Smiley'z Mobile Kitchen
Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen Limited is a tomato processing company based in Northern Nigeria. By buying excess tomatoes from smallholder farmers, it reduces food loss and boosts farmers' incomes. In addition, Smiley'z trains rural women in agricultural practices.
To start, can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Ogola Lois Kange. I am a Christian, a mother of three children, an architect by profession, and the CEO of Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen Limited. Smiley’z is a tomato processing company based in Kaduna state in Nigeria.
What motivated you to found Smiley’z?
In 2012, when I finished my service, I started Smiley’z because I am passionate about food and cooking. In the beginning, it was just about delivering healthy food products to our customers. We wanted to solve their problem of convenience.
Then, in 2018, we stumbled upon the Food Connection Challenge by the Dutch government. It called on innovations to reduce post-harvest losses. I had already been pasteurizing tomatoes for our own usage, so I got excited and applied. We won seed funding of 20,000 Euros and used it to start Smiley’z Mobile Kitchen Limited in its present form.
So, what is Smiley’z all about now?
We work directly with farmer cooperatives in Kaduna State. They sell us their excess tomatoes, and we process them into healthy tomato pastes.
In addition, we train rural women in agricultural practices like cottage farming and cottage processing. We also offer trainings to caterers who want to set up their own product lines.
Who buys your products?
Most of our products are in glass jars, so they are targeted at middle and high-end users. With the support of GIZ, we also got machinery to produce smaller sachets this year. Right now, we are rolling out these smaller, cheaper units for the base of the pyramid. Our plan is to target all market segments this year.
How do the farmers you work with profit?
Without us, farmers typically go through middlemen to access the open market. These middlemen do not pay for the tomatoes until they have sold them. A lot of tomatoes, however, rot before they can be sold.
We sign agreements with the cooperatives and buy as much as 65 per cent of their produce. The farmers tell us what the prices are, and we get the tomatoes directly from them. They get value for their money, and the tomatoes do not get wasted. In addition, we train them on topics like organic farming and waste management.
With us, farmers are increasing their sales by an average of 25 per cent per annum. Their incomes rise by about 65 per cent.
How many farmers do you work with?
We worked with 35 farmers in 2021. This year, we have already added some more. In addition, we are in talks with the GIZ Nigeria Competitiveness Project. They are helping us approach another cooperative to meet our supply needs.
Who processes the tomatoes in your factory?
Our processes are semi-automated, so there is a lot of manual work. We have ten staff members. About five of them are in management and have a good education. The others are women from abusive relationships or fresh out of school and unemployed. They just have a basic education, or no formal education at all. With Smiley’z, they can increase their income by 50 to 100 per cent.
Can you tell us more about the women you train?
As of 2021, we have trained over 200 women from the base of the pyramid. Fifty of them are already running their own small businesses and employing other people.
In 2022, we have added another 200 women. We are collaborating with Sosai Renewable Energies, a project funded by USAID, to teach them how to use solar energy to dry some of their excess produce. They also learn how to process, package, and sell their dried tomatoes.
Can you tell us more about your impact on women?
I am always excited about the fact that we are working with women. One could almost say that we are biased towards women. If you look at our staff, almost 90 per cent of them are women. Most farmers are women; all our trainings have been targeted at women. Our board is made up of three women and three men.
I feel that women are the backbone of society. If these women are taken care of and can earn a living, they can take care of their families and their children.
How do you measure the impact you create?
We track the number of farmers we work with and calculate their income increase. From time to time, we also go back to the women we have trained to see how they have progressed. This year, we hope to keep track of them in a more consistent manner.
What is the unique selling point of your products?
All the products we sell are completely organic. We do not use any form of preservatives or artificial flavours. Most of the other tomato pastes you see are imported and use a lot of additives. We have been doing this for three years now and the response has been really good.
Can you tell us about the growth of your business?
We started with three stores in 2019 and sold 3,000 jars. In 2020, we produced 9,000 jars and sold all of them. Last year, with Covid-19 and inflation, we sold less than expected: between 15,000 and 17,000 units. About thirty stores sell our products, including large supermarkets. We have also increased our product range from one to six products.
