Daucus – Student-led business that is not only about sales

In 2019, together with two fellow students from Egerton University in Kenya, I established a company called Daucus Limited Agribusiness. The company was incubated with the help of Agrienterprise Incubation for Improved Livelihoods and Economic Development under principal investigator Professor Patience Mshenga.

The company was later incorporated in May 2020 as a private limited liability company.

The name Daucus is derived from the scientific name of the wild carrot (popularly known as Queen Anne’s Lace), Daucus carota. The aim was to produce a healthy, caffeine-free beverage from carrots in a processing plant we established in Lake Victoria’s Rusinga Island, Homabay County, Kenya.

The business was greatly affected by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, which led to its closure.

In 2021, we had the privilege of pitching a coffee substitute business idea to the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), after which Daucus Limited was awarded grants amounting to US$5,000 for business acceleration by Mastercard Foundation under the Transforming Agricultural Universities to meaningfully contribute to Africa’s Growth and Development (TAGDev) project.

New product

This enabled us to launch a new product, which we called Nacafen, a coffee substitute processed from the roasted, ground Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea), a member of the family Fabaceae that grows widely in West Africa and in the East African countries of Tanzania and Burundi. The plant ripens its pods underground, very much like the peanut.

We source raw materials from local suppliers based in Nairobi. After delivery, the beans are carefully processed by grinding them into a nutritious, instant natural caffeine-free beverage. It is later packed in bottles, ready for sale in our locality. The whole production process is in strict conformity with international standards.

Each month, we make about KES20,000 (US$181) from the business, which enables us to support ourselves. We have segmented our market according to the demographics in accordance with age, gender and income and occupation. Our main target customers are health-conscious people.

We have marketed Nacafen on banners, caps and T-shirts. We have also promoted Nacafen with the help of attractive packaging that arouses consumer interest in the product. Nacafen is packed in different quantities – 80 grams and 50 grams – so that people can more easily afford it.

Our pricing policy is reasonable and channels of distribution are convenient, ensuring that our target customers can obtain the product easily. Our main weakness is the business size: Daucus Limited is still a small-scale business. We have limited capital and limited resources.

Red tape

However, our main challenge lies in getting certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards. The process is slow, costs money, and is very bureaucratic. Certification would allow us to target bigger customers and outlets such as supermarkets.

It is tempting to daydream about what it would be like if we had no competitors at all. But the truth is that there are many companies selling non-caffeine beverages, just like us.

To compete in a crowded market, we needed a unique selling proposition. The more unique it is, the less room for competition there is. We have started using locally relevant platforms, such as Facebook where our target customers are, and have adopted a niche marketing strategy.

One likely way to beat our competitors is to address the needs of our shared market segment better than our competitors can. We ask open-ended questions to find out exactly what our customers want while using our products or services. It is important to focus our efforts on trying to provide solutions to customers’ issues, not just trying to sell them Nacafen.

Building loyalty

Providing good, memorable customer service is a great way to build loyalty among our customers and differentiate ourselves from the competitors.

Our vision is to be a leading competitive, nutrition, health and wellness company delivering value by being a preferred enterprise, preferred employer, and a preferred supplier selling preferred products.

Through a group we later formed called Daucus Agripreneurship Youth Group, we’ve been able to empower 20 youths, the majority of them women. We are also looking forward to begin empowering local farmers in Rusinga Island through Bambara bean farming, so that we can start sourcing our raw material locally.

Beatrice Akinyi is a Kenyan environmental science student from Egerton University. TAGDev is a partnership programme between the Mastercard Foundation and RUFORUM. The programme is implemented at Egerton University, Kenya, and Gulu University, Uganda. The eight-year programme seeks to help African agricultural universities and their graduates better respond to developmental challenges through enhanced application of science, technology, business and innovation for rural agricultural transformation.