit the new equipment, purchase of three delivery vehicles and boost working capital.
The business employs 21 staff, a bulk of whom are low skilled employees involved in the production process, and about 50% of whom are female employees. GroFin Kenya is supporting the business in formalising its accounting practices and providing expertise on adherence to local ESG practices, as well as market linkages using internal networks.
In terms of the local economic impact, the food security sector is considered a key pillar and priority for the government of Kenya. Purchase of the potato produce is from small scale holder farmers in the country; an increase in purchase of produce that will be facilitated through this investment means that the farmers’ reliable market for produce will expand improving earnings and livelihoods of more small scale potato growers/farmers. GAEA hopes to work more closely with these farmers to develop better potato varieties to ensure quality and consistency (with the assistance of technical partners such as Technoserve), this will involve upskilling these farmers and improving their yields.