By Prudence Minayo
Growing up in Kenya, like many other children, Elizabeth Jebiwott loved the crust left behind after cooking ugali. For most, it was a fight to see who gets to eat it.
Shockingly, when she was studying abroad, she realized there is a huge population who use maize for other things other than Ugali. The crust was also enjoyed by many who prepared it in a different way.
At this point, she knew that at some point she would employ the same technology to convert maize flour into delicious snacks.
Together with her husband, they set up a company that today manufactures a number of healthy snacks suitable for the health conscious consumer. Their company won Gold Award Snack of the Year and Best Ingredient Innovation at the 2019 Africa Foodex Awards.
Today, their products are stocked in some of the largest retailers including: Chandarana Foodplus, Carrefour, and Shoprite. They also sell online and through their platform with products reaching as far as Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
In 1990, she went to the United States on a student exchange program. She was doing an MBA in Management at Case Western Reserve University. Among the many people she interacted with were Carribean and South American students. They had a multitude of dishes derived from maize flour.
“It was interesting to see my beloved maize crust being enjoyed abroad. It was served as a Mexican delight and went by the name nacho or tortilla chips. I knew right then that I was going to bring the idea back home and change breakfast options among my people,” she was quoted by Nation.
Bischoff Development Local Opportunities
She met her husband Daniel Bischoff and for a decade and a half the couple saved money. In 2010, they relocated to Kenya and started Bischoff Development Local Opportunities (BDELO) in Kajiado with Sh15 million capital.
The money went towards purchase of equipment to make nacho and tortillas, constructing the company, purchasing raw materials, and marketing and distribution among other things.
The company processes and packages various snacks and food from maize. They work with local farmers and get all their raw material locally.
They sort, grade, wash and cook maize grains before it is grounded and used for baking, frying and packaged. Production begins with a traditional Mexican way of nixtamalisation to separate the kernel and husk. It is then turned into dough which can be a base for various products. Tortilla wraps are made into thin sheets, fried, then packaged.
Their products are made from mixing various vegetables, legumes and super foods. Their ingredients include: sweet potatoes, chia seeds, flaxseeds, beetroot, moringa, irish potatoes, sukuma wiki, millet, sesame seeds, and arrow roots.
Their gluten free certified products have no monosodium glutamate and are rich in fiber. Their chips come in variety of forms from maize and kale tortilla, to maize and chia tortilla chips. The company also produces taco shells and soft tortillas/ wraps.
They market their products in several ways, such as, media marketing, promotions, referrals, special sales activities and events participation and community activities.
Expansion to Middle East
Bdelo International is registered in Bahrain thus providing them with a wonderful opportunity to enter the Middle Eastern market. They ship pre-processed tortilla sheets to Bahrain and then turn then process them to a final product. They were keen with partnering with local food companies in the area.
The company which employs about six permanent workers and 20 on a casual basis, hopes to expand to more markets. They know that there is an increasing demand for healthy foods and even hope to increase their food portfolio.
They have also received inquiries from far and wide. The only thing they need to figure out is logistics as at times it is very expensive to ship products from Kenya to other countries.
One of their major challenges is unfair competition from imports. Retailers tend to prefer imports and multinationals can easily pay for shelf space.
There is also the fact that international companies can make use of printed labels whereas they encounter extra costs as they are required to print the packaging.