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Farmers and lenders hold key to unlock eating out culture

By Obado Obadoh | Published Sat, April 7th 2018 at 13:23, Updated April 7th 2018 at 13:38 GMT +3
Nyama choma and kachumbari

Over Easter I came across a recent study by McKinsey & Company that said up to 40 per cent of Africa’s population lives in cities.

“As a continent, Africa is nearly as urbanised as China (45 percent) and more urbanised than India (30 percent).” The study said by 2020 over 500 million Africans will live in cities and the number of cities with more than one million people will hit 65.

Nairobi alone has 3.5 million residents and this could go up to five million in the next five years. One of the demands that this rapidly urbanising populations will create according to McKinsey is an appetite for convenient eating options.

Aside from the demand for food, Africans will increasingly continue to develop a taste for fine and upscale delicacies courtesy of exposure from the internet, higher education levels and rising incomes.

This scenario is already playing out in Nairobi with the growth being witnessed in the restaurant scene courtesy of the blossoming coffee culture. Every Tuesday evening as I drive out of town from the Café Deli which I run, I cannot help but marvel at the long queues of young Nairobians queuing in the cold for Pizza at Moi Avenue in Nairobi.

I was trying to explain to my children the other day that when I was a young man trying to find my way in Nairobi, pizza was a delicacy only seen in movies. It was something we heard being sold in the upmarket neighbourhoods and they could not believe me.

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“What do you mean there were no pizza delivery guys?” One of them asked me.

Today, a young person growing up in Nairobi is exposed to the tastes and preferences of people in their age group across the world.

As incomes continue to rise and accessibility to the internet become more universal, market dynamics like urbanisation and hectic lifestyles are creating a ground ripe for the take-off of the restaurant culture.

And because of time constraints created by a busy lifestyle, people living in Kenyan cities and towns are increasingly unlikely to cook at home.

Signs of maturity

It is no longer a bachelor thing not to cook at home. Everyone is doing it and in fact I think working class single ladies or couples who don’t have kids are just as unlikely to cook as bachelors when they get home in the evening.

As a result, the culture of eating out and the coffee culture, which was launched in 1999 is now showing signs of maturity. Though in its early stages, all indicators show it is bound to explode. This should sound like good music to Kenyan investors but the sad part is that it is the international food chains who have noticed this.

That is why they are trooping to set up shop and pouring millions of dollars. An ideal situation would however be if it was Kenyan investors running the show the way it is in the other industries because it is us who understand what our fellow Kenyans want to eat.

This would even create an avenue for traditional meals finding their way to the menus of these food chains. My experience in the restaurant business shows that although Kenyans have one of the highest adaptable consumer tastes, at the end of the day their appetite for local food is still king.

Win-win situation

What is standing in the way of local investors however are two key hurdles; access to credit and a disjointed supply chain. At Café Deli we spend a lot of time and hundreds of thousands of shillings to get you kienyeji chicken that can get us a consistent cut and taste on your table.

When we were coming up with our Kenyatta Avenue branch we were forced to seek funding from Grofin, a South African financing company because no bank in Kenya thought it would make business sense to lend Sh100 million to set up a giant coffee shop.

Two years down the line, the branch has broken even ahead of time and more branches are in the pipeline.

Why I am saying this is because there is a huge opportunity for farmers and financial institutions in the growth of the eating out culture that they seem not to have realised yet.

It is an opportunity that they can no longer assume and the sooner they do, it will be a win-win situation.

-The writer is the founder of Café Deli restaurants chain

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