Kenneth Okugbeni, 32, of South Philadelphia, is founder of Lafiya Foods. The firm, which makes natural and organic foods and personal-care products, connects small farmers and co-ops in West Africa with American consumers. Lafiya donates 2 percent of gross sales to community-development programs in health care, education and sustainable agriculture in Ghana.
Q: How?d you come up with the idea for Lafiya?
A: I have a background in finance. I saw a disconnect between African farmers and American consumers who wanted to lead healthy lives and use organic and natural products. That was in November 2012, but we didn?t launch operations until July.
Q: Startup money?
A: I raised $68,000, primarily through friends.
Q: What?s the business do?
A: I work with small farmers and co-ops in Ghana, and in 2015 we?re starting in Nigeria. We have five products, and for each product I work with one co-op, which can be as few as five farmers to as many as 30. Right now I have coconut oil, red palm oil, cocoa powder, and on the personal-care side, I sell handcrafted African soap and shea butter. I launched the cocoa powder about two weeks ago and I?m trying to get into some cafes in the city.
Q: The model?
A: I sell online from my website and Amazon, and also wholesale to natural-foods stores in the suburbs and the city. I also sell my products at health fairs and farmers markets.
Q: Cost of products?
A: Coconut oil, red palm oil and shea butter sell for $11.99; my soaps go for $4.99 and my cocoa powder is $15.
Q: Backstory on name?
A: I was born and raised in northern Nigeria, and lafiya means healthy in the Hausa language, my native language.
Q: Your customers?
A: Most are in the Philly area, male and female, all ages.
Q: What?s been the biggest challenge growing the business?
A: Having more natural-foods stores carry my products. They like the quality of my products but they carry stuff from competitors, mainly based in California. I?m trying to pitch them to buy local and sustainable.
Q: With whom do you compete, and what differentiates you?
A: I have quality products made to order. Once a product is ordered, we make it ASAP. It?s all handmade in Ghana. My coconut oil is cold-pressed, and most products are minimally processed. Price, quality and social message separate me from competitors.
Q: How big a business is this?
A: Our sales have been between $2,000 and $5,000.
Q: What?s next?
A: I?d like to have a warehouse, and I also want to be in more natural-foods stores.