While working in New York as an executive assistant at a personal care products company, Jamie DeSalibe realized that there were very few African-inspired snacks on sale in local stores. This is despite the demand for products that represent African heritage and culture.
After saving some money, Salibi returned to his native Ghana in 2017 to found Sankofa Snacks – a snack brand that makes a range of banana chips.
“What we wanted to do was produce and share creative and original snacking experiences that were inspired and celebrated by global black food culture, for Africa and the diaspora,” he says.
Sankofa Snacks produces six flavors of banana chips, all influenced by North and West African recipes. “Chicken with garlic and ginger” inspired by Senegal Policefor example, while the flavor of “Chilli Tomato Gravy” is based on jollof rice – a popular dish in West Africa.
The chips are currently sold at around US$0.80 per bag in supermarkets across Ghana with plans to export to Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and the United States.
The company buys plantains from small farmers in three regions across Ghana. After purchasing the raw materials, they are transported to the capital, Accra, where there is a factory in Sankofa Snacks. The company has built its own distribution network to deliver wafer bags across the West African country.
One of the main problems is securing a steady supply of bananas from smallholder farmers.
“During the off-season, plantain is really hard to get,” says Salibi. “Bananas need regular irrigation to grow properly and in the dry season there is very little rain. There are about six months in Ghana where farmers cannot grow an abundance of plantain.”
This increases the price of bananas by up to 200% as supply dwindles. For now, the company is able to keep the price of chips the same throughout the two seasons by offsetting the extra spending in the dry season with money saved in the rainy season when bananas are much cheaper.
“But with the development of the model that will have to change because if you’re getting serious orders during the off-season, and not enough during the rainy season to make up for that, you’re in trouble.”
The CEO says the solution is to build an irrigated farm that can provide plantain during the dry season.
“We’re looking to set up a very small pilot farm, so we can draw on our own supplies when the market runs out.”
About two years ago, Sankofa Foods invested in a new purpose-built banana processing facility. Salibi says it has the capacity to produce far more plantain chips than its original facility.
During the company’s early stages, Salibi was unable to devote enough time to contact various retail outlets to increase sales. As the company expanded, the CEO appointed a sales manager and representatives who were able to boost the trade.
“Just in the last month, our sales are up more than 17% from the previous month. Our sales manager is opening 800+ doors more than I have been able to reach or have been aware of. He has included smaller supermarkets opening in the regions Residential”.
While Sankofa Foods has decided to build its own distribution network in Ghana, Salibe says it will use distribution partners across the wider region to “move faster” into new countries. This should allow the banana chips to be easily distributed and sold in Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire, the first two countries billed for regional expansion.
Take on the United States
In the United States, Sankofa Foods hopes to sell banana chips through e-commerce sites such as Amazon. Salibi says a key strategy for success in the US market is to create a strong brand that can tell a story.
“As we go into this space, we need to take a look at the story we are telling. We serve a millennial mindset that craves culturally authentic culinary experiences.”
The brand will be launched in the Northeast, “with a focus on the diaspora and anyone who is part of the black community.” After proof-of-concept in online stores, the next step will be to target major retailers like Target and Whole Foods.
“After selling online, we’re going to engage with supermarkets to say, ‘This is proof of attraction, this is the community we’re building. We’re adding a bunch of snack categories that are under-represented in the US right now: African-inspired snacks.'”
Contact Information for Sankofa Snacks Managing Director Jimmy D. Salibi
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