I have a lot of Nigerian friends and not one of them has ever baked anything for me when I showed up at their door. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out that there exists an indigenous dry confectionery mix market in Nigeria! I was curious to find out more and also baffled at my own ignorance. I have always professed that African people don't really do the whole oven baking thing but that's a lie. It is because I don't know how to bake and find that it is easy to blame it on others. Perhaps my Nigerian friends bake for their children and chose to only cook Egusi Soup for me.
So now I have had the pleasure of being introduced to Koko's Kitchen - a Nigerian powerhouse brand of confectionery dry mixes in varying options: cakes, muffins, pancakes, brownies and more. West Africa Cooks caught up with Sifa Asani Gowun and Oluwatosin Olaseinde to find out the story behind what it takes to break through in the industry and why you should definitely get your cake baking on with Koko's Kitchen for all the family.
What is Koko's Kitchen and how did you come up with the idea?
KoKo’s Kitchen (subsidiary Tosiffoods Ltd) creates and produces dry confectionery mixes, namely cake mixes. These are affordable, free of preservatives and tailored to customer’s tastes in Nigeria.
My partner, Oluwatosin Olaseinde,and I came up with the idea when she came to condole my family on the passing of my father earlier this year. I served cake and she mentioned how it would be good to package it to sell.
Where is Koko's Kitchen based?
Tosin is based in Lagos and I am between Bauchi and Jos. We hope to set up our final production facility in Bauchi, though.
Why have you chosen to focus on deserts? Has this been a challenge for you?
I have been baking since I was 11 years old, and have done so as a business since 2011. Desserts are my area of interest and expertise, I’d say. With the ever expanding confectionery market (5000 bakeries in Lagos alone), we see that this is a viable business for us. Desserts are merely a starting point for our mixes as we hope to expand and add savoury mixes to our product lines in the future. Also, almost all dessert mixes in Nigeria are imported and we want to provide a local and qualitative alternative. It has been both fun and challenging for us because we are entering arenas of business hitherto unfamiliar, to me especially.
Creating the mixes to make them ‘just right’ has been a process of trial and error but the good thing is that I have been able to use feedback and observations from my previous years baking to make these mixes well suited to our target customer.
What is your favourite food?
That’s a very difficult question to answer.
I’m a fan of anything grilled: seafood and poultry, especially.
Where can we buy Koko's kitchen? Where can we find your recipes?
You can order our products online, on our Facebook page, namely. We are currently registering to become vendors on Nkataa.com in Abuja and hope to be part of an online vendor platform in Lagos by month's end as well. We are still in the process of developing products and trying out recipes on them so we don’t have recipes up for now. But when we do, they will likely go on our Facebook and Instagram pages.
How did you come up with the brand name?
We agreed to name the brand KoKo’s Kitchen in honour of my late father, Dr Roger Asani, who was fondly known as KoKo. That means Grandpa in Swahili.
The name Tosif Foods is a combination of the name Tosin and Sifa.
What sort of obstacles have you come across whilst trying to realize your dream? themselves!
There are so many logistical challenges- especially within delivery and sales, we need to be able to leverage on the strong distribution network of established retail outlets. There are constant price fluctuations in the market which directly affect our product pricing. We have government licence (NAFDAC) challenges that are directly tied to the availability of a specific production facility. There are also times when this dream demands energy and intellectual and creative stamina that puts pressure on us as a team.
Who are your African heroes/heroine?
Yes, of course. There is Alhaji Aliko Dangote who is an astute businessman and personality in his own right. There are the founders of She Leads Africa- young women who have decided to use their education, experiences and expertise to serve and lift up African businesswomen and give ladies who otherwise may not have had a chance, the opportunity to move to the next level in business. There is Ndidi Nwuneli, she is a philanthropist entrepreneur, director of the African Philantrophy Forum, Founder of LEAP Africa, AACE Foods and director of Sahel Capital. We love how she stresses the possibility of the Nigerian and African Market and her impact in the food industry value chain.
Any Chefs/Cooks that you admire?
Yes, there are a few. I really admire Carlos of Cake Boss, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Tosan Jemide. I love their creativity and the way they constantly evolve and push their boundaries in terms of creativity and pushing their brand forward.
Can you recommend any African cookbooks?
To be honest, the African cookbook I have loved from the time I was a child was an old, bound volume of recipes created by the Nigerwives Group in Nigeria. It is full of old European recipes that had been adjusted to include or use substitutes of available in Nigeria. I have forgotten the actual name of the cookbook because I used it when it was missing its title page!
Do you have a recipe we can share?
Yes, I do. There’s a lovely banana bread that I’ve made for years and it’s so simple and moist. Perfect with a cup of hot tea:
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup oil
1 cup mashed banana
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
Sift flour and soda together then add wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Bake for about 40 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out dry.
Where can you be contacted?
Both I and Tosin can be contacted through our Facebook page: KoKo’s Kitchen NG.