This year, we will go massively into marketing. We are jumping from 15,000 to at least 49,000 units this year. That means we need to get more farmers and more staff.
How large is the market you serve?
There is a huge market in this field: 43 million US dollars for supermarkets and retail stores, 360,000 dollars in restaurants, and 1.2 million for Nigerian households.
How do you generate income through the trainings?
Our trainings have been in two categories. The first one is for low-income women – these 200 people I have been talking about. We crowdfunded on 2Scale.org and got grants to finance them.
The second category is for women entrepreneurs, mostly caterers. We pay 100,000 naira for the one-month package and 30,000 naira for the shorter training in 2022.
Can you tell me the annual revenue of your business?
We had about 25,000 dollars in revenue last year. We would have earned much more, but there was huge inflation. So even though our products were already in the stores, the price we started at was not the price we ended at. When you are just entering into these stores, you cannot change your prices every day. So, we decided to take a loss instead of jeopardizing our relationship with these major supermarkets.
Do you receive any funding or technical support from outside the company?
We have received support from various organisations. I told you about the Food Connection Challenge from the Netherlands. Then, we also got support from TechnoServe Nigeria, which gave us some equipment and connected us to cooperatives.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started in 2020, we got a $7000 grant from GAIN Organisation under the Keeping Food Markets working (KFMW) Program. Recently, we also got support from GIZ, the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, and the Small Women-Owned Business Fund run by the United States African Development Foundation (USADF).
As much as we would like to take the glory for ourselves of having achieved something substantial in such a short time, we know that we have been blessed with a lot of people being strategically placed to help us at every step in the growth of our business.
What are your plans for the next few years?
I believe with the right partners we can scale even beyond the shores of Nigeria. We got certification from the Nigeria Export Promotion Council in 2021. They also gave us some funding and a piece of land to develop our own factory space and move out of the rented one. We are considering exporting to the US, the UK, Canada, and some African countries.
When we have set up our own factory, we also want to establish a processing hub for the women we train. This will help eliminate one of the key barriers to entering the food market, which is product testing and equipment. It will be subscription-based, like a co-working space.
What would you need in order to scale?
We are seeking around 250,000 dollars in investment to expand our production facilities in Kaduna state. This will mean increasing our production capacity and employing more farmers and cottage processors. We also plan to relocate into a bigger space and acquire more machinery.
This will increase our production capacity by 200 per cent per annum and help us satisfy the demand. Currently, demand exceeds supply by around 50 per cent.
Which struggles did your company overcome, and what inspired you to keep going?
It has not been a journey without its own struggles. We struggled, first of all, to get acceptance as a new brand. Also, one of the main challenges in working with the women we train is illiteracy. Often, we need to contextualize trainings or translate them into Hausa.
Personally, I faced my biggest challenge in December 2019, when I lost my husband. He was one of my biggest motivations for doing the business. He even came up with the name, Smiley’z. I had three children under the age of ten and just felt like my world had come to an end. A lot of prayer helped me move past that whole loss and continue what we are doing.
Are there any recommendations you can give to other inclusive business companies?
Use a lean kind of start-up methodology. Start with just the basic things you need to get your product out. Then, as you are progressing, you will see what you need to add. It just follows organically with your growth.
Also, make sure that your business is impacting positively on the environment. The farmers we work with are trained in best practices to reduce CO2 emissions and use water and energy effectively. We also recycle the jars we use. So, my advice for other inclusive business companies is to put people and the environment ahead of just profit-making. If integrity drives your work and actions, the financial benefits will definitely follow.
The Impact Stories are produced by the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN). They are created in close collaboration with the highlighted entrepreneurs and teams. The production of this Impact Story has been led by Susann Tischendorf (concept), Sara Karnas (video), Katharina Münster (text and info graphics), Christopher Malapitan (illustrations), and Alexandra Harris (editing). The music is royalty free. The photographs are courtesy of Smiley'z Mobile Kitchen Limited.