•At the same time, there is a richness in Kenya’s drinking traditions stretching from amazing use of spices, tea, and fermented fruit.
•The availability of phenomenal raw materials, including a plethora of insanely delicious fruits, makes it the perfect playground for making delicious and distinctive products.
After 10 years of building brands such as Kit Kat and Stella Artois in the UK, Alex Chappatte jumped ship to Africa with her husband.
They wanted to invest their skill set, knowledge base, and time in a continent where they believed significant growth would be in the next 10-20 years.
They are doing so while having great adventures on the continent.
The Star talked to the British, Belgium manufacturing power girl about business plans for Africa, family, and adventures.
So when and where did you first land in Africa?
I first moved to West Africa, living in Ghana and eventually moved to Kenya 5 years ago and have fallen in love with this fantastic country. I’m now the Founder of Kenyan Originals. We make craft tonics, fruit ciders, ice teas, and craft spirits. All are made with real Kenyan ingredients from across the country, for example, we source our mangoes from Makueni and our passion fruits from Meru.
How did you find yourself in the manufacturing sector?
When I was working for Pernod Ricard in West Africa I noticed there were no quality local beverage options. I saw the same thing when I moved to Kenya. It was impossible to get a good quality, affordable drink that was not beer. The local options are low quality or illegal. The imported ones are expensive and often out of stock. At the same time, there is a richness in Kenya’s drinking traditions stretching from the amazing use of spices, tea, and fermented fruit. The availability of phenomenal raw materials, including a plethora of insanely delicious fruits, makes it the perfect playground for making delicious and distinctive products.This was the beginning of Kenyan Originals, KO for short. Our vision is to be Africa’s leading craft beverage company - Africa’s answer to craft for the African consumer. We started from small roots in our shipping container producing our craft fruit cider using real fruit from Kenya. Since then we have moved site to three godowns and added craft tonics, craft ice teas and spirits to our range.
What does your job entail?
I’m not a Kenyan Original, so my job is to curate the best Kenyan Original talent to build a truly authentic, Kenyan brand. I work with headstrong, opinionated ‘originators’ who have helped to shape the KO brand. Since 2019 the Kenyan Originals brand has come to represent much more than just our drinks. We want to provide a platform for all Kenyans igniting originality in modern Kenya. The movers, the shakers, the risk-takers, the Kenyan Originals. We have been 'KOllaborating' with these Kenyan Originals to build the brand. Whether that’s using the Matatu artist’s skills to spray paint our production site or a Kenyan designer to design our merchandise, we want to celebrate the Kenyans of tomorrow.
What excites you most about your job?
My north star remains to make original Kenyan (and eventually African) craft beverages that taste fantastic. I love the hands-on tinkering to get to the best product-market fit. To keep experimenting, learning and refining our craft to ensure we have the best quality drinks on the continent.
What do you think about mentors?
I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by smart advisors. It’s amazing how generous people in Kenya are with their time and information. It’s a blessing for entrepreneurs like myself who don’t know where to start at the beginning. I’m also fortunate to have had a very dedicated (and patient) mentor in my husband (Sam Chappatte, former Jumia Kenya CEO) who has had the burden of many late-night brainstorming discussions. He has been an absolute rock! There are so many awesome kick-ass Kenyan female leaders. I would love to connect more with this world and learn more from them.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Our team is our biggest achievement. Our direct team of +60 people, 98% Kenyan team, 72% female team. It makes me happy to see our female led production team. We have trained up Kenya’s first female cidermaker. Trained by world-class cidermaker from Portland Oregon. We are always looking for ways to upskill our team members. our first promoter is now a leading sales manager, our first accountant is our head of social media. We have set up a vertically integrated business – owned manufacturing, brand and distribution and built a cross-category portfolio in three key categories (ciders, mixers, spirits). This hasn’t been easy but is incredibly satisfying. We are about to launch Kenya’s first craft spirit for the Kenyan consumer, which continues our commitment to innovation ‘the Kenyan way’Growth - We doubled in size in 2021 with direct distribution in +1,500 outlets in Kenya. We are distributed in all 5 top modern trade customers in Kenya including Carrefour, Shoprite, Naivas, Quickmart and Chandarana We are winning awards:o 2019 - Awarded product of the year by African excellence awardso 2020 - Finalists for the world innovation beverage awards for 'best botanical drink' and 'best alcohol'o 2021 – Winners of best Kenyan craft beverage at the Kenyan beverage awards + awarded new product of the year for ‘KO honey Cider’ at the African excellence awards Generated +$130K income for Kenyan farmers & creators since launchAll whilst having 2 babies and fundraising to help support the businesses growth.It’s been a heck of a few years with many more exciting times to come.
As a woman in the manufacturing sector, are there unique challenges associated with it?
Fortunately, Kenya is a country with strong female leadership. I have not felt discouraged or looked down on for being a female in manufacturing. The biggest challenge for me was setting up a manufacturing business whilst being pregnant and looking after a newborn. I would bring my eldest to the site in Limuru when she was born and my youngest spent his first 6 months at our site in Baba Dogo. I would breastfeed amongst the pallets of bottles in our godown for some privacy. Any mother will know how tricky it is to balance life during those first 3-6 months. That said my kids have been lucky enough to have their first couple of months surrounded by lots of loving people around them.
Before one decides to venture in such a career, what factors should they consider?
1. Resilience - Do you have it? Ideas are the starting block. Resilience will land the idea… eventually. 2. Passion – this will fuel your resilience and drive3. Belief – needs to be unwavering
What challenges are associated with your job?
This market is full of opportunity. What makes the entrepreneurs who stand out are not those who spot the opportunity but those who have the resilience to follow through and set up an operation in Kenya. It’s not easy, especially if you are setting up a product that is new in market as there is a big education to do with the regulatory bodies. Educating the regulatory bodies on our craft set up, how it works and figuring out how to make your product.
What are your future goals?
We want to continue to spread the word about our product and our story and become Africa’s leading craft beverage company. True to the world of craft, we will not stop innovating, however, so watch this space