Kenya: Fresh produce retail boss talks supply chain, e-commerce and more

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In 2016, How we made it in Africa first interviewed Zucchini Greengrocers, a retailer focusing mostly on fresh produce. At the time, the company operated just four stores in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Six years on, it has evolved, both in terms of its overall retail strategy and the items offered. There are now 10 stores spread across the city, mostly in shopping malls.

Managing director SS Jandu, who founded the business in 1991, has experienced the evolution and expansion of Zucchini and the industry in general. “Zucchini now has many new products, especially at our flagship stores at ABC Place, General Mathenge and the Village Market [shopping centres]. We have ventured into more wholesome goods in line with our theme of creating a healthy, feel-good concept. We’ve introduced live cooking and fresh juices and salads. We also strive to improve the in-store experience for our consumers. Shoppers can drink fresh juices while watching their favourite salads being made,” he says.

According to Jandu, the public is more conscious of the importance of green products, with crops like spinach and broccoli enjoying a substantial local market.

As Zucchini’s product range increased, the number of its customers grew too. The company now deals with a diverse clientele. “Some of our stores – like the one on General Mathenge Road – are found in areas that house both residential and commercial buildings. This means our shoppers are a mix of office-going professionals, men and women working from home and housewives. We try to cater for everyone by providing what the different communities consume; for example, we look at what greens are preferred by Kenyans and try to stock them. We have also researched what the Chinese like and stock those as well.”

Zucchini also sells fresh produce to businesses, and restaurant chain Java House was the first company it supplied. Zucchini’s original location was at the ABC Place shopping centre and Java was next door. This meant Java did not need to stock large amounts of fresh produce and would buy just enough for the day. And when Zucchini opened a store at the Junction mall, another Java outlet also happened to be next to it. This relationship has developed over many years. In addition, the retailer has consistently supplied goods to restaurants, hotels, lodges in the Maasai Mara, and safari camps.

Supply chain

As its consumer base grew, Zucchini resolved to be more in charge of its supply chain. “We decided to venture out and directly import items that aren’t grown here, like apples and grapes. We source them directly from our suppliers in South Africa and Egypt, not through middlemen.”

Jandu explains they are committed to making regular, personal visits to the farmers that supply them in order to study the farming habits and methods in use. “We don’t have dealings with middlemen, instead, we visit the farmers weekly and deal directly with them. We also support them in terms of access to seed supply and technology.” These visits help build firm foundations and long-term relationships.

Zucchini Greengrocers specialises in fresh produce.

Zucchini Greengrocers specialises in fresh produce.

To ensure reliability and avoid overreliance on a single provider, it works with several farmers for each product.

Stock availability issues are solved through daily, weekly and monthly backup plans. Still, ensuring reliability and timeliness has proved tricky as some products are transported from as far as Lamu. “Supplies need to reach our customers on the day and time they want. So, we are very strict with the farmers who supply us,” adds Jandu.

Just like other grocery retailers, Zucchini faced acute shortages of agricultural products in the past. According to Jandu, this is no longer the case. “Agriculture has become a huge industry in Kenya and we experience fewer shortages now. Many companies, which used to produce for export, have ventured into the local market. Fortunately, our climate is excellent. The only produce not grown locally are apples and grapes because they require the four seasons. Kenya used to import blueberries from Holland but we discovered the Mount Kenya region is ideal for blueberry farming.”

E-commerce growth

Zucchini ventured into e-commerce in recent years and works through Jumia, Glovo and UberEats to deliver groceries to its clients. It also uses the direct-to-consumer model where clients buy directly from the website. “We are taking e-commerce seriously and we aim to improve our timing, packaging and delivery window. It is vital for us to reach those customers who do not visit our stores.”

Management has had a lot of meetings to brainstorm how to improve e-commerce penetration. They obtained WhatsApp numbers for each of their stores to serve clients who don’t want to order via the website. “We are investing heavily in getting the right personnel, technology and logistics managers in place. E-commerce is our next big thing,” Jandu enthuses.

He believes Kenya’s e-commerce landscape has expanded over the years because Kenyans quickly adapted to it. “These days, everything can be delivered. It helps that we have payment methods like M-Pesa. In the UK, you can place an order that may only be delivered the next day but here we are talking about hourly and on-time deliveries.”

The most interesting trend Jandu sees is the rise in food deliveries. “Ordering cooked food online has become extremely popular. It’s no longer click and collect; now, you place an order and the sellers deliver to you.”

Dark kitchens – cooking facilities without sit-down restaurants attached to them – are also on the rise, thanks to a shift instigated by delivery apps. “Many food aggregators no longer rely on third parties. They have their own kitchens. Once you order, they prepare the food instead of getting it from restaurants. They are eliminating the middlemen and suppliers and doing it themselves. This is an exciting trend that will become very popular,” he believes.

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