SimpliFine, has entered the East African food industry with the aim to avail a wide array of food products comprising of ready meals, frozen, meat and baked goods, serving both the B2C and B2B markets.
Many have come to appreciate the classical music repertoire for its complex use of orchestration, counterpoint and harmony to flawlessly gel into a symphony.
Borrowing from the music arena, SimpliFine, has entered the East African food industry with the aim to avail a wide array of food products comprising of ready meals, frozen, meat and baked goods, serving both the B2C and B2B markets. The glue holding all the entities together is SimpliFine’s sister company, the cold chain logistics operator, BigCold.
The master conductor of the SimpliFine Foods orchestra imploring all the entities to play together is one food industry veteran Steven Carlyon. Steven, whose career spans over three decades has served leading producers of chilled, fresh, baked and ambient foods, both own-label and branded, such as McCain Frozen Foods, Bakkavor, Northern Foods, and Samworth Brothers.
Traversing across the globe, he gained further experience at Emirates Flight Catering, dnata Catering (part of Emirates Group) and Alshaya Group all within the United Arab Emirates, and most recently, Java House Africa in Kenya.
Tapping into the expertise of the Engineer turned food professional, SimpliFine’s parent company – BlackIvy – an American group focused on building impactful businesses in Africa – has tasked Steven to steer ahead the company in East Africa to future success.
“This is proving to be a unique and exciting opportunity for someone who relishes operating with an entrepreneurial spirit to source, develop and grow new opportunities across the East African food sector. It may be a small seedling at the moment but we are confident that we’ve got the right talents and perfect products to launch with. Our brand will become a household brand in the next few months,” Steven stated excitedly during a sit down with the Food Business Africa team, as we gained insights on the plans of this promising entity.
Driving convenience within fresh foods segment
Charting into new territories, SimpliFine, launched its first business in April 2021, opening a 3000 square meter potato processing factory in Naivasha, Nakuru County – Central of Kenya, having bought out the assets of DNC Foods Limited. The facility, with a single processing line, peels, washes, cuts and blanches locally sourced Irish potatoes.
“Ultimately from January 2022 we will be freezing as well, so we have a completely in-line process,” revealed Steven. Investing in the freezing facility, particularly the instant quick frozen (IQF) technology for quick frozen items will enable the company ensure it has products all year round despite the seasonal nature of the produce. With this, it will take up space in the frozen foods aisle, currently dominated by foreign owned brands such as McCain, which are relatively expensive.
“There is no reason as to why the frozen fries should be such a luxury or such an expensive commodity, as the potatoes are locally available and the species we have here are suitable. The game changer for me is that Kenya has the climate and agricultural ability needs to build an even greater export portfolio by developing the brands, acquiring in the technology and working with the farmers to build the frozen food capability within the export market, translating to jobs and more sustainable benefits to the people of Kenya,” said Steven.
The lack of a consistent supply of quality products has forced many food service providers to rely on expensive imported goods. With the Naivasha facility, SimpliFine is intent to bridge this gap.
Through the facility, its first foray into the frozen foods and ready-to-cook segment, the company is focused on availing quality products locally and driving convenience for restaurants, hotels, schools and catering businesses across Kenya.
Shedding light into the situation Steven stated, “A lot of frozen potato chips are imported because there are specific standards and formulations that the big quick service restaurants that have set base locally are asking for. There are food safety standards and technical standards that have to be followed. As a company we are being assessed against the FSSC 22000 standards, with certification for our meat processing plant attained by mid-November , opening the doors to the export market.
“We are in talks with some of the global brands and we are starting to see the QSRs becoming more flexible to work with local partners like us. That is a great start to the journey where people are looking within the country, as opposed to assuming that the import model is going to be sustainable.”
Other than availing good quality products to the HORECA players, by sourcing the potatoes locally, SimpliFine is offering ready market to Kenyan farmers by giving relief to the producers who have been getting meagre earnings from middlemen and incurring huge losses from spoilage of the produce, which rot for lack of market.
“SimpliFine is taking the middlemen’s space and enabling the product to get to consumers’ plate at a fair price and at the same time handle the farmers with care, dignity and give preferential payment terms,” highlighted Steven.
Lack of readily available and dependable market seems not to be the only issue dotting the potato value chain, as Kenya produces about two million tonnes of potatoes annually even though the country has the potential of yielding up to eight million tonnes. The reduced yield is attributed to the modes of propagation and harvesting. SimpliFine wants to correct this by collaboratively working with the farmers and investing heavily in new technologies and equipment.
Forays into the meat sector
Still eyeing the fast-growing Kenyan food market, SimpliFine launched its second business in July 2021 following the acquisition of the producer of premium meat products, Alpha Fine Foods.
Now rebranded to the company’s official identity, SimpliFine Meats offers a wide range of meat and convenience frozen foods. Joining established players in the meat sector, SimpliFine is setting itself apart by dialing up its added value section offering for products such as samosas, spring rolls, burger parties, pie fillings, among others, reveals Steven.
This is undertaken through the well-established Al’s Kitchen brand, which was growing 20% year-on-year prior to the acquisition, he mentions. These items are sold both to the end consumers and food service providers. “The quality of the raw materials, the people who we’ve brought in to know what to do with those raw materials, and the equipment’s we have is second to none. This is really world class European equipment predominantly,” Steven ascertains.
Bringing a legacy brand into the fold
Nothing seemed to slow down the investment opportunities of SimpliFine. In October 2021, it entered the baked goods sector with the acquisition of one of Kenya’s iconic baking firms, Ennsvalley Bakery from Unga Group.
Taking ownership of the artisanal bakery firm with a baking capacity of producing 90,000 loaves of bread per day, Simplifine is now at an advance stage to boost its capacity and add exciting products lines to include frozen baked par-baked goods.
“We shall innovate across a range of frozen items, and will seek to supply consumers with frozen ready to bake at home items as well as developing a range of products to the B2B sector. This means consumers can keep such items in the freezer for as long as they want, be it a croissant, a Danish, brioche buns or an artisan loaf, and just place it in the oven when they are ready to consume it, coming out perfectly freshly baked in under few minutes,” states Steven.
“Nothing beats the smell, texture and the overall experience of freshly baked bread at home, whether it be a casual Sunday breakfast croissant, or part of a family get together ripping open that freshly baked baguette”.
SimpliFine is also seeking to acquire a lamination line for sheeting pastry. “That is a significant investment and in doing so, we shall need to re-align the process flow at the bakery, and build a dedicated chilled room,” adds Steven. In the next six months, SimpliFine will inject US$500,000 worth of investment into the operations to cover part of the underlined investment.
Honoring the heritage of the Ennsvalley brand, SimpliFine will continue availing products under the famous identity that has resonated with families across the nation for generations. It has further introduced a new SimpliFine brand with a range of baked products that include bread, buns, muffins and cakes. Further to that, the company is seeking to make the products widely available and affordable to the masses without watering down its degree of decadents.
As part of the baking business deal, SimpliFine has taken over the production and supply of baked goods at the local retail store, Chandarana Foodplus supermarkets, where it is looking at introducing new, exciting concepts that will excite consumers within the retailer’s in-store bakery outlets across Kenya.
“The whole concept of the relationship with Chandarana is that we are partners, seeking to innovate and meet consumer’s ever-changing requirements. They are open to innovations and that is very refreshing. We are in a very lucky place,” Steven commented on the partnership.
Distribution is king
Having established three businesses with well thought-out strategies on how to win in the local market, Steven does not shy away from the fact that all the entities will run successfully courtesy of its cold chain logistics unit BigCold.
Leveraging best-in-class technologies, BigCold offers comprehensive, customized cold storage and cold chain solutions. It is the only FSSC 22000 certified company for cold storage and transport in East Africa that meets the strict food safety standards.
“The Big Cold is effectively the glue that holds us all together. The efficiency that we get through the distribution reach gives us the ability to take all the three platforms across the country in a cost-effective manner. In turn we have passed those savings on to the clients, availing fairly priced products to the consumers,” notes Steven.
BigCold trucks are also available for use by third parties, enabling other manufacturers to distribute their products via existing distribution networks, thus cutting down on carbon emissions into the environment.
Further expanding its reach, SimpliFine is also utilizing motorbikes to undertake delivery into the heavily populated areas without having to be held up in the traffic jams.
Winning both locally and abroad
Focusing majorly on the frozen food segment, SimpliFine is tapping on the fast-growing global market estimated at US$244.3 billion in 2020 by Markets and Markets, and projected to reach US$ 376.95 billion by 2025 registering a CAGR of 4.3%.
Changing food preferences as a result of rising number of working individuals and hectic work life schedule is one of the key factors augmenting the market growth. “This is a space that we are going into, offering convenience and one stop shop. You want dinner and have no time because you are a busy professional, you can just pick up dinner on your way home that is easy to prepare,” Steven paints the picture.
To ensure customers get to know its full range of offering, Simplifine is planning to embark on a robust promotional and advertising campaign. The company will also ensure all its products are widely available across the country by partnering with leading retail outlets.
Looking into the future, Steven reveals that Simplifine will undertake more notable investments by vertically integrating the three businesses. “By investing in primary processing facilities, we can further guarantee our quality and food safety standards” Steven explains.
Meanwhile at its Naivasha facility, the food processor seeks to expand its fresh food offering to include more vegetables and fruits. The fresh produce unit also avails an opportunity for SimpliFine to creatively transform its by-products and waste materials into new products perceived to be of greater quality. Steven notes that by investing in the right technologies, the company will be able to upcycle its rejected potatoes to make items such as dehydrated potatoes or instant mashed potatoes.
The company is also looking beyond food processing and plans to engage in distribution of fresh produces and meat products to the international markets leveraging on BigCold.
“Port Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is so close to us but yet so much meat is coming in from Australia for a market three times that of East Africa in GDP. We are capable of being an export brand,” states Steven. “If you ask me in 5 years’ time, I would like 50% of our revenue to come from export and 50% from the local markets.”
The rapidly growing food producer, using advanced technologies and operational expertise to ensure production of high-quality and cost-conscious products is focused to become a house-hold name in the region.