In 2013, Nigerian agri-entrepreneur Oluwaseun Sangoleye founded Baby Grubz, a food company that manufactures complementary baby and infant food products. This year, on 30 July, Sangoleye was crowned winner of the Global SUN Pitch Competition and awarded US$20,000. So, where does she plan to go from here?
Targeting low and middle-income women with children aged 6 months to 5 years, Baby Grubz currently serves over 5,000 customers a month in Nigeria and Ghana. The aim of the enterprise, and mum-in-chief, Sangoleye, is to help fight child malnutrition in West Africa, where, according to the Global Nutrition Report, 29% of infants are stunted and 8.1% are wasted.
The issue of malnutrition has been personal for Sangoleye, whose son developed rickets as a child. “No one shared the ‘secrets’ of a balanced diet or dietary diversity with me so I resolved to help other children like mine whose mothers needed nutritious foods but couldn’t get them on the store shelves. Most imported complementary foods were made from rice and wheat and nothing contained the dietary richness of beans, nuts, sweet potatoes, and moringa,” explains Sangoleye.
Baby Grubz is also addressing the issue of poverty – and nutrition education – through an inclusive business model that works with 100,000 mothers to provide peer-to-peer mentoring on the benefits of nutritious foods and breastfeeding – with a focus on exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. These women receive an income for their role so they can support their families. “I decided to put ‘Made in Nigeria’ complementary foods on the shelves and help mothers like me make a living whilst doing it,” Sangoleye says.
This holistic approach to tackling malnutrition secured Sangoleye’s recent success at the 2020 Global SUN Pitch Competition. Out of 500 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that applied from across Africa and Asia, Baby Grubz was crowned the overall winner. he Competition final saw Sangoleye compete against 20 other entrepreneurs to pitch her business solution for improving nutrition to a panel of judges. “I feared that the judges may think we are doing too much, but understanding the peculiarities of my people in Africa, you cannot tackle one problem in isolation and leave the others, otherwise, they will come back to swallow it [the business] up,” she says. “I feel really grateful that our contributions towards improved family livelihoods and child survival are recognised and rewarded. This is a welcome pat on the back for us at Baby Grubz.”
During the Competition, Sangoleye was provided with transformational business training and mentorship from the Base of Pyramid (BoP) Innovation Centre based in the Netherlands, and Cathy AgriProjects Management Limited in Kenya. The training included core modules around investment readiness and strengthening the nutritional impact of businesses. “My biggest take away is clarity on the next steps for my business and how to get there. Micro franchising was mentioned briefly during the training, and I wanted to find out more on the topic. My coach was really helpful and we have begun to look into this to help us impact children and women on a larger scale,” says Sangoleye, who explains that micro franchising does not require a large financial investment or years of experience, and therefore empowers individuals to become business owners more easily and with fewer risks.
Building business resilience
The US$20,000 prize money Baby Grubz received from the SUN Business Network, organisers of the SUN Pitch Competition, will enable the business to carry out an in-depth micronutrient analysis and reformulation of its products, as well as to provide smaller product sizes so that they are even more affordable for underserved communities. Sangoleye will also receive further mentoring from BoP on how to digitise her business, a critical skill to ensure resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. “Interestingly, I had already signed up to BoP Inc’s newsletters and have been actively following their trainings and webinars for about 4 years now. It is a dream come true for me. I believe that BoP Inc has done extensive research into emerging markets such as ours and has data driven insights coupled with technology to help us drive our next steps forward.”
Maduka has over four years’ experience in agricultural communication and, as the Founder of Agrostrides Magazine, is an active advocate for youth engagement in agriculture. He also works in food processing innovation through his company LifePro Food Mills.
Maduka produced this article in collaboration with WRENmedia in the UK, which is supporting the SUN Pitch Competition communications